- The woman who invented the global system for recycling plastics is from Sauk City. You know. Those three arrows in the shape of a triangle with a number in the middle? They didn’t exist until Milly Zantow came along. She came upon the idea during a trip to Japan in the late 1970s where she noticed bundles placed curbside. She eventually realized they were bundles of recyclable materials separated by type. At 55 years old and 2-months shy of an associate degree, Milly (and her friend Jenny Ehl) cashed in life insurance policies and started the country’s first recycling center: E-Z Recycling. Milly didn’t have all the expertise needed to do it single-handedly but she had the drive. It took about 10 years, but eventually The Society of Plastics Industry systematized products by identifying the polymer types and assigned each a number. FYI — Milly, Jenny and their families never made a penny.
Aldo Leopold and his family spent weekends at this rebuilt chicken coop on the Wisconsin River near Baraboo. Now it’s part of the Leopold Center and offers year-round tours.
- Let’s stay crunchy for a minute. Aldo Leopold was an environmental activist whose conservation teachings literally grew in Wisconsin. He arrived here in 1924 when he began work in Madison. Later, he acquired a Wisconsin River farm near Baraboo — The Shack — which is where he did the sketches in A Sand County Almanac. He introduced an innovative idea known as the land ethic. He explains it as “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
- Frank Lloyd Wright chose to live here, work here and launch an entirely new architectural style in part from the inspiration he found. People a lot smarter than me have already said or written about this visionary’s legacy. Look him up and learn.
- With April 15 coming right up, you need to know that you can thank Wisconsin’s pioneering role for this annual ritual. Wisconsin was the first state to have an income tax — even before there was a Federal income tax. Of course, it follows that our state was the leader in what eventually became the Sixteenth Amendment where all states were allowed to levy taxes separate from the feds.
- With that tidbit of history in mind, the fact Wisconsin was the first to use progressive taxation (where the wealthier pay a higher tax rate) also makes sense.
- Of course now that taxes have come up, we need to talk about bleeding. The blood thinner Coumadin was invented at UW and is the most widely prescribed blood thinner in the world today helping people with heart problems and blood clots. So what if it was discovered when researching why some cows in Deer Park, Wisconsin were dying? Double so what? that it is also one of the most widely used rat poisons in the world.
- Poisoning, of course, leads us back to being crunchy for a discussion of Earth Day which was founded by then Wisconsin U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970. He had witnessed what had happened in Santa Barbara after a massive 1969 oil spill. The Earth Day site says Gaylord was “Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a ‘national teach-in on the environment’ to the national media … April 22, falling between Spring Break and Final Exams, was selected as the date.”
NAACP march with Father James Groppi (center) Milwaukee, WI 1968
- Now that you know anti-war protests inspired the first Earth Day, you may feel better (or even more justified) that anti-war protests found firm ground in Wisconsin, you might want to know more. First of all, protests didn’t just happen in Madison. Have you ever heard of Father James Groppi, a white Roman Catholic priest? And the topics inspiring the protests have ranged from women’s voting rights, civil rights, political outrage, abortion, immigration, marijuana legalization, chemical use, child labor, gay rights — and just because it’s Wisconsin — fishing.
- Protests are protected by the very first of ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights. Historically, Wisconsin is seen as a laboratory for democracy which resulted in legislation that served as a model for other states as well as the federal government. For instance, the 1911 legislature created a model workers’ compensation law to protect people injured on the job. It also passed laws to regulate factory safety, formed a state life insurance fund, limited working hours for women and children and passed conservation acts.
I find smart, tolerant, well-grounded, practical people here. I find it inspirational that plain old Wisconsin residents who have no business changing the world do exactly that.
We have real problems and you can find some pretty big jerks here, too. Yet, Wisconsin feels like a good place to be. For me that’s especially true in Madison where thoughts and opinions and tastes rage freely and I can buy into its international city masquerade.