The tune was composed in 1909 by William T. Purdy as "Minnesota, Minnesota," with the intention of entering it into a competition for a new fight song at the University of Minnesota.
Carl Beck, a former Wisconsin student, convinced him to withdraw it from the contest at the last minute and allow his alma mater to use it instead. Beck then wrote the original, football-oriented lyrics, changing the words "Minnesota, Minnesota" to "On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!" (The eventual winner of the competition became known as the Minnesota Rouser.)
The lyrics were rewritten for the state song in 1913 by Judge Charles D. Rosa and J. S. Hubbard. The song was widely recognized as the state song at that time, but was never officially designated. Finally in 1959, "On, Wisconsin!" was codified in Chapter 170, Laws of 1959, and is incorporated in Section 1.10 of the statutes.
"On, Wisconsin!" was regarded by John Philip Sousa as "the finest of college marching songs". It has become one of the most popular fight songs in the country, with some 2,500 schools using some variation of it as their school song. There have been persistent rumors that the rights to the song are owned by Paul McCartney or Michael Jackson. The song is actually in the public domain in the United States. The international rights are unclear.
"On, Wisconsin!" was the cry that Arthur MacArthur, Jr. used in the Battle of Chattanooga at Missionary Ridge during the American Civil War. He seized the regimental colors, and rallied his regiment with "On, Wisconsin!", for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
- The Minnesota Rouser : Minnesota Marching Band : U of M
- McGrath, Hazel (March 1948). "Songs to thee, Wisconsin!". Wisconsin alumnus. 49 (6): 16–17. Retrieved January 5, 2009.
- Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau (1999). "Wisconsin State Symbols". State of Wisconsin Blue Book (1999-2000) (PDF). Joint Committee on Legislative Organization. p. 935. Retrieved 2010-03-23.
- "Tradition: School Songs". Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. 2010. Retrieved 15 March 2010.
- When Is Art Free? | csmonitor.com
- Jenny Price. "Fight on for Her Fame". On Wisconsin, Winter 2009.
- Douglas MacArthur. "Martial Roots of a Warrior's Glory". Life Magazine, January 10, 1964, p. 50.
- MP3 file of On, Wisconsin! played by the University of Wisconsin Marching Band
- On Wisconsin! - original sheet music at UW Mills Music Library's Wisconsin Sheet Music Database
- One Hundred Years of "On, Wisconsin!"