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.