The University of Wisconsin-Madison has many well-known and well-loved traditions, from the Jump Around, to Halloween on State Street, to the Fifth Quarter. Their fight song, “On, Wisconsin,” is one of their most famous. The song has been utilized by thousands of high schools and grade schools across the country, and some version of the melody can be found in many other colleges’ fight songs. “On, Wisconsin,” along with Notre Dame’s “Victory March” and Michigan’s “The Victors,” is one of the nation’s most recognizable tunes. John Phillip Sousa, composer of “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “Semper Fidelis,” stated that “On, Wisconsin” was “the best college song he had ever heard.”1
William T. Purdy originally composed the melody for a contest the University of Minnesota was holding for their new fight song. His roommate and former Madison student, Carl Beck, convinced him to pull the song from the contest and use the lyrics Beck had written himself. Ironically, the fight song was first used on November 13, 1909, in a game against Minnesota at Camp Randall. This first version had these lyrics:
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Plunge right through that line!
Run the ball 'round Minnesota,
A touchdown sure this time.
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Fight on for her fame
Fight! Fellows! Fight!
And we will win this game.
The earliest versions of the song changed depending on who the Badgers’ opponents were. The third line was often amended to “Run the ball clear ‘round Chicago” or “Run the ball clear ‘round Northwestern” for those bigger rivalry games. The current version sung at Camp Randall keeps the third line at “Run the ball clear down the field,” the lyrics no longer changing based on opponents.
The sheet music we have displayed in our piano exhibit at the Chudnow Museum is from the 1927 “Revised Edition,” which includes verses and three versions of the familiar chorus. The first chorus depicts the lyrics chosen as Wisconsin’s state song, while the second chorus is comprised of Carl Beck’s original football-oriented lyrics. This one has the third line stating “Run the ball clear ‘round Chicago.” The third chorus was added by Dr. Filip A. Forsbeck, whose lyrics are aimed again at praising the state of Wisconsin as a whole. Our copy was also produced by the Flanner-Hafsoos Music House here in Milwaukee.
Flanner & Hafsoos has had a long and interesting history as a home entertainment store in Milwaukee. Joseph Flanner opened the original store in 1891 after his move from New Orleans. It was located on what was then called Grand Avenue, now known as Wisconsin Avenue. In 1915, the store moved to Broadway, also known as Music Row, as the business grew. Flanner’s had merged with another music retailer, Eric Hafsoos, to create Flanner & Hafsoos in 1913. Flanner & Hafsoos would remain the company’s name until 1994. Flanner & Hafsoos was the first retailer to sell the gramophone in Wisconsin in the early 1920s. They also sold the first amplifier made by Avery Fischer in the early 1940s. In 1960, Joseph Flanner’s grandson, also named Joseph, opened a second store in Mayfair Mall with his brother, Stuart, and Roy Hafsoos. Along with the move, the store continued updating their stock, moving increasingly toward electronic music players and home entertainment systems, including TVs. The Mayfair store soon became their primary location, and they let go of the downtown store in 1963. In 1994, Flanner’s moved out of Mayfair and into a new facility in Brookfield because they needed more space to accommodate the larger inventory of home entertainment systems. The name was also changed to Flanner’s Audio and Video, and has since been changed to Flanner’s Home Entertainment.
The copyright of the song has actually been fairly controversial in the years since its debut. The very first version of the song was originally published by Purdy and Beck themselves. They produced about 5,000 copies through Hillson, McCormack & Company out of Chicago. The copyright was later transferred to Flanner-Hafsoos Music House. This company bought out Purdy’s shares in the song’s copyright for less than $100 in 1917, a fact which Purdy’s family would later contest. The dispute between Purdy’s widow and Beck arose when Beck tried to obtain the full copyright for the song in order to leave it to the Wisconsin Alumni Association or University in 1937. The situation was eventually resolved by splitting the publishing rights between Melrose Publishing and Broadcast Music, Inc for Purdy’s and Beck’s contributions, respectively. Today, the song is considered to be in the public domain, although there are rumors that the international rights belong to Michael Jackson’s Estate or Paul McCartney.
“On, Wisconsin!” has become so ingrained in the culture of the state that it became the state’s song, too, in 1959. There had, however, been alternate lyrics more appropriate to a state-wide song since 1913. Those were written by JS Hubbard and Judge Charles D. Rosa for the centennial anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie. Since then, the song had been widely recognized as the state song of Wisconsin, but was not officially adopted until 1959. The song, clearly, has been a defining feature of Wisconsin life for 100 years, one that will undoubtedly continue in the years to come.
Museum Intern, Valparaiso University History Majory
John and Thomas Saxe, two brothers in a family of thirteen, were born in Ireland and raised on a farm in Fox Point. When they came to Milwaukee, they worked as newsboys and mechanics. Their humble beginnings gave no indication that the two brothers would come to own the largest chain of picture-houses in Wisconsin, consisting of forty-two theaters, and operate a massive entertainment company, Saxe Amusement Enterprises.
John Saxe entered the business of outdoor advertising, although he referred to himself as a ‘sign painter.’ Thomas, rather than going into outdoor advertising with his brother, had gone to work in the steel mills. His name, however, was unavoidably linked with John’s, and he eventually became an associate in the business as his eyesight got worse and forced him to leave the mills. The two then worked together as sign painters who serviced dime museums, burlesque theaters, opera houses and stages, all of which needed new posters and attraction boards painted weekly. The business grew and spread throughout Wisconsin, becoming one of the largest and most reliable in the state. Grand Theater aka Warner or Wisconsin
Their grand entrance into show business began when Saxe Signs sued a local theater owner for an unpaid balance and the owner turned his theater over to the brothers to settle the account. After that, the brothers began acquiring theaters at a rapid rate. By 1908, they had opened the Theatorium, Orpheum, Globe, and Lyric Theaters. Over the years, they added famous theaters like the Alhambra, the Strand, and the Miller, along with multiple other theaters. They also expanded their chain to cities outside Milwaukee, such as Green Bay, Waukesha, Fond du Lac, Madison, Janesville, Antigo, and Oshkosh. Davidson Theater c.1920 from CMY Archives
The debut of Saxe AE’s 3,000-seat flagship theater, the Wisconsin, in 1924, marked the height of Milwaukee’s love affair with the movies. The 75 foot exterior illuminated sign was visible for up to five miles on a clear night. The theater could truly be termed a ‘palace,’ with marble staircases and artistic treasures. The theater was actually more of a complex, including a dance hall, bowling alley, and arcade. They continued to build and rebuild theaters in Milwaukee, including the Modjeska, the Tower, the Plaza, the Oriental, the Uptown, and the Garfield. Two-thirds of all movie admissions in Milwaukee were brought in by the Saxe theaters.
After turning down many buyout offers from prestigious companies such as Universal and Paramount, they accepted an offer for $2 million from a 20th Century Fox subsidiary in 1927. John Saxe, after the buyout, continued to oversee the establishment of White Tower hamburger restaurants, which he had begun in the 1920s. Thomas had his fingers in quite a few pies, investing in carnivals, nightclubs, dance halls, apartments, and undeveloped properties. He owned a large amount of farmland south of the city, which were bought and developed into the village of Greendale. Other parcels of land, which Thomas donated, became Whitnall Park and Trimborn Farm.
The Saxe Brothers were not only incredibly influential in the culture of Milwaukee in the 1920s and 1930s--they were also a shining example of the optimism of the American Dream in a time when dreams weren’t always easy to believe in. Two newsboys, originally from Ireland, were able to create a massive movie empire in the movie capital of the world. Milwaukee was a city full of opportunity, and John and Thomas Saxe certainly took advantage of it.
1929 Milwaukee Telephone Directory
Partial List of Saxe Theaters and their locations:
Wisconsin - 6th Street and Wisconsin Avenue
Modjeska - Mitchell Street at Seventh Avenue
Tower - 27th and Wells Streets
Oriental - North and Farwell Avenues
Uptown - 48th Street, Lisbon Avenue and North Avenue
Garfield - 3rd Street near Locust Avenue
Strand - 510 W. Wisconsin Avenue
Merrill - 211 W Wisconsin Avenue
Miller - 3rd Street and Michigan
Princess - 3531 W. Villard Avenue
Lyric - 311 W. Wisconsin, 923 Milwaukee, 3804 W. Vliet St
Savoy - Center Street between 26th and 27th Streets
Mirth - Kinnickinnic between 27th and 28th Streets.
Tivoli - 3302 W. North Avenue
Alhambra -334 W. Wisconsin Avenue
Miller - 717 North Third St
Plaza - 3067 South Thirteenth St
Theatorium - 184 W. Wisconsin
Orpheum - 203 W Wisconsin, 535 W Wisconsin, 755 North Third St
Globe - 1220 W. Walnut St
Recommended for further reading on Milwaukee Movie Palaces: http://cinematreasures.org/
"Silver Screens: A Pictorial History of Milwaukee's Movie Theaters" by Larry Widen and Judi Anderson- on sale at the Chudnow Museum Gift Shop.
By Brynn Cooley, Museum Intern, Valparaiso University History MajorScreens: A Pictorial History of Milwaukee's Movie Theaters"All images