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