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Learn more about the history of the Wisconsin and Madison flags

Most of us probably don’t have our state and city flags memorized, but it’s worth studying up: Our flags’ designs reflect rich history.

608 flag symbol

The Madison flag resembles a map view of the isthmus. | Graphic by 608today

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, a flag is a whole textbook.

The Wisconsin and Madison flags are a record of history that experts read like a secret code. Every part carries some meaning, from hoist to fly end.

City flag

Has Madison’s flag always looked strikingly familiar, but you just can’t put your finger on why? A quick glance from the flag to Google Maps will help connect the dots.

The white stripe running from the bottom left corner to the top right represents the isthmus, while the blue background symbolizes Lake Mendota and Lake Monona.

The black and yellow symbol in the middle has a dual meaning. Primarily, it represents the state capitol at the center of the isthmus, but the four legs emerging from the center account for all of Madison’s four lakes — Mendota, Monona, Waubesa, and Wingra.

A brief history. Back in 1962, Rick and Dennis Stone of the Madison Scouts Drum & Bugle Corps, along with their color guard instructor John Price, designed Madison’s flag. While similar to the current design, at teh center was the sun symbol of the Zia Pueblo people. Fast forward to July 24, 2018, the sun symbol was replaced by a solid yellow circle.

State flag

Wisconsin state flag

Wisconsin’s state flag. | Image via Canva Pro

At first glance, our state flag — dating back to 1863 — has a relatively simple aesthetic. The focal point lies in the center of the flag including four main symbols — a badger, a miner, a sailor, and a shield.

Badger: The state animal sits regally atop the golden shield just below a banner with the state’s motto since 1851, “Forward.”

Miner: A large portion of southwest Wisconsin falls in the Driftless Area of the Midwest. During the last ice age, this area was untouched by glaciers rendering it prime for lead and zinc mining in the early era of statehood.

Sailor: Wisconsin has 1,000+ miles of coastline on Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. Before Amazon Prime, 19th-century Wisconsin relied heavily on sailors to transport commerce.

Shield: The shield is divided into four quadrants, each representing a pillar of Wisconsin’s popular trades — a plow (agriculture), a pick and shovel (mining), an arm and hammer (manufacturing), and an anchor (navigation).

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