A Northwoods Moment In History

Every Wednesday at 6:45 a.m., 8:45 a.m., and 5:45 p.m., we turn back the clock on WXPR with local historian Gary Entz to find out what life in the Northwoods used to be like. This is part of a new initiative by WXPR to tell the history and culture of northern Wisconsin.

You can keep track of A Northwoods Moment in History and all of WXPR's local features on the WXPR Local Features podcast, wherever you get your podcasts.

Wisconsin Historical Society

Modern telecommunication systems provide the means to contact friends, relatives, and businesses whenever and wherever we want, but historically this is a recent development.  New electronic communication systems often had a dramatic impact on communities, and this can be seen in the Northwoods.  

Wisconsin Historical Society

Train robberies are part of the lore of the American West and the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters.  But what was far more common than robbing a moving train was robbing the train depot, and that happened in the Northwoods back in the heyday of railroading.

Wikipedia Public Domain

Many talented people have lived in the Northwoods, and every now and again one of them achieves national fame.  One such person was Stanley Morner from the town of Prentice in Price County.  Although few people today recognize his name, in the 1940s under the stage name of Dennis Morgan, Stanley Morner was considered an    A-list star and one of Hollywood’s leading men. 

Wisconsin Historical Society

During the Second World War, raw materials were in high demand and difficult to obtain.  This made recycling of metal, rubber, and paper more important than ever.  Oneida County met its scrap collection goal but had to sacrifice an historic treasure to do it.  

Wisconsin Historical Society

Today, travel in and out of the Northwoods can be accomplished by private automobile or airline.  In prior decades, people had multiple options for traveling, including that most mundane of all modes, the bus.  

The National Archives and Records Administration

People interested in polar geography may know about the Eklund Islands in King George the Sixth Sound southwest of the Antarctic Peninsula.  What might be less commonly known is that the Eklund Islands in Antarctica are named for a Northwoods native.  

The southernmost continent of Antarctica is cold, inhospitable, and not the sort of place that most Northwoods residents think about when looking for adventure.  But for one Northwoods native, the chance to live and work in Antarctica was a dream come true.

Wisconsin Historical Society

In the nineteenth century, people believed Wisconsin’s forests to be inexhaustible.  Lumber production proceeded at an unsustainable pace, but few cared as it was assumed that farming would naturally follow.  Successful farming never came on a large scale, and the damaged land needed repairing.  This is where the Trout Lake Nursery comes in.  

Wisconsin Historical Society

The Indian Termination Act of the 1950s was a misguided attempt to alleviate economic hardship on Reservations by terminating tribal sovereignty and relocating Native peoples to urban areas where they could find work and be assimilated.  The act had a significant impact on Wisconsin’s Menominee Tribe.  It also led to the founding of the American Indian Movement.  

Story of the Snowmobile

Feb 10, 2021
Wisconsin Historical Society

The town of Sayner promotes itself as the “birthplace of the snowmobile” and the community has a legitimate claim to that title.  However, as with so many historical topics, the story is a bit more complicated than that.  

Carl Eliason’s hand-built 1924 motor toboggan is on display in Sayner’s Snowmobile Museum, and Eliason’s design was the prototype for the modern snowmobile.  While Eliason’s model became the most successful, it was not the first, and Northwoods residents experimented with all sorts of snow machines before settling on Eliason’s toboggan.

Wisconsin Historical Society

The early history of Phillips in Price County is primarily one of the railroads and logging industries.   Like other Northwoods communities, Phillips had a healthy economy based in logging, and that industry helped contribute to a catastrophic event in its early history.  

The town of Phillips is in the center of Price County and serves as the county seat of government.  It was a logging town but originally came into existence because of the railroad.

Wisconsin Historical Society

The Northwoods economy was focused on the logging industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  However, mining was just as important to the economic growth of the region, and in the Northwoods of Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula mining for copper and iron brought economic prosperity to many communities.  It also brought hardship and tragedy.  

Wisconsin Historical Society

Cornelius Harrington, a native of Hurley, grew up in the Northwoods and maintained a lifelong dedication to the land he loved.  Before his career could take off, his forestry skills made him invaluable to the U.S. Army in World War I.  Before getting there, however, Harrington survived a harrowing shipwreck.  

Gary Entz

Today no one really thinks about air mail as anything particularly unique.  In the past, however, the railroads transported most interstate mail in the U.S.  To receive a letter with a special air mail envelope and stamp meant that it was either important enough for the sender to pay extra for the postage, or that it came from overseas.  

Wisconsin Historical Society

In the nineteenth century, government rarely got involved in issues of health care. In the absence of government aid, the Catholic Church often stepped in to fill the gap.  There were many people involved in bringing quality hospital care to the Northwoods, but for Rhinelander the life of one individual member of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother serves to tell the story.  

Wisconsin Historical Society

In the past, many Northwoods communities held annual winter carnivals featuring competitions in ski jumping, cross-country skiing, figure skating, ice hockey, curling, snowshoe racing, and sled dog racing.  Rhinelander was no exception and embraced what is today called “silent sports.”  But in 1950, one young girl stole the show.  

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