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Wisconsin Union Historical Timeline

In his inaugural address, UW President Charles Van Hise calls for the construction of a Union building to provide for "the communal life of instructors and students in work, in play, and in social relations."

The Wisconsin Union is formed, with the Men's Union Board established to serve as the all-campus program board.

The Wisconsin Union, along with six other college unions, founds the Association of College Unions.

The Board of Regents, led by President Walter Kohler, Sr., authorizes the appointment of a special committee to initiate plans and secure funding for a union building to serve as the University's war memorial.

A crowd of more than 5,000 gathers on Armistice Day (now called Veterans Day) to witness University President Glenn Frank dig the first shovel full of dirt for construction of Memorial Union.

Union Fund Drive Committee offers lifetime Union membership to those who donate $50 or more to the building fund. Also that year, Porter Butts is named the Union's first director.

The building cornerstone is laid in a Memorial Day ceremony. Sealed in the stone are the University's military service record of 10,000 names and Gold Star Honor Roll of 219 names, together with the Union roll of 10,000 donors.

On October 5, 1928, the Memorial Union opens, dedicated to the men and women of the University who served in our country's wars. At the opening ceremony, President Frank states, “The Union is a living room, which converts the University from a house of learning into a home of learning.”

The first wedding in the new Union facility is held in Tripp Commons.

A group of three students and three staff members form an outing club to be known as the Wisconsin Hoofers with the aim of making the University of Wisconsin the outing center of the Midwest

Upon recommendation of the Union Council, the Board of Regents approves the sale of 3.2 beer on campus. The Memorial Union is the first union to serve beer at a public university. Also in 1933, Tudor Dinners is inaugurated in Tripp Commons.

The Union sponsors the first state-wide “Wisconsin Salon of Art” show. Held in the Union Gallery, artist Grant Wood is one of the judges.

The Board of Regents designates the Wisconsin Union as “The Division of Social Education.” From the beginning, the Union provided spaces and places for students to relax and socialize.

James Watrous completes a series of murals, which he began as a graduate student in 1933, depicting the legend of Paul Bunyan. The project is funded by a federal grant as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in response to the Great Depression.

On May 4, 1937, the Board of Regents authorizes the Union to proceed with plans for construction of the Union Theater and new west wing facilities. The concept of including a theater in the Union had existed during the early planning days before the Union was built, but a lack of funds prevented its construction until the late 1930's.

The Union Theater opens with the performance of "Taming of the Shrew" staring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. The Theater Wing addition also includes new Hoofer quarters, a craftshop, and eight bowling lanes.

The Hoofer Sailing Club is organized with 450 students signing up for dry land instruction.

Initially, the Rathskeller was open to men only. Beginning in 1937, women were allowed to enter during summer session. In 1941 Union Council votes to open the Rathskeller to women from 2 pm to closing. One year later, women gain full access.

With the United States now engaged in World War II, the Union and the campus rush to meet the needs of service men and women. More than 2000 Army and Navy personnel are fed in Union dining rooms daily. As a result, traffic in the Union soars.

Carolyn Hall elected as the first female president of the Union.

2100 students attend the first dance of the year in Great Hall, forcing Union Council to establish a maximum attendance of 1500 for future dances.

As campus enrollment grows tremendously in the years following World War II, the central section of the Union is refurbished and redecorated, including the Rathskeller, Trophy Room, Billiards Room, Main Lounge, and Great Hall.

As part of the UW's Centennial celebration, the Union Art Committee presents "Old Masters from the Metropolitan" art exhibit in Union Gallery. The exhibition, featuring 27 masterpieces, is viewed by more than 66,000 people.

The original Union Building Committee is formally incorporated as the Memorial Union Building Association, a tax-exempt educational corporation dedicated to serving the Wisconsin Union and its members.

The Union celebrates the 25th anniversary of the opening of Memorial Union. As part of the festivities, the Union makes a color sound film depicting the union idea in action.

Bermuda shorts are recognized as acceptable dress in the Union Cafeteria and Rathskeller, as well as on the Terrace.

The Union begins construction of expanded dining room facilities, including a cafeteria with lakefront views, at a cost of $1,293,000.

The Stiftskeller opens in the previous Billiards Room, providing additional seating space for Union patrons, though the Stiftskeller murals were not added until 1978.

The Special Services Committee is established as part of the Union Directorate to promote volunteerism in the community. Also that year, the Union celebrates the Theater's 25th anniversary.

Porter Butts retires as director. Ted Crabb, who served as the Union's student president in 1953-54, is appointed as the second director.

During the political and social unrest of the 1960s, Union programs reflect the times, including a week-long symposium called "The Black Revolution: To What Ends?" Speakers include Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, and Nathan Wright. Also in 1969, the University cancels a production of Peter Pan in the Play Circle Theater, which leads to a campus-wide ban on nudity in all University drama programs.

In order to better serve the growing campus, the Wisconsin Union opens Union South and celebrates with the theme "Fewer Walls, More Bridges."

The first Union Mini Courses are offered.

The Union celebrates its golden anniversary year with the theme "A Half Century of Constructive Involvement," including a five-week residency of the Alwin Nikolais Dance Theatre. Other events include a 200-pound cake in the shape of the Union and the Hoofers-sponsored "Great Goldfish Giveaway," which involves dumping 1,000 goldfish in the Library Mall Fountain.

The Memorial Union Building Association provides funds for the necessary tools and dyes to ensure the on-going production of the beloved Terrace "sunburst' chairs, which have appeared on the Union Terrace since the 1940s.

In the summer of 1987, a newly renovated Union Terrace opens, featuring additional seating and an outdoor Brat Stand. Thousands of visitors attend the grand re-opening festivities.

The Union's second floor Browsing Library becomes home to the University's Interim Multicultural Center. Also that year, the Red Oak Grill is remodeled and expanded and a new, open staircase is constructed in the Union South atrium.

The Union Theater celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Diversions, a non-alcoholic night club, opens at Union South.

The Morgridge Center for Public Service is created and becomes a department of the Wisconsin Union with offices at Union South. In 1998, the Center's permanent home opens in the newly renovated Red Gym.

Hoofers resurrects the Statue of Liberty, which first appeared on Lake Mendota in the late 1970s, as part of Winter Carnival. Also that year, the Wisconsin Union launches its first web site.

The Hoofers Riding Club finds a permanent home for its stable in the Town of Montrose, located a short drive from campus.

Ted Crabb retires as Union director. Mark Guthier is appointed as the third director in the Union's history.

The Wisconsin Union marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of Memorial Union. The first event to launch the year-long celebration is a contest in which more than 1000 people submitted entries for a new ice cream flavor to commemorate the occasion.

UW-Madison students voted “yes” to the Student Union Initiative to fund improvements to the Wisconsin Union facilities—including Memorial Union and Union South.

The new Union South opens on April 15, 2011.

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