FORT ATKINSON, Wis. — Wisconsin is the Dairy State, so it's only fitting that the National Dairy Shrine museum and Dairy Hall of Fame is also in Wisconsin.
The National Dairy Shrine Museum in Fort Atkinson honors dairy leaders and the dairy industry across the country. It makes for the perfect summer road trip to try something new.
“We needed to have a museum where we could preserve the history of the dairy industry, but then also as a way to promote and help consumers understand the dairy industry,” said Mike Opperman, Executive Director of the National Dairy Shrine.
The museum is full of artifacts including cheese makers, milk bottles, and butter churns. It also features a rotunda showcasing the history of the dairy industry. About 15,000 to 18,000 people visit the museum every year.
“The most interesting thing downstairs is the dog treadmill where they would put a dog on a treadmill, and (the dog) would run it, and it would power a butter churn or cream separator,” said Opperman.
People from across the country regularly donate old tools and artifacts to the museum, according to Opperman. One couple dropped off an old milk bottler all the way from Massachusetts.
The museum also showcases the dairy hall of fame. It celebrates the people who made major contributions to the industry.
One name you definitely need to know is W.D. Hoard. He is the “father of American Dairy” and is known for his role in the Hoard’s Dairyman magazine and establishing Hoard’s Dairyman Farm on the north edge of Fort Atkinson. The magazine covered industry trends, techniques, new technologies and more. He also popularized growing and feeding alfalfa to cows, which became a standard feed.
Other important names to know that were inducted into the hall of fame are Milwaukee icon Fred Pabst and department store magnate J.C. Penny.
The museum is sponsored by the Dairy Shrine, a national organization honoring past and present dairy leaders, and promoting the benefits of the dairy industry. In 2018, there were over 19,500 members, according to the Dairy Shrine website.
The Dairy Shrine offers more than $40,000 annually in scholarships to college students going into dairy-related industries. Apply to those scholarships here.
“That really kind of gives them a boost into their professional careers, and then once they’re in their professional careers, we can encourage them to become leaders in the industry,” said Opperman.
The National Dairy Shrine Museum shares space with the Hoard Historical Museum. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. More information can be found at the Dairy Shrine website.