I often think people forget the valuable information that can be found in the Wisconsin Blue Book. The various “profiles” beginning each section provide a nice overview or historical perspective. The Special Articles (PDF) are often packed with useful data. The editors and contributors over the years have done an amazing job.
My favorite section is the statistics. Not only because I seem to be a numbers junkie, but because this section often contains those hard to find nuggets. Now, I need to clarify. I am specifically talking about older information. In this day of online data, current information is a bit easier to locate.
The entire collection of the Blue Books is available (in .pdf) online. The LRB offers the 1995 to current editions on their website. The older editions (1853-2002) are housed in the University of Wisconsin – Digital Collections.
So, what are some of these “valuable nuggets” a researcher can find? Let’s say you need a listing of the state Prison Commissioners before the office was abolished in 1874? Well, the Blue Book from 1880 will tell you. Too obscure? How about information on Wisconsin manufacturing in the 1920’s, or 1950’s, etc? This type of information is often summarized in the Blue Book. Maybe you need to understand the changes in Wisconsin farms; the 1970 Blue Book contains statistics on income from farming.
If you haven’t looked into this resource in a while, it might be time to re-visit the history found there.