Today marks the 84th birthday for one of the UW-Madison’s most meaningful landmarks. 1928 saw the doors of the Memorial Union open for the first time and it has remained a communal campus resource for students, faculty and staff since that day. There is perhaps no spot on campus that for students, alumni and community members means UW more than the Memorial Union.
Here’s a (very) brief timeline highlighting events at the Union over the decades:
UW President Charles Van
Hise originally prompted the construction of a Union building in 1904 with a purpose of providing for “the communal life of instructors and students in work, in play, and in social
relations.” In 1921, the Memorial Union Building Committee sent a pamphlet to alumni and other potential donor constituents to sell the concept of a student Union. A piece of Union fundraising propaganda from November 1921 boasts the proposed amenities, including the now famous terrace, accommodating eateries, and a theater with professional stage equipment.
The building cornerstone, laid in 1927, contains the University’s military service record, a list of Union donors and another of Gold Star Honor Roll recipients. Exactly 84 years ago today, the Memorial Union opened its doors, dedicated to the men and women of UW who served in America’s wars. UW President Glenn Frank (1925-1937) said the Union serves as a living room for the home of learning that is our great university.
The Board of Regents approved the sale of 3.2 beer on campus in 1933, making the Memorial Union the first Union to serve beer at a public university. The German beer hall-themed Rathskeller (German: bar below street level), almost entirely unchanged since its construction, was originally a ‘men’s club.’ Commonly dubbed the ‘Rath,’ this ground-level area of the Memorial Union continues to be a popular social space for UW students.
Phase 1 of the Memorial Union Reinvestment Project began this past summer, focusing restoration efforts on the west wing and 5th floor of the building (below). The Wisconsin Union Directorate (WUD), comprised of students, plans events in multiple disciplines and media.
The Union is one of Wisconsin’s finest traditions and will likely have a large presence on campus for another 84 years to come. Happy Birthday, Memorial Union. See more images and read more history in the UW-Madison Collection.