Wisconsin Tartan

The Wisconsin Tartan

The Wisconsin Tartan

Tartan has without a doubt become one of the most important symbols of Scotland and Scottish heritage. Tartan is a woven material, generally of wool, having stripes of different colors and varying width that create a pattern or 'sett'. Unique combinations can be created by changing the colors, width, depth and number of stripes. For centuries, tartan patterns have served to identify Scottish highland clans and families, each with a recognized tartan of their own.

The use of tartan has since found its way into everyday fashion, with traditional patterns being incorporated into clothing and accessories for both men and women. Its use as a means of identifying membership in a group has also expanded to include corporations, public institutions and private groups. This latter use of the tartan harkens back to its original uses, where unique patterns were created in an effort to capture or represent features of an organization.

The idea of an official Wisconsin state tartan was born of a discussion about Scottish identity in Milwaukee, and the role the Society should play in nurturing it. While membership in the Saint Andrew’s Society of the City of Milwaukee is not limited to Scots, wearing the tartan is appropriate and encouraged at all member gatherings. For those members who could not lay claim to Scottish descent, few options were available. The Wisconsin state tartan now fills that void.

Former Society president Robert McWilliam is credited with advancing the concept of a true Wisconsin tartan with his friend and world authority in tartan weaving, Dr. Phil Smith. Together they developed and submitted a number of tartan designs to a committee from the Saint Andrew’s Society. The designs incorporated colors that were significant and/or representative of local industry and heritage. 

The official Wisconsin tartan is a 'hunting' tartan having a blue/green background. This color scheme is commonly found in the tartans of many famous Wisconsin families such as Mitchell, Muir, Baird, Davidson (Harley-Davidson), Rose (Milwaukee mayor), Clark (astronaut), as well as that of former Wisconsin governors MacArthur, Smith, Davidson and McCallum. The other colors chosen represent the natural resources and industries historically associated with Wisconsin.

  • Brown for the fur trade.

  • Grey for lead mining in the Southwest corner of the state.

  • Green for the lumber industry and Wisconsin’s great pine forest.

  • Blue for the two Great Lakes bordering Wisconsin. The lakes highlight the state’s maritime trade as well as the commercial and recreational fishing industries.

  • Yellow represents both the dairy and brewing industries.

  • Red represents the University of Wisconsin system, significant as one of the state's largest employers, and providing research and development resources to further state-based industries.

At 2:45pm on April 7th, 2008, Governor James Doyle affixed his signature to AB 212, making the Wisconsin tartan official. The tartan bill is designated: 2007 WISCONSIN ACT 217 (i.e. the 217th act created by the legislature, signed by the governor.)

The tartan and its description can be seen at the Scottish Register of Tartans here.

For those interested in purchasing the fabric, the Wisconsin tartan sells for $50.00 per yard. The cloth is pure wool, woven in Scotland, and comes in either 13oz or 16oz weight. Contact us at info@saintandrewsmilwaukee.org for more information.