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History of Camp Randall
excerpt taken from:
"The Buildings of the University of Wisconsin"
By: Jim Feldman
Published by: University of Wisconsin Archives
In the earliest days of the State of Wisconsin the 50-acre site bounded by University
Avenue, Breese Terrace, Monroe and North Randall Streets, was owned by the State
Agricultural Society. The early state fairs were held there with the race track
and fairgrounds in the approximate location of the modern stadium's football field.
With the outbreak of the Civil War the Agricultural Society offered the property
to the state as a training center for troops. By May 1, 1861, soldiers began to
move in. The camp was named for Alexander W. Randall, the state's first wartime
The first winter saw 9,000 troops quartered at Camp Randall, and eventually 70,000
of the state's 91, 327 troops trained there at one time or another. In 1862, 1400
sick and wounded Confederate troops captured at Island 10 in the Mississippi and
at Shiloh were held at Camp Randall. Many of these southern soldiers died of their
wounds and are buried in a cemetery on Madison's west side in an area known as "soldier's
rest", the northernmost confederate cemetery in the United States.
There was then a plan made for the land to be plotted and sold for building lots,
but the outrage of the war veterans against this "sordid sacrilege" led the state
legislature to purchase the property form the owners, a group of Madison businessmen
led by R.M. Bashford, for $25,000 on April 19, 1893. In his testimony before the
legislative committee regarding the property General Lucius Fairchild is reported
to have said: "Gentlemen there is the property; the university needs it; the price
is cheap; if you don't buy it, I will." The legislature then presented the property
to the university.
In 1913 the memorial park was defined by the legislature to include the 6.5 acre
parcel at the east entrance of the camp. The memorial park section is still under
the control of the university. The memorial arch was built by the state in 1911
at a cost of about $25,000 and the cannons were mounted in 1913. Soldiers were again
quartered and trained at Camp Randall during WWI and the WAVES in WWII trained there.
Shortly after it was acquired by the university Camp Randall was put to use for
athletics, at first only for track and field events, since baseball and football
games were still being played on the lower campus, with spectators lining up in
buggies on Langdon Street. The increasing attendance and the associated dangers
(there were reports of baseballs entering street cars) at these athletic events
caused the university to build a stadium at the northeast corner of Camp Randall
the site of the old fairgrounds.
A soldier's veteran group wrote a petition to the regents that the name always remain
Camp Randall, complaining that no-one would consider renaming Bunker Hill "Bunker
Field". Their request was granted and only the occasional visiting sportscaster
refers to 'Randall Field' and is quickly corrected.
This stadium was first used in 1895 when the Badgers defeated the Gophers of Minnesota
6-0. The bleachers were wooden and with the heavy use (capacity was about 3000)
were difficult to maintain. The grandstand section had rooms underneath it for lockers,
toilets, and showers. In the fall of 1914 the entire bleacher section on the north
side of the field was condemned as unsafe for use. They were torn down and the practice
began of renting temporary bleacher seating for the east, west and north sides of
the field. Although the total seating capacity of the stadium was about 3,000 the
Daily Cardinal reports that as many as 15,000 attended games, standing in crowds
surrounding the field.
Peabody, athletic director George W. Ehler and the regents began planning the stadium
in 1908 about the time the old stadium was becoming unsafe. Petitions to the legislature
for funds were not answered until 1915 when the state granted $20,000 of a $40,000
request for a new stadium. The work of preparing the site for the new stadium was
begun in mid-1915. Work was slow due to hard weather, and war related material problems.
The hope that the new stadium would be available in the 1916 season slipped away.
Then something happened.
The homecoming game against Minnesota on November 20, 1915 was attended by a reported
15,000 spectators. A large percentage of these fans were crowded into the rented
and recently erected temporary bleachers. About a minute into the second quarter
of the game, a loud cracking sound was heard form the vicinity of the west bleachers
and three one-hundred foot sections of the bleacher containing 1,800 people collapsed.
Surprisingly there were almost no serious injuries, although there were a quantity
of minor ones, and rumors of students near death. The game was only interrupted
for about fifteen minutes, after which the Badgers were beaten 21-0. Famed sportswriter
Ring Lardner was at the game and wrote a typically breathless article for the Cardinal
in which he reported: "They was about 1,000 or maybe five thousand people in one
of the cheering stands and all of a sudden it caved in somewhere and all the people
was thrown on the ground. Some of 'em was hurt pretty bad too.."
An inquiry into the accident by the state and university architects and engineers
exonerated almost everybody, placing the bulk of the blame on ground recently saturated
by rain and subjected to a freeze-thaw cycle. The stakes at the front of the bleachers
began to move forward under their load until some rear supports pulled out and gave
way, thus allowing the structure to collapse. President Van Hise told the Cardinal
"We have been afraid something like this might happen ever since a stand gave way
in Chicago....we have been for years urging a concrete stadium at Camp Randall,
but it was just cut out of the bill offered on the floor of the senate. Today's
accident shows how imperative is the need." The 1915 legislature's $20,000 appropriation,
the accident, and $2300 in donations from alumni and students accelerated the construction
of the new stadium.
The plan placed the new field just east of a forty foot hill that sloped away from
Breese Terrace near Monroe Street. The new concrete bleachers would be built directly
into the east side of that hill. Since there would be no space under the west stands
it was assumed that locker rooms and facilities would wait until the construction
of an east grandstand which was not an explicit part of the original plan. It was
estimated that the hillside capacity was 10,000 seats, not all that were needed
but all that could be afforded. The new stadium was ready for use in time for the
opening home game of 1917. The top row (of 40) was twenty feet below Breese Terrace.
The seats stretched 400 feet along the hill.
The first game played at the new field was October 6, 1917 against Beloit, with
the Badgers winning 34-0, attendance was reported at 2000. The stadium was not officially
dedicated until November 3, 1917 at homecoming against Minnesota. The Badgers won
in front of 10,000 fans at the new stadium. The legislature of 1917 had appropriated
another $10,.000. Because only 7500 of the hillside seats were finished in time
for the start of the season, and partly to provide dressing facilities, the grandstand
section was moved from the south side of the old field to the east side of the new
field, adding another 3000 seats. The ground on the east side of the field was filled
and several years were thought to be needed for it to stabilize before it would
be safe to build concrete seats upon. This configuration of 7500 concrete hillside
seats and 3000 old wooden seats from the old field was used and added to piecemeal
(in 1921, 4000 concrete seats were added for $ 24, 872) for about seven years.
On June 8, 1922 after an rain-soaked fraternity game at the field, a student living
on Breese Terrace called the fire department and reported seeing flames at Camp
Randall. By the time the fire department arrived the old wood grandstand was engulfed
in flames, and far beyond saving. No certain cause of the blaze was ever determined,
it was variously blamed on arson, a cigarette, town kids, et.al. Ironically the
building had been sold the previous day to a salvage man. Thus passed the last remnants
of the old stadium where played the earliest greats of the Badger football program,
fabled "kangaroo" kicker Pat O'Dea, J.F.A. "Sunny" Pyre, "Norsky" Larsen another
member of the conference champion teams of 1901 and 1912.
In July of 1923 work was under way on concrete bleachers for the east side of the
field that would add 5000 more seats to the stadium (Arthur Peabody's design). The
temporary north bleachers were replaced with concrete in 1923 also. By 1924 the
capacity of the stadium was listed as 33,000. For the next fifteen years the bowl-shaped
stadium grew bit by bit as money became available from the legislature or from gate
receipts. In 1940 an addition was built that completed the original bowl. It now
wrapped around the field on three sides, with the field house filling in the south
end, which had originally been left open to alleviate the ventilation problems that
early stadia of this type exhibited. It had a capacity of 45,000 and utilized some
temporary bleachers on the northwest and southwest corners.
An interesting aspect of the Camp Randall stadium was the inclusion of the stadium
dormitories. In the period around 1940 housing for students and military personnel
was a distinct problem in Madison, and the regents sought innovative ways to alleviate
the problem. The '1940' addition (designed by the state Bureau of Engineering) which
was actually begun November 1939, added 7500 seats on the east side and built the
dormitory under the east side seats. The outside wall was sheathed with Madison
sandstone (for which a local quarry had to be temporarily reopened), and in addition
to the dormitory for 150 men, there were boxing and wrestling quarters, and a rifle
range. The work on the 1940 addition to the stadium was done by the WPA (Works Progress
Administration) a depression era federal program.
The dormitories were named the Schreiner and Baumann houses after two UW students
who were killed at Okinawa. These dorms were occupied initially by naval trainees.
After the war the dorms were home to 157 student veterans. The stadium dorms did
not have kitchen facilities and so were cheaper than the regular dorms ($145-160/year
in 1950). As dormitories they always operated at a loss because of various factors
mostly regarding scale and poor utilization of space. In 1951 the regents announced
their decision to close the stadium dorms, and suggested that the next dorms built
on campus should be named for Schreiner and Baumann. In 1954 the rooms were converted
to offices for the extension department. Later they became offices for the athletic
and military departments.
In 1950 plans (By Ebling, Plunkett & Keyman of Milwaukee) were announced to
expand the stadium to hold 50,000 using revenue form athletic events. The expansion
was done by raising the bleachers in the north end to the same height as the main
east and west sections, and by replacing the temporary seats with permanent ones.
The .B. Fritz Co. was awarded the contract, and began work in May 1950. The total
cost of this expansion was $569,000. Complaints had been made about spectators getting
splinters from the old wood seats. The work was delayed because of postwar material
shortages and a severe winter in 1950. The job was not completed until September
of 1951. Even with the expansion Camp Randall stadium was one of the smallest in
the Big 10.
Attendance at the newly enlarged stadium averaged over 50,000 during the seasons
of 1952 and 1953. Calls for further expansion were immediately raised. In 1954 the
regents authorized a study of methods for adding seats. Three methods were investigated:
building more rows on top of the existing seats, filling in the south end of bowl
behind the field house, and lowering the field; that is going up, going out or going
down. In 1957 the regents announced that they would lower the field by ten feet,
thereby adding 10,000 new seats and many of them between the goal lines. This would
eliminate the running track which had always surrounded the field, but the newly
built Memorial practice building and plans for a new gymnasium eliminated this drawback.
The work was begun in mid November of 1957, with a projected cost of $ 482,000.
By July 1958 the expansion was in the finishing stages. The capacity had risen to
63710. The area between the bleachers and the field was blacktopped during this
The stadium proved adequate through the late 1950s and early 1960s, but a few successful
seasons boosted attendance again and in 1964 the regents decided to expand again.
This time they decided to go up. The plan (by Osborne Engineering of Cleveland OH)
was to add a second deck on the west side of the stadium, and to include a two story
press box, which would free up more seats in the bleachers. This addition was completed
in time for the 1965 season and brought the stadium to its current (1993) capacity
of 75,935. The promise of the Barry Alvarez era, the 1993 Rose Bowl season, and
the stampede in the overcrowded student sections at the Michigan game of that year
raised questions about the size and safety of the stadium. There may be additional
enlargement in the future, probably by adding seats at the south end near the field
house, or building an upper deck on the east side.