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Brittingham Park

Brittingham Park (1905 ca)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-11074

Thomas E. Brittingham

The recent restoration of the boathouse along Monona Bay near Brittingham Park calls to mind the park’s namesake, Thomas E. Brittingham.

Brittingham (May 18, 1860 - May 2, 1924) was at one time Madison’s wealthiest businessman. In 1889 he formed Brittingham & Hixson Lumber Company, and ultimately owned 126 lumber yards, thousands of acres of timber, oil wells, and interests in financial institutions throughout the U. S. He was a UW regent, chairman of the Forest Hill Cemetery Commission, chair of the state park board and a curator of the Wisconsin Historical Society. A philanthropist, he was one of the major benefactors and guiding spirits of the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association and donated land for the park that bears his name. He also contributed to Neighborhood House, Madison General Hospital, and paid for the base of the Lincoln statue on Bascom Hill which was donated by its sculptor, Adolph Weinmann.

Brittingham established a unique program of scholarships - called “Vikings” - for Norwegian, Swedish and Danish students, aimed at promoting understanding among the world’s people. He and his wife hand-picked the scholars; they were given enough money to study and travel widely in the United States so they could return to their native countries with a full understanding of life in America. Brittingham left his house at 6021 Highlands Avenue, Dunmuvin, to the UW; it is now used as the official residence of the president. He created one foundation to benefit the UW and another to benefit the city.

His son, Thomas Jr. (March 2, 1899 – April 16, 1960), was a director or president of five companies, including Lumber Industries and the Metropolitan Merchandise Mart, and held an individual seat on the New York Stock Exchange. He was president of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, and grew an $8 million share of the WARF fund to $29 million by putting ninety percent of the portfolio in stocks, contrary to most conservative college investing. He was president of the UW Alumni Association from 1951 to 1952.

Brittingham was awarded the Swedish Order of Polar North Star, the Norwegian Medal of St. Olaf, and the Cross of the Knight of Canneborg. He grew a $240,000 trust fund left by his father to $1 million which benefited Madison in many ways - the Brittingham Trust enabled Professor Alexander Meiklejohn’s work in the Experimental College, Dr. Fred Mohs cancer surgery study, creation of the artist-in-residence program that brought Curry and Bohrod to the UW, the purchase of 28 acres in Eagle Heights for the university, and the Pro Arte Quartet.

Mark Gajewski