Wisconsin Department of Transportation

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75th anniversary of Wisconsin State Patrol logo

State Patrol's historical timeline: 1939-1949*

1939

  • The Wisconsin Legislature on Sept. 1 passed Chapter 110 creating the Motor Vehicle Department, which consisted of three divisions: Registration and Licensing, Highway Safety Promotion, and Inspection and Enforcement.
  • Governor Julius Heil appointed Colonel George Rickeman as the first commissioner of the Motor Vehicle Department. In turn, Commissioner Rickeman appointed Homer G. Bell as the director of the Inspection and Enforcement Division with supervision of 46 inspectors, who previously staffed five different agencies in various state departments.
  • The inspectors were authorized to enforce the state’s motor vehicle code and motor carrier regulations. They were paid $180 month. They used their own vehicles but were supplied with a siren, flashing red lights, police license plate and official door shield. They also received $30 a month for gasoline, oil and lubricants.
  • The officers were the official Motor Vehicle Department representative in their assigned counties and a large part of their time was devoted to non-enforcement duties such as giving driver’s license tests and taking vehicle registration applications.

1940-1949

  • The Legislature in 1941 restricted the number of agency personnel to 55 and labeled them "traffic officers" for the first time.
  • During World War II, traffic officers escorted military convoys and maintained smooth and safe traffic flows in the vicinity of Camp McCoy and the munitions plant near Baraboo. They also escorted caravans of celebrities selling war bonds around the state.
  • To support the war efforts, the agency’s field headquarters moved to the Badger Ordnance complex near Baraboo in 1941.
  • Officers had no communications equipment in their vehicles. In emergencies, radio station WIZR at the Badger Ordnance plant would broadcast an alert. The officers would then have to find a nearby phone to contact headquarters for instructions.
  • A private telephone line to the Motor Vehicle Department provided a 24-hour, direct link between the field headquarters and Madison for driver’s license and vehicle registration information.
  • When Badger Ordnance closed in 1945, the agency’s headquarters were moved to the lower level of the state office building at 1 West Wilson Street in Madison.
  • New communications stations were installed in Delafield, Hayward, Irma and Waukesha in 1946.
  • Communications improved with the creation of an FM radio station called WWCF east of Baraboo in 1947. The station allowed the agency to use its 654-foot tower for a communications center. The site also had living and office quarters and remained the central dispatch point until 1955.
  • The Baraboo site was linked to the agency’s radio console station at Lapham Peak near Delafield in 1948. The communications system consisted of seven base stations with control centers at Baraboo, Hayward, Tomahawk, DePere and Black River Falls.
  • To keep speedometers on officers’ vehicles accurate, a Fifth-Wheel Trackmaster was used. The trackmaster was a large bicycle-type wheel that attached to the bumper and accurately measured the vehicle’s speed.

*The sources of information include a variety of documents, newsletters, previous anniversary publications and submissions by current and former members of the Wisconsin State Patrol. 

Questions about the content of this page:
Steve Olson, steve.olson@dot.wi.gov
Last modified: January 29, 2014

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