A Brief History


Since 1903, Wisconsin citizens have depended on the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene (WSLH) to help maintain the high quality of life in our state. As the state’s public health and environmental laboratory, we help:

  • maintain the public health of all Wisconsin residents;
  • safeguard the state’s environment; and
  • educate state residents on public health issues.

1902 Wisconsin State Board of Health recommends the establishment of a bacteriological and chemical laboratory at UW-Madison for its own use and the use of state physicians.

1903 Wisconsin State Hygienic Laboratory opens its doors on October 1 in Agriculture Hall with Dr. H.L. Russell serving as director.

1908 Dr. Mazych P. Ravenel becomes lab director.

1911 State statutes change the laboratory’s name to the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene.

1915 Dr. William D. Stovall becomes director.

1916 First of nine WSLH branch laboratories opens in Rhinelander.

1928 WSLH links “lingering fever” to the consumption of milk from Brucellosis-infected cows, pushes for milk pasteurization begins.

1930 WSLH begins offering microscopic examination of tissues for malignant growth.

1937 Occupational Health program founded.

1945 WSLH medical technologist sent to New York to learn the Pap test from Dr. Papanicolaou.

1953 Henry Mall building on University of Wisconsin campus completed on February 28, branch labs close upon opening of new facility.

1958 Dr. Alfred S. Evans becomes WSLH director.

1960 WSLH establishes the first public health cytogenetics laboratory in the U.S.

1963 WSLH researcher identifies the causative agent of LaCrosse (Wisconsin) encephalitis.

1966 Dr. Stanley L. Inhorn becomes WSLH director.

1966 Proficiency Testing program founded.

1978 Newborn Screening laboratory established.

1980 Dr. Ronald H. Laessig becomes WSLH director.

1980 WSLH assists epidemiologists in linking toxic shock syndrome to tampon usage.

1993 WSLH tests thousands of samples for cryptosporidium from the world’s largest single point outbreak in Milwaukee.

1999 Environmental Health Division moves into a new facility on Madison’s east side.

2001 WSLH tests hundreds of specimens throughout the state for anthrax contamination (all test negative).

2003 WSLH receives federal funds to enhance chemical testing capacity related to homeland security.

2006 Dr. Charles D. Brokopp becomes WSLH Director.

2008 Wisconsin becomes first state to screen all newborns for severe combined immune deficiency (SCID).

2009 From April to July, the WSLH tests more than 9,000 patient specimens for pandemic influenza A H1N1 virus. The WSLH also begins antiviral resistance testing as part of pandemic response.

2011 – 2013 Air pollution research on Da Vinci’s painting “The Last Supper” (Italy) and the Taj Mahal (India) provide clues to particulate matter breathed in by humans

2014 WSLH scientists develop and teach training course for Wisconsin’s HazMat responders focusing on on-site assessment and sample collection of unknown substances as part of our statewide chemical emergency response duties. Course was developed in collaboration with Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM) and representatives from two state HazMat teams.

2015 WSLH test monitored travelers for Ebola Virus (tests were negative).

2016 WSLH begins performing Zika virus testing.

2016 WSLH shifts its University of Wisconsin-Madison reporting relationship to the Dean of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

2017 Dr. James Schauer becomes WSLH Director

2018 National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP) moves to WSLH from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

2020 WSLH begins ongoing response to SARS-CoV-2 pandemic

2021 Soil and Forage Analysis Laboratory moves to WSLH from University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences