Wisconsin is bordered by the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers to the west, Lake Superior and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the north, Lake Michigan to the east, and Illinois to the south. The state is dotted with numerous freshwater lakes, rivers and streams, and its overall geography is largely one of rolling pasture lands, farms, and a well-developed network of small and large towns. In the northern half of the state, much of the region is sparsely populated and dominated by coniferous forest and a variety of wildlife. The small coastline on Lake Superior scatters outward to form the Apostle Islands, and the long coast line along Lake Michigan is pronounced by the Door Peninsula which extends upwards between the lake and Green Bay. Originally sighted by French explorers, Wisconsin was a part of the U.S. Northwest Territory before gaining its own territorial designation in 1836, and later, official statehood on May 29th, 1848. The political history of the state has often been one of paradoxical extremes, being one of the few states to have several Socialist mayors in the early 20th century, as well as being home to Joseph McCarthy, the fervently anti-Communist Senator who brought the age of McCarthyism to America.
The 2000 Census found that 42.6% of Wisconsinites claim German ancestry, making it one of the most German states in the nation. The largest minority group in Wisconsin is African-American at approximately 5.7% (2004 estimates). Like neighboring Minnesota, Wisconsin has a large community Hmong immigrants, along with a significant Scandinavian heritage. The largest city, Milwaukee, is located on the banks of Lake Michigan and is known for its breweries and manufacturing industry. The capital Madison is a fast growing city and university town noted for its excellent mix of small town feel and cultural prowess. Other major cities include Green Bay and Kenosha. The economy of Wisconsin is largely dependent of agriculture, and in particular, dairy. The state is dubbed the 'Cheese Capital of America' and produces more cheese products than any other state in the Union. Manufacturing is also a critical economic sector, with food processing equipment, transport, and machinery manufacturers leading the way. The world famous Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company is located Milwaukee. Wisconsin, along with its Great Lake neighbors, is an important swing state in Presidential elections, though the state's 10 electoral votes have gone to the last 5 Presidential candidates, including two narrow wins by both Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.