The History of the Memorial Union Terrace at UW-Madison

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has many iconic landmarks but none quite like the Memorial Union Terrace. It has become an iconic symbol of the tradition, community and spirit of the university. Let's take a few minutes to reflect on this history and let you know more about some of my experience photographing "The Terrace".

UW Wisconsin Union terrace with colorful union chairs covered in fall leaves with lights stringing above.
The Memorial Union is a staple point for gatherings at the University of Wisconsin campus. Summertime concerts on lake Mendota. Or having a drink with friends at one of the iconic table and Union chairs. This early morning fall image will bring back many memories for Wisconsin's alumni from past or present and would make a perfect image for your home or office. Only in Wisconsin are these moments are sealed in time on campus. "On Wisconsin"

Where did the Memorial Union get its name?

"The Terrace", as the UW Memorial Union Terrace is otherwise known, is nestled on the campus on the shore of Lake Mendota. Arthur Peabody was the UW architect who designed the Memorial Union and planned for an outdoor place for people to gather. His daughter, Charlotte, created the final design for The Terrace. The Memorial Union and the iconic Terrace was aimed to honor the Wisconsin alumni who had sacrificed their lives during World War I, and so it was named the "Memorial Union" and construction began in 1928.

Fresh snow covers the Madison state capitol on the 1st day of spring. Only fitting for Wisconsin weather.

The early morning hours gave the Madison State capitol 5" inches of fresh snow on the 1st day of spring. The snow was heavy and was only fitting for good old Wisconsin weather.

When were the Union Chairs first created?

The famous Memorial union chairs catch the early morning sunrise burst thru the center of the chair.

Early morning sunrise at the Memorial Union on the University Of Wisconsin campus. These Union chairs are a iconic symbol on campus for the entire University. These chairs make a special gift for your UW Bucky fan. As they say at the university "On Wisconsin"

The Memorial Union Terrace had its first event called Venetian Night in the spring of 1929. The original chairs showed up shortly after that event. These chairs have been one of my favorite subjects to photograph during my time spent on the UW Campus and around Madison. There's nothing that says "Madison" quite like the Memorial Union Terrace Chairs.

As with any building that's nearly 100 years old, construction and repair have occurred at the Union due to concerns about crowds and wear and tear of the building, property, and even the chairs. The original chairs were made of hickory but the Wisconsin climate was too harsh and they needed replacement. The chair replacement began in the 1930s with different designs of metal chairs. While different designs and manufacturers were trialed over the next few decades, the current design of the metal sunburst chair was settled on in the early 1980s and in 1988 an expansion project required 300 new chairs and the Sunburst chair design was patented for use only by the Wisconsin Union.

Memorial Terrace Events and Live Music

A very proud trademark of the University of Wisconsin are the Union Chairs located in Madison Wisconsin.

Early morning sunrise at the University of Wisconsin Memorial Union terrace on Mendota. These iconic Union chairs are a staple at the University for students and staff to enjoy during the summer.

The Memorial Union Terrace is at the heart of life on UW-Madison's campus. It's a beautiful place to watch the sunset over Lake Mendota, have a picnic, jump in for a swim, and make incredible summertime memories while enjoying some Babcock ice cream, a brat, and a beer. There's also a mash up of music over the summer months including local bands, national acts, and even open mic nights...always something for everyone.

On Wisconsin

As I've returned to the UW-Madison campus many times over my photography career, I'm always drawn back to the Union Terrace. Whether it's for sunrise, sunset, or just as the seasons change to get one last glimpse before fall. There's almost an art and a science to finding the right place and the right time given the number of events and people that are drawn to the location.

The Memorial Union Terrace is more than just a physical space. It's a place where the spirit of UW Madison comes alive and is preserved through the celebrations, community, and relaxation that happen as it continues to welcome students, graduates, and visitors. Traditions continue and the Memorial Union Terrace stands as a timeless symbol of unity and the Wisconsin idea.

Northern lights fill the night sky with green and red curtains colors. A statue of a badger stares into the night sky watching the scene unfold.

Amazing Northern Lights show we had right here in Madison, Wisconsin. As the Northern lights went to a KP-8 the lights were seen as far south as New Mexico. When I heard there was a possibility I grab my gear and headed to the University Of Wisconsin's Memorial Union. A very popular spot in the summer time for the University for music, boating and gathering. This capture is a one of a kind for sure and a must for any Bucky Badger fan! Available in many sizes below.