Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development
Timeline History: 1883-2008

The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and its predecessor state agencies, along with its component programs, have a long history of service to Wisconsin citizens. Since 1883, the Department has been dedicated to the welfare of Wisconsin workers and workplaces. Beginning with labor market statistics and workplace safety, the Department grew along with the national concern for fair treatment of workers and locating workers for employers.Today, with the incorporation of economic support and vocational rehabilitation programs, the Department is the umbrella for all of the Wisconsin programs that relate to employment.

This timeline tells the story of the Department's creation, development, and maturation. It includes both national and state legislation that underlies the Department's programs. The timeline alsoincludes the history of some related programs that occurred in other governmental agencies.


1883 - Wisconsin Bureau of Labor Statistics

Wisconsin's Labor Department is born with the creation of the Wisconsin Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Read more about the Bureau of Labor Statistics


1911 - Wisconsin Industrial Commission

The Wisconsin Industrial Commission, which was responsible for implementing the nation's first Worker's Compensation law, among many other thing, existed from 1911 until 1966.

Read more about the Industrial Commission


1967 - Wisconsin Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations (DILHR)

The Kellett Commission studying organization of state government recommended consolidating labor-related functions and creating the Department of Industry, Labor & Human Relations (DILHR) from the old Industrial Commission.

Read more about DILHR


1996 - Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD)

The Department of Workforce Development was created after the Legislative Audit Bureau and the SAVE Commission found that a myriad of employment programs existed, many of them competing or uncoordinated, causing confusion and frustration for employers and job seekers.

Each agency and program had its own administrative structure and delivery systems, causing duplication and inefficiency. The proliferation of programs and services meant that many customers did not receive the services they were looking for, or were forced to hunt and peck for what they needed.

On July 1, 1996, DWD was created using elements taken from the old Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations and adding essential services from the Department of Health and Social Services, such as vocational rehabilitation and economic support.

Read more about DWD


Wisconsin Labor Department History Timeline
Time Frame Sample Events
1883 -1899
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics created

  • Large labor strikes

  • State's first work safety laws established

1900 - 1919
  • Child Safety law enacted

  • Worker's Compensation created

  • Industrial Commission created

1920 - 1939
  • Safety code for mines and quarries developed

  • Prevailing wage rates created

  • Nation's first unemployment insurance law passed

1940 -1959
  • Wisconsin Fair Employment Law passed

  • Wisconsin administers the Social Security Disability program through the vocational rehabilitation agency

  • Women become major contributors to workforce during WWII

1960 - 1979
  • Federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program begins

  • Wisconsin legislation requires buildings to be accessible to persons with disabilities

  • DILHR's Employment Security Division became the first in the nation to adopt the name Job Service.

1980 - 1999
  • Department celebrates 100th birthday

  • Refugee Act creates the first national refugee admissions policy and assistance program

  • Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act takes effect

2000 - Present
  • Food Stamp program in Wisconsin began Electronic Benefits Transfer

  • DWD takes lead in the resettlement efforts for Lao-Hmong refugees

  • Wisconsin increased minimum wage for first time since 1997

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