Thomas E. Brittingham

carriageReportedly Madison’s richest man, was incredibly generous with his riches, especially to Madison’s parks. His assets included 126 lumber yards, thousands of acres of standing timber all over the country, oil wells, and large interests in financial institutions.  His philanthropy to the city of Madison earned him the title of one of Madison’s first park philanthropists, along with Daniel K. Tenney, George B. Burrows, and William Freeman Vilas.

Brittingham grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, but at the age of 25, he moved to McFarland and opened his first lumber yard.  In 1888 he moved to Madison where he spent the rest of his life actively engaged in business, philanthropy, and civic affairs, helping to shape Madison into what it is today.  Brittingham was incredibly involved in the community, acting as chairmen on the Forest Hills Cemetery Committee from 1907-1912, curator for the Wisconsin Historical Society from 1907-1913, chairmen of the State Park Board from 1909-1918, and UW Regent from 1910-1912.

Brittingham’s contribution to Madison’ parks came in the form of $19,500 donation to transform “a stinking slough into a beauty spot”, which is now known as Brittingham Park.  Between 1905 and 1908 Brittingham gave a total of $24,500 for the improvement of this area, providing the city with its first park with water access.  Brittingham Park offered an expansive beach, a boathouse, a waterslide, and rental swimsuits. Nearly 50,000 swam there the year it opened.  Brittingham’s legacy continues with two foundations, one which benefits UW and one which benefits the city.

*  Mollenhoff, David V., Madison: A History of the Formative Years (Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1982)

Renewing the Legacy