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Wisconsin has seen a multitude of seals that have been used from territorial times through to the present. Even after Wisconsin gained statehood in 1848, one of the last territorial seals was still in use. In fact, the first state seal that Wisconsin used was simply the last territorial seal that had been modified to say "State of Wisconsin" rather than "Territory of Wisconsin", and carried the date of statehood, "May 29th, 1848", rather than the date on the territorial seal,"Fourth of July, 1836".

The present Great Seal began taking shape in 1851 as Governor Nelson Dewey, and Chief Justice of Wisconsin's Supreme Court, Edward Ryan, discussed designs that would be appropriate. What they came up with was a basic design for a coat of arms to be placed in the seal, surrounded by images and text representing the state. Although the details have changed with the years, Wisconsin's current seal adheres to their concept. The state's industry is depicted with images of a plow, a pick and shovel, an arm and hammer, and an anchor. Wisconsin's dedication to the Union is represented with a shield of thirteen vertical stripes and the U.S. motto "E Pluribus Unum". The state's resources are represented by a full cornucopia and a pyramid of pig lead. On either side of the shield are a sailor and a yeoman, symbolizing the marine and land-based labor force. Because Wisconsin is known as the "badger state", what could be more appropriate than the badger over the shield? The state's motto,"Forward", displays over these images, and under the words "Great Seal of the State of Wisconsin".

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