Gloves Off: Michigan Takes Wisconsin to Task Over Mitten Tourism Pitch


It’s a border battle fit for the season. And with this new Michigan-Wisconsin dispute comes all the underlying tensions from a long and tenuous adjacency that include zebra mussels, Asian carp, rights to the Upper Peninsula, Packers-Lions, Badgers-Spartans, the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, beach envy, Lake Michigan mineral rights, and which state really has the fattest people.

Yes, Wisconsin’s tourism department has appropriated mitten imagery for new web-based winter promotion of its mitten-shaped state. And that has made mavens of mitten-shaped Michigan — well, mightily miffed. The result is a frosty contretemps between pillars of the Upper Midwest that is only likely to get more icy.

You see, Michiganders clearly own the historical and traditional use of their right hands — with fingers straight up and together, they form a perfect mitten shape —when pointing out, usually with their left index fingers, where something is located in the state’s Lower Peninsula.[more]

There’s the Thumb area north of Detroit and east of Saginaw, of course. Near the tip of the little finger is the Traverse City tourism area and, if you look real close at that last line where the pinky bends, Michael Moore’s lakefront home. The tip of the middle finger is where the Mackinac Bridge begins. And so on.

This handy locating device has been used by the residents of Michigan since time immemorial, or at least since someone thought it up. It’s one of those things that unmistakably marks you as a native, like a profound inferiority complex about Detroit and a certain wariness of the few souls who actually live in the Upper Peninsula.

So when the founder of, Alex Beaton, discovered what her neighbors were up to, she cried foul. To her, Wisconsin seems opportunistic in its appropriation of a stretched-mitten image for a mere tourism promotion. She tweeted her protest with the comment “we think the only Awesome Mitten is Michigan. Apparently Wisconsin thinks its a mitten too?” and a link to the Wisconsin tourism website using their version of a state-shaped mitten motif:

After all, it’s kind of a contortion to get anyone’s hand to stretch out in the actual shape of the Badger State, though you can see how Door County is represented by the thumb, with Green Bay in the crook next to it, and Milwaukee down by the base.

And here’s the clincher: Those fickle profiteers in Wisconsin also stretched a leaf into the shape of the state, in their fall promotion, showing how much the mitten shape really means to them.

Following a storm of traditional and social media responses, Wisconsin officials seem resigned to bow out of this dispute gracefully. “The mitten was used as a single creative element,” Lisa Marshall, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, told the Kalamazoo Gazette. “You guys own the mitten. We’d much rather our travelers consider us the ‘fun’ state.”

Round one in the #MiWiMittenBattle battle goes to the state that coined #MittenLove as a Twitter meme long before Wisconsin put its mitts up: Michigan!

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