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The Origin of the Cheesehead

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Cheesehead has become an iconic piece of Wisconsin culture and as we await the start of Packer season this weekend, we can expect to see a lot more of them in the coming months.

But the Cheesehead itself is a relatively new item, created 30 years ago by a man named Ralph Bruno. He's now the owner of Foamation, the company that produces the Cheesehead and other related products, which just set up shop in Milwaukee's Walker's Point neighborhood. 

The inspiration for the Cheesehead came from a somewhat unlikely place: a couch cushion.

"[I was] going to a baseball with a bunch of friends and was reupholstering my mom's couch at the time, so I carved a piece of that foam and burnt holes in it with a wood burner and spray painted it to look like all cheeses rolled up into one," Bruno explains.

While his friends were initially skeptical of the Cheesehead, Bruno says they came around when it became a hit with the ladies at the ballgame. He discovered he might be onto something and started researching how to actually make the hats on a larger scale. 

"I was lucky enough to find a company that gave me a bit of the background and the chemistry and technology, and sent me on my way," he says. "Weeks later, I was making hats." 

Since that 1987 conversation, the Cheesehead has become a symbol of the state of Wisconsin and immediately identifiable with Wisconsin sports. While Bruno says he's unsure of just how many Cheeseheads Foamation has created over the years, he does have a measurement in mind. 

He explains, "When people ask how many we have made, I say:...If you start on the west coast and put a Cheesehead down and start laying them the tip to the back, that it will eventually get you to the east coast and in the water over in New York."

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.