Iowa History Timeline

Important Dates, Events, and Milestones in Iowa History

Offers a chronological timeline of important dates, events, and milestones in Iowa history.

The area now known as Iowa is home to Native American tribes 13,000 years before European settlement. About 17 tribes reside in the Iowa region at various points in history, including the Ioway (for which the state is named), the Sioux, and the Missouri. By the Woodland period (1,000 BCE-1,000 CE), they are using the area's rich soil to grow crops like corn and have established complex societies. These peoples will eventually be driven out of the area by social and political upheaval and U.S. encroachment.

Iowa was admitted to the union as the 29th state on Dec. 28, 1846. As a Midwestern state, Iowa forms a bridge between the forests of the east and the grasslands of the high prairie plains to the west. Its gently rolling landscape rises slowly as it extends westward from the Mississippi River, which forms its entire eastern border.

17th Century Iowa History Timeline

1673 - French explorers Louis Jolliet and Father Marquette explored for the King of France. They canoed down the Wisconsin River and then down the Mississippi River to the mouth of the Arkansas River. Upon the return to Montreal, Joliet's journal was lost when a canoe capsized, and our information about the expedition comes from Marquette's journal and map. They supposedly landed on the west bank of the Mississippi and met with some Native American Indians, and most people believe that site was near the mouth of the Iowa River. All the journal says is that it was near the mouth of a river.

1682 - LaSalle explored the Mississippi River from its mouth, and claimed the river and all land drained by it for the King of France. It is upon the claim of LaSalle that France claimed the interior of North America. Such means of making land claims, by planting a flag at the mouth of a river and claiming all land drained by that river and its tributaries, were common at the time. The area was known as Louisiana, after King Louis XIV of France.

18th Century Iowa History Timeline

1762 - The King of France transferred the claim to the land described above to the King of Spain during the Seven Years' War, usually known in the United States as the French and Indian War.

1785 - The Land Ordinance created the mechanism by which new states could be admitted to the Union from the Old Northwest Territory, and also the methods to be used for surveying the undeveloped and unclaimed land. The so-called "Square mile survey" was later used in Iowa, and Iowa was admitted to the Union under the provisions of this act.

1788 - Julien Dubuque becomes the first white settler in Iowa. He and other French from Canada lived along Catfish Creek, under an agreement with the Mesquakies, whom they hired to do most of the actual mining work.

1796 - Dubuque's land claim was confirmed by the Spanish colonial government at this time, but he had been in effective control of it since 1788.

1799 - Tesson's land claim was initially made at this time. He supposedly planted a grove of apple trees, and made other improvements to solidify his claim to the land which was in Lee County, near Montrose.

19th Century Iowa History Timeline

1800 -

  • Giard's land claim was where the town of Marquette was later built, and was mostly for fur trading purposes.
  • 1During the Napoleonic wars in Europe, Spain became a satellite of France, and the Mississippi River area was transferred back to France under pressure from Napoleon. Spain had exerted very little control or contact with the area north of St. Louis.

1803 -

  • United States acquires Iowa in the Louisiana Purchase. President Thomas Jefferson wished to purchase trading rights at New Orleans so that American products would have free navigation of the Mississippi River to ocean-going ships.
  • For administration, the Louisiana Purchase was divided into the Upper and Lower Districts of Louisiana, with capitals at St. Louis and New Orleans respectively. This was mostly a paper transaction, because there were no legal permanent residents in the area except Native American Indians, and this administration did not apply to them.

1804 -

  • In another paper transaction, the District of Louisiana was created, with practical administration, of which there was none, assigned to the Territory of Indiana.
  • The Lewis and Clark explorations were to make contact with the Native American Indians, chart flora and fauna, and investigate the economic resources.
  • Sergeant Floyd died of appendicitis while camped just south of the present Sioux City. He was buried there, and later a tall obelisk was constructed and designated a National Historic Landmark. He is the first white American known to have been buried in what would become Iowa, and he is the only soldier to die on the Lewis and Clark expedition.
  • Several members of the Sauk tribe were in St. Louis, but with no authority to act for the tribe in any treaties. The American authorities led these Indians to become intoxicated, and in this condition forced them to sign a treaty giving away tribal lands.
  • Mesquakie, not Fox. This error has perpetuated by the government until the present.

1805 -

  • Pike's expedition was ordered to investigate the Mississippi River above St. Louis, noting especially the rivers, prairies, islands, mines, quarries, timber, and Indian villages and settlements.
  • Pike later explored in the Rocky Mountain west where a peak in Colorado is named for him.
  • In yet another paper transaction, Iowa becomes part of the Louisiana Territory

1806 - In the trip back down the Missouri River, Lewis and Clark again camped on the "Iowa" side but made no further impact on the future state.

1808 - The US Army builds Fort Madison

1812 - When Louisiana was admitted to the Union as a state, the northern part of the Louisiana Territory was re-named Missouri.

1813 - After being besieged twice during the war that the United States called the "War of 1812", the garrison abandoned the fort and burned it as they escaped down river to St. Louis.

1820 - The Missouri Compromise makes Iowa a non-slave territory

1824 - A treaty signed in St. Louis with the "Sac and Fox tribe" relinquished their claim to 119.000 acres in what would be Lee County. T

1830 - The "Neutral Ground" was a 40 mile wide strip of land running from the northeast corner of the state in a southwesterly direction to the upper fork of the Des Moines River. Nathan Boone, one of Daniel Boone's sons, was a surveyor on this line. The treaty was signed on 15 July 1830.

1832 - After the military expedition sometimes called the "Black Hawk War", the Sauk tribe was forced to cede land on the west side of the Mississippi River to the United States.

1833 - As a result of the treaty in 21 September 1832, the Black Hawk Cession land was open to legal white settlement after 1 June 1833.

1834 - Law enforcement was lax in the area and the need for a formal structure of government led to the attachment of the "Iowa" area to Michigan.

1836 - Opening the Keokuk Reserve to white settlement increased the land area available for claims on the west side of the Mississippi River, and moved the Sauk and Mesquakie further into the interior.

1837 -

  • With the opening of new land to white settlement, removal of the Native American Indian tribes further west was made necessary.
  • The "Panic of 1837" slowed population growth, and caused the failure of the only bank in the "Iowa" area, the Miners' Bank of Dubuque. The most severe effects of this depression were not felt in Iowa until 1838.

1838 - Congress creates the Iowa Territory

1839 - Abner Kneeland was a pantheist who had been prosecuted and persecuted in his native Massachusetts. He gathered followers and came to Iowa to be free from organized religion.

1840 -

  • The land that became Iowa was counted in the 1836 and 1838 Wisconsin territorial censuses. Iowa had 10,531 people in 1836 and 22,859 in 1838. This rapid growth of population continued until the end of the 19th Century.
  • The United States government began the process of moving the Winnebago out of Wisconsin to free more land for white settlement.

1841 - Fort Atkinson was built to house the army, whose function was to keep the Winnebago from returning to Wisconsin, and also to protect them from attacks by Sioux and Sauk.

1842 - Additional land was opened to white settlement, and Native American Indians were forced farther and farther west.

1843 - Additional land was opened to white settlement, and Native American Indians were forced farther and farther west. The "Red Rock Line" and extended from the Neutral Ground to the Missouri border running through Marion, Lucas, and Wayne counties.

1844 - The Legislative Assembly provided for a vote on a constitutional convention, and popular vote was in favor of one. The convention met in Iowa City and drafted a constitution.

1845 -

  • The bill for Iowa statehood was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President John Tyler, but created different boundaries than those drawn by the constitutional convention. Popular vote rejected the congressional bill because of the boundaries.
  • The 3rd and last so-called "Sac and Fox" cession opened a vast area of central and southern Iowa to white settlement, and effectively removed the Sauk and Mesquakie from Iowa in a legal sense.

1846 -

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as Mormons, started across the Mississippi River in February, and nearly 20,000 people began the trek across southern Iowa.
  • The Pottawattami Cession removed Native American Indian title to a vast slice of land in western Iowa, and led to the removal of more Indians to reservations in Kansas and later in Oklahoma.
  • Iowa becomes the 29th state. Ansel Briggs was elected the first Governor of the State of Iowa on 26 October 1846, before Iowa had been admitted to the Union, and the newly elected General Assembly of the State of Iowa met on 30 November 1846, also before Iowa had been admitted to the Union. The statehood bill was passed by the House of Representatives on 12 December 1846, by the Senate on 24 December 1846, and was signed into law on 28 December 1846. All conditions of the Congressional act were formally accepted by the General Assembly on 15 January 1847.
  • William F. Cody's birth is claimed by McCausland and LeClaire. He lived in both places.

1847 -

  • The Great Seal of the State of Iowa is used on official documents, such as bills that become law, and on proclamations of governors. The description of the seal has not been changed since 25 February 1847.
  • Although a state university was created with a Board of Trustees, no classes were held until 1855.
  • The Dutch settlers, a religious group led by Dominie Hendrik Peter Scholte, are only one example of the many ethnic and linguistic groups which settled in Iowa during the 19th Century.

1848-1849 - Fort Atkinson was abandoned, the Winnebago School was moved to Minnesota, and by terms of a treaty on 4 February 1847 the Winnebagos surrendered their rights to land in the Neutral Ground and agreed to move to a reservation north of the Minnesota River within one year. The army moved most of the Winnebago during the summer of 1848.

1850 - Three territorial and state censuses were taken between 1840 and 1850. In 1844 there were 75,152 people, in 1846 there were 102,388, in 1847 there were 116,454, and in 1849 there were 154,573 people.

1851 - The Sioux Cession removed the final Native American Indian claim to land in Iowa, in the far north central and far northwest sections of the state.

1854 -

  • State fairs were held annually, with a few exceptions, from then until the present day.
  • With the building of the railroad bridge, the legal conflicts between the steam boat companies and the railroad companies began.
  • The Republican Party was formed because of the weakness and fragmenting of other political parties.

1855 - A term of school actually began at the university, but regular classes would not be held for another four years.

1856 -

  • Converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, mostly from England, Wales, and Denmark arrived in the United States and took the train as far as the railroad was built, to Iowa City.
  • Many Mesquakie (now sometimes spelled Meskwaki) never left Iowa when they were ordered to do so in 1845, and those that did move were unhappy on their Kansas reservation. In January 1856 the General Assembly passed an act permitting the Native American Indians still in the state to remain here, particularly in Tama County.
  • The federal government made land grants to four railroad lines this year, to begin in Dubuque, Lyons (Clinton), Davenport, and Burlington. These four lines were the nucleus of the first trans-state lines in Iowa. Although this began in 1868, the railroads were not completed until 1868, because of the interruption of the Civil War.

1857 -

  • The new constitution of 1857 adopted. The capital was moved to Des Moines from Iowa City, to be nearer the projected center of population for the state.
  • When the State Historical Society of Iowa was created, public funds were granted for its use.
  • The economic depression, called the Panic of 1857, had major effects in Iowa, although most of these effects were in 1858. Banks failed, including the Cook-Sargent Bank in Davenport, one of the largest and most influential banks in Iowa.

1858 - Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm began this year, but became a Land Grant College after federal law, the Morrill Act, was passed in 1862.

1859 - Samuel Jordan Kirkwood made his reputation as a strong pro-Union Governor of Iowa during the first part of the Civil War.

1860 - Natural disasters, such as tornadoes, floods, and blizzards were regular events in Iowa history. Loss of life was often considerable, and various solutions to prevent major disasters were proposed.

1861 -

  • Iowa's response to the outbreak of war between the states with an outpouring of enlistments in the army, support by financial contributions, and by production of tremendous quantities of food to supply the Union armies during the war.
  • Annie Turner Wittenmyer was a noted leader for improvement of the conditions in Civil War hospitals.

1862 -

  • Samuel Freeman Miller, of Keokuk, was the only Iowan ever to serve on the U. S. Supreme Court.
  • The Homestead Act was a federal law that allowed people to settle on unsold land, improve it, construct buildings on it, and receive the land free after a five year residency.

1863 - The reform in the banking laws this year provided for more safety in banking institutions.

1865 -

  • James Harlan of Mount Pleasant was the first Iowan to serve in a President's cabinet. He was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln and also served briefly under President Andrew Johnson.
  • The effects of the Civil War included many deaths, injuries, and diseases. It also brought about the supremacy of the Republican Party in Iowa politics for the next several decades

1867 - The first railroad is completed through Iowa

1868 -

  • Alex usbandry, commonly known as the Grange, was an organization devoted to improving the educational and social life of farmers.

1869 -

  • The Iowa Board of Immigration published booklets in several languages (English, German, Dutch, Danish, and Swedish) to encourage European immigration to Iowa.
  • The agricultural college at Ames led the way in what was called "scientific farming".

1871 - Amelia Jenks Bloomer was a suffrage and temperance leader from Council Bluffs.

1873 - Like previous economic depressions, this one led to bank failures, mortgage foreclosures, and a decline in employment. It was especially hard on the farmers who were already economically depressed because of adjustments after the Civil War.

1876 - A former Civil War orphan's home in Cedar Falls was the first building used by the Iowa Normal School, which, under the name Iowa State Teachers College, because one of the three leading teacher-training colleges in the United States. The school still operates, now called University of Northern Iowa.

1880 -

  • James Baird Weaver of Bloomfield (Davis County, Iowa) was a Civil War general, a congressman, an historian, a lawyer, and a leading temperance orator. He is also one of two Iowans to be twice nominated for president of the United States.
  • John Llewellyn Lewis, of Welsh ethnic origin, moved from the coal camps of Lucas County, Iowa to become the national president of the United Mine Workers, and ultimately the founder of the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

1884 - The new capitol building, the same one now in use, was dedicated. This building was built on a grand scale because it was considered proper at that time in our history for government buildings to be impressive visually.

1885 - William Larrabee of Clermont was noted as the railroad reform governor of Iowa.

1888 - Henry Agard Wallace was a member of a prominent family that included his grandfather, "Uncle Henry", and his father, Henry Cantwell Wallace. Uncle Henry was appointed by the Rural Life Commission by President Theodore Roosevelt, and also began the publication of Wallace's Farmer, a leading agricultural periodical.

1892 - Froelich's invention of the gasoline-powered tractor revolutionized the farm machinery industry.

1893 - The Pomeroy tornado was one of the most destructive in Iowa's history

1894 - The Iowa Bystander became known as one of the leading African-American oriented newspapers in the midwest. From its base in Des Moines it exerted much influence over African-Americans throughout Iowa. It was published for many decades.

1896 - The Rural Free Delivery Act broke the communications isolation of the farm. Now farmers received mail daily and were in regular and constant touch with the rest of the world. They received and mailed letters daily.

20th Century Iowa History Timeline

1900 - Carrie Clinton Lane Chapman Catt was the most famous woman suffrage leader in history.

1901 -

  • Albert Baird Cummins was known as a "progressive" governor, and also as a national leader of the Progressive wing of the Republican party, when he became a U. S. Senator.
  • The clubs started by Jessie Field in the rural school she taught in Page County served as the prototype for the boys' and girls' 4H clubs.

1902 - The Extension Department at Iowa State College was extremely important in improving the life of farm families in Iowa.

1905 - Automobiles broke the physical isolation of the farms and small towns, and were also the leading cause of the decline of businesses in small towns, after people could drive to larger towns for shopping.

1908 - Allison holds the record for length of service by an Iowan in Congress.

1910 - This is the first federal census in Iowa's history to show a decline in population. There were no further declines until the census of 1990.

1911 - The tune for "The Song of Iowa" is the same as for "Maryland, My Maryland", both taken from the German Christmas song "O Tannenbaum", which translates as "Oh Christmas Tree". Many people think that the "Iowa Corn Song" is the state song, but it is not and never has been.

1912 - Rural health came to be recognized as an issue that needed attention. This is still one of the tenets of the medical school at the University of Iowa, and the problem of finding doctors to serve in small towns in Iowa is an ongoing problem.

1913 - The completion of the Keokuk Dam

1917 -

  • Camp Dodge served as the major training center for African-American officers during World War I.
  • Merle Hay was arguably the first American soldier killed in combat in World War I. He was one of three soldiers killed simultaneously in France by a shell explosion.

1918 -

  • Marian Crandell, a teacher of French at St. Katharine's School in Davenport, volunteered by service with the French Canteen service. She was killed in the war zone by an exploding shell, the first American woman to die in the combat zone during World War I.
  • Governor Harding issued a proclamation which forbid the use of any language but English in public gatherings of 2 or more people. This was nicknamed the "Babel Proclamation", and in speeches, the governor consistently referred to the "American" language.
  • The Farm Bureau was formed to rival the Farmers' Union, which many people feared might be subversive.

1919 - Radio changed the lives of Iowans by bringing news, culture, and entertainment into their homes.

1920 - Air mail was a refinement of the communications system of the day. Iowa was on the first transcontinental air mail route.

1922 - Following ratification of the 19th amendment, women not only voted, but they ran for office as well. May Francis was the first woman elected to a statewide office in Iowa.

1926 - Pioneer Hi-Bred International was the first major company to commercially market hybrid seed corn. This revolutionized the corn yields per acre in Iowa, and led to Iowa's position as provider of food to the world.

1928 -

  • Herbert Hoover is the first person born in Iowa to be elected President of the United States. His birthplace in West Branch is preserved as a museum by the National Park Service, and his Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch is operated by the National Archives. Hoover and his wife are buried on the site.
  • Carolyn Pendray was the first woman elected to either house of the Iowa legislature, and she was elected to the House in 1928 and the Senate in 1932.

1932 -

  • Viola Babcock Miller, as Secretary of State, was responsible for the founding of the Iowa Highway Patrol, one of the first such agencies in the nation.
  • The Farmers' Holiday Association was in response to the suffering of farmers during the depression of the 1920s and 1930s.

1936 - This year is remembered as probably the worst in Iowa history for bad weather. The summer was unusually hot and dry, and the winter was unusually cold and there was heavy snow.

1937 - While a professor at Iowa State College, Atanasoff and a graduate student did the experimental work that laid the foundations for the modern computer industry.

1940 - Henry Agard Wallace is the first Iowan to be elected to the office of Vice President of the United States.

1941 - Entry into World War II ended the agricultural depression and Iowa, and led to unparalleled prosperity for farmers.

1942 -

  • Women were first accepted into military service in the WAACs, and the first training center for them was in Des Moines. Colonel Mildred McAfee Horton, a former college president, was the commander of the unit.
  • The death of the 5 Sullivan brothers was the greatest single casualty disaster for one family in the entire war. Because of this incident the already existing rule against brothers serving in the same unit was always thereafter enforced.

1946 - John Mott won the Nobel Prize for his work with the international YMCA.

1948 - Wallace's campaign for president was unsuccessful. He joined James Baird Weaver as another Iowans who ran for president as a candidate of a 3rd party. It was during this election that Weaver's record for 3rd party popular and electoral votes was broken, because of Wallace and the Progressive Party and the candidacy of J. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina with the Dixiecrat Party.

1950 - Television revolutionized the communications industry, as radio had done 30 years before. Iowa was served by TV from the first.

1955 - The NFO was founded to combat the age-old problem of low priced for farmers and a market system that was out of their control.

1958 - Dr. Van Allen, as a professor of astronomy and space science at the University of Iowa, led the nation in experiments involving the "space race".

1970 - Borlaug won the Nobel Prize for this work in promoting the "Green Revolution". He developed strains of disease-resistant wheat.

1976 - The Iowa caucuses change the form and substance of the choice of presidential candidates.

1986 -

  • Justice Neuman became the first woman to serve on the Iowa Supreme Court.
  • Lieutenant Governor Zimmerman was the first woman to hold this executive office in Iowa.

1989 - "Iowa - Eye To I" is a class through Iowa Wesleyan College. It involves immersement in things and people "Iowan", and includes lectures on general subjects, and bus travel to little-known places throughout the state.

1990 - Attorney General Campbell was the first woman to hold this executive office in Iowa.

1993 - Flooding causes more than $2 billion in damage

1995 - Through clerical oversight, the law adopting Iowa's flag was never officially enrolled. When this became known, the legislature quickly remedied the oversight.

1999 - Upon completing his 4th four-year term in office, Terry Branstad holds the record for most years as Iowa's governor, 16, breaking the former record held by his immediate predecessor, Robert Ray, 14 years. It was during the administration of Governor Ray that the term lengths were changed from 2 years to 4 years, although the first two governors of the State of Iowa also served 4 year terms.

21st Century Iowa History Timeline

2001 - Amtrak train derailment killed one, 90 injured

2002 - Six people, including four mail carriers, injured when mailbox bombs detonated

2006 - Nine Egyptian students who went missing were found and arrested in Des Moines

2010 - Lake Delhi Dam failed due to massive rain, forced residents to flee homes

2012 - China's next leader, Xi Jinping, visited home in Muscatine where he had been two decades ago

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