Iowa History

Historic Facts & Overview of Iowa History

Take a peek at Iowa history. Discover an overview of Iowa's rich history, heritage, historic events, and culture.

Although it is sometimes called the "Corn State," Iowa really is a breadbasket for the U.S., with 90 percent of its land devoted to farming. The main products are corn and hogs. Named for the Iowa River, which was named for the Iowa, or Ioway, Indians, Iowa joined the Union in 1846 as the 29th state. The wild rose is the state flower and the capital is Des Moines.

Overview of Iowa History and Heritage

In 1673, French explorers canoed down the Mississippi River reaching the shore of Iowa. It is believed that the 1673 voyage marked the first time that white people visited the region of Iowa. Other expeditions followed and in 1682, Robert Cavelier reached the mouth of the Mississippi River. He claimed the entire region for France and named it Louisiana, in honor of King Louis the Great.

During the early 1700s, only a few missionaries and fur traders visited the land now called Iowa; no permanent settlements were built. In 1788, French-Canadian Julien Dubuque bought land from the Meskwaki people to mine lead near present-day Dubuque. He became the first white settler of Iowa. Soon afterward, other settlers began to arrive.

In 1803, the United States bought Louisiana from France, including the land of Iowa. Two years later the Louisiana Territory was created and the Lewis and Clark Expedition sent out to explore the new territory. In 1808, the US Army built Fort Madison, Iowa's first fort.

The Iowa region changed into different territories as states were created during the early 1800s. In 1821, Iowa became part of the unorganized territory of the United States. As settlers desired to move west, Native Americans were forced out of their lands. The end of the Black Hawk War of 1832, gave a small area in Iowa for settlement near the Mississippi River. The first official white settlement in Iowa began in June 1833, in the Black Hawk Purchase. Most of Iowa's first white settlers came from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Kentucky, and Virginia.

The Iowa Territory was created on July 4, 1838. The boundaries included all of present-day Iowa, Minnesota, and parts of North and South Dakota. After much debate on its boundaries, Iowa became the 29th state on Dec. 28, 1846. Over 100,000 people lived in Iowa at that time.

Although no battles took place in Iowa during the Civil War (1861-1865), about 70,000 Iowans fought for the Union. After the war, Iowa's economy grew rapidly. By 1870, four railroads crossed the state connecting Iowa with the eastern market. New industries were developed and businesses opened. Iowa farmers led the nation in corn and livestock production.

During the early 1900s, land in Iowa increased in value. Farmers went deep into debt to buy land. When the Great Depression hit in 1929, many lost their lands. Farmers formed cooperatives to save their farms during this time. They joined together to buy supplies and sell their crops. World War II also helped Iowa's economy by increasing the need for pork and corn.

Many new industries moved into Iowa during the 1950s. Manufacturing businesses increased. Larger farms with new equipment were replacing small farms. People moved to the cities to find work. By 1960, the population living in cities was greater than in rural areas.

State government also went through changes. Liquor laws went from prohibiting the sale of alcohol in 1855, through several changes until the legalization of selling it with a county permit in 1963. Districts were changed to give equal representation in the legislature to the cities.

Recently, farmers have experienced another depression in the economy. Agricultural prices have dropped and federal aid has been reduced. Many have lost their farms, and other industries associated with the farming industry are also struggling. Some new industries have moved to Iowa that are helping to diversify the economy and provide better jobs. A few of these include publishing, printing, and electronic manufacturers.

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