Iowa History

Like all American states, the history of Iowa begins with its Native American tribes. The Effigy Mound Builders were the first major group of pre-Columbian peoples who left traces. This culture (approximately 1,400 to 750 B.C.) thrived in the Mississippi River Valley, and extended as far north as Lake Michigan and south through Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. Among the interesting facts about Iowa is that one of the most important archeological tourist attractions in the state was built by them—the Effigy Mounds National Monument in the northeast corner about forty miles north of Dubuque. While earthen mounds are found in many places across the country, this is the most significant group of effigy mounds, mounds built in the shape of stylized birds and animals. It is adjacent to one of the state's wildlife reserves.

Historical facts on Iowa show that the first Europeans, French explorers Marquette and Jolliet, arrived in 1673. They found the Native American tribes in the region at that time were the Sauk, Mesqwaki, Sioux, Potowatomi, Oto, and Missouri. These peoples lived fairly unmolested by the French, who were primarily interested in the fur trade. But conflicts cropped up when Americans began to settle the area. In 1830 and again in 1845, most of the tribes had ceded their land and moved west. The Sioux were the last to go in 1851. There are a number of riverboat casinos in the state, almost all on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Another of the interesting facts about Iowa is that a small number of the Fox Mesqwaki band returned to the state in 1856 and bought back a small parcel of land. Today this group operates one of the very few Native American casinos located on land in the state, at Tama about halfway between Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.

Iowa history in the first half of the nineteenth century shows American settlers spreading across the tall grass prairies that, at that time, covered most of the state. Little timber meant that homes were primarily built of sod; frequent prairie fires and tornadoes made life difficult. But the settlers found the prairie soil to be extremely rich for crops. This was the foundation of agriculture that is so important in the history of Iowa and is still an economic mainstay of the state. This heritage is reflected in numerous county fairs and the classic Iowa State Fair that was first held in 1854 and today is one of the major events in the state.

1846 is a date important to the historical facts on Iowa as that is when it became the 29th state. Prior to this, transportation of agricultural goods was difficult and accomplished primarily by boat down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. In the 1850s, Iowa caught railroad fever like the rest of the country. Five rail lines were built. Iowans began to travel and goods could be easily transported, and the history of Iowa changed as the state became agriculturally important to the rest of the country. Major churches moved in, and two small, but important, religious communities were established. One was the Society of Friends (Quaker), who settled around West Branch. Our 31st President was a Quaker, and his birthplace in West Branch is the site of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library. Immigrants escaping religious discrimination in Germany established the seven historic villages known as the Amana Colonies. Both of these are popular tourist attractions today.

The Civil War history of Iowa includes more than 75,000 men serving on the side of the Union. Politics played a major role in the history of Iowa after the Civil War. Women's suffrage played an important role in Iowa history from the 1860s until passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919. One of the most important figures in this suffrage movement was an Iowan, Carrie Chapman Catt, who was a colleague of Susan B. Anthony and who was the twice-elected president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She was born in Wisconsin, spent her childhood in Iowa, and attended the university in Ames.

Immigration also was important in Iowa history during this time. The state actively encouraged immigration and published an enticing booklet in six languages. Groups came from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark. When dining in the state, you'll taste their heritage in many regional dishes. A number of coal mines, primarily in Des Moines and south of the city, drew immigrants from Italy and Croatia as well as African-Americans. One of the interesting facts about Iowa is that there are more than 5,500 abandoned underground coal mines covering an area of 112 square miles in the state today, causing periodic subsistence (or collapse) of land, which presents problems in urban areas as well as ecologically.

Between the two World Wars, the state suffered economic hardships, as did the rest of the country and most of the world. Iowa history shows this particularly affected the family farms, economic backbone of the state. Many farmers moved to greener pastures, and the state's population remained fairly static from 1920 to 1940. One of the main historical facts on Iowa remains the development of agriculture, and today the state is primarily farmland and small towns, with a few larger cities. Nonetheless, the state's is greatly respected for its institutions of higher learning. Iowa State University, founded in 1858 in Ames, and the University of Iowa (Iowa City, 1847) consistently rank high as prestigious schools. Needless to say, both have important agricultural schools.

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