Iowa State History
The most powerful "native" nations in present-day Iowa were the Sauk and the Meskwaki. These related peoples were driven west—by the Haudenosaunee and then the French—coming to Iowa in the 1700s. The first Europeans to visit the area were French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet in 1673. The U.S. obtained the land in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase.
For the next several decades Iowa would be known as the Iowa Indian Territory. Conflict between natives and settlers in Illinois culminated in the United States forcing the people of the Upper Mississippi onto the west bank of the river (out of Illinois and into Iowa). This lead o the Black Hawk War in 1832, and again in 1837. The United States displaced every native nation by 1852; the native population in Iowa today descends from Meskwaki and Sauk who later bought back land from the state.
When Iowa became a state in 1846, its capital was Iowa City; the more centrally located Des Moines became the new capital in 1857. During this time, large numbers of European settlers immigrated to the Midwest where there was abundant farmland. The settlers were a major motivator for the development of the state railroads in the 1850s. Iowans voted overwhelmingly for Abraham Lincoln, and sent 75,000 troops to fight for the Union in the Civil War.
In the 1930s Iowa was hit by the agricultural troubles that plagued the rest of the U.S. The hardship prompted proud Iowan Henry A. Wallace to create our modern system of farm subsidies—paying farmers to not plant all of their fields, allowing crop prices to stabilize and soil to recover. Iowan Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug won his prize in the 1940s for his research on plants. In the decades since, Iowa's most significant change has been the growth of its manufacturing sector.
For the aspiring visitor, tourist attractions include the Herbert Hoover birthplace and library near West Branch; the Amana Colonies; Fort Dodge Historical Museum, Fort, and Stockade; and the Effigy Mounds National Monument.
Iowa Culture and Interesting Facts
The Iowa State Fair
One of Iowa’s most popular and iconic events is its state fair. The Iowa State Fair began as a rather small event in the 1850s. Today the fair attracts over a million visitors each year. The fair features traditional elements like carnival rides, agricultural contests, and fair food (corn dogs, fried oreos, and so on). Perhaps its most famous feature is its annual butter sculpture; every year since 1911 sculptors have made elaborate sculptures out of butter ranging from John Deere tractors to Da Vinci’s Last Supper. The state fair is the setting of the musical State Fair.
The Hawkeye State
The history of “the Hawkeye State” is a bit convoluted. In 1826 American author James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Last of the Mohicans; the main character is a white marksman who is given the honorary nickname “Hawkeye” by the Delaware people in recognition of his talents. What does this have to do with Iowa? Well, in 1833 the Black Hawk War broke out. An Iowa newspaper publisher decided to change the name of his paper to The Hawk-eye to commemorate Black Hawk. This would eventually lead to Iowa becoming “The Hawkeye State” as we know it today.
The Iowa Hawkeyes
The state lends its nickname to the sports teams of University of Iowa, the Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes have performed well across a wide range of varsity sports (like wrestling). Their football team is especially well-known. The Hawkeyes are one of the most valuable college football teams in the country and have been part of the Big Ten Division (the highest level of college football) for nearly a century. They have participated in over 30 major college bowls.
The Iowa Writers’ Workshop
University of Iowa doesn’t just have excellent athletics. Their graduate program in Creative Writing, also known as the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is widely considered the best writing program in the United States (and by extension one of the best creative writing programs worldwide). The workshop consistently churns out some of the country’s most widely read and regarded authors. Because of the workshop's reputation, Iowa City was the first city in the U.S. to be designated a "City of Literature" by UNESCO.
The Iowa Caucuses
Another one of Iowa’s claims to fame is that they are the first state in the country to get engaged in the presidential process. Political caucuses are a kind preliminary election; unlike the better known “primary,” a caucus is only available to registered party members. The Iowa Caucuses are special because they are the first test for candidates to gauge their chances at being nominated for the presidency. If a candidate performs poorly in their party’s caucus, they will often withdraw from the race in a matter of days.
Famous Iowa Natives and Residents
Bix Beiderbecke jazz musician;
Norman Borlaug Nobel Peace Prize winner;
William "Buffalo Bill" F. Cody scout;
Johnny Carson TV entertainer;
Gardner Cowles, Jr. publisher;
George H. Gallup poll taker;
Susan Glaspell writer;
Herbert Hoover president;
MacKinlay Kantor novelist;
Charles A. Kettering inventor;
Ashton Kutcher actor;
Cloris Leachman actress;
John L. Lewis labor leader;
Glenn L. Martin aviation manufacturer;
Elsa Maxwell writer;
Glenn Miller bandleader;
Kate Mulgrew actress;
Harriet Nelson actress;
David Rabe playwright;
Donna Reed actress;
Lillian Russell soprano;
U.S. State Comparisons
Population & Economy
Historical Population Statistics, 1790–Present
Per Capita Personal Income
Minimum Wage Rates
Federal Government Expenditure
Percent of People in Poverty
Births and Birth Rates
Percentage of Uninsured by State