The Midwestern United States, as defined by the United States Census Bureau, is one of the four U.S. geographic regions. The area is informally referred to as the Midwest throughout the United States, although the census bureau officially designates it as the North Central region.
The region consists of 12 states in the north-central United States: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Illinois is the most populous of the states. A 2012 report from the United States Census put the population of the Midwest at 65,377,684. The Midwest is divided by the Census Bureau into two regions. The East North Central States include Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, all of which are also part of the Great Lakes region. The West North Central States include Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, and South Dakota, all of which, except for Iowa and Missouri, are located within the Great Plains region of the country.
Chicago is the largest city in the American Midwest and the third largest in the entire country. Other large Midwest cities include (in order): Indianapolis, Columbus, Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Omaha, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Wichita and St. Louis. Chicago and its suburbs form the largest metropolitan statistical area with 9.8 million people, followed by Metro Detroit, Minneapolis–St. Paul, Greater St. Louis, Greater Cincinnati, Greater Cleveland, and the Kansas City metro area.
Economically the region is balanced between heavy industry and agriculture, with finance and services such as medicine and education increasingly important. Its central location makes it a transportation crossroads for river boats, railroads, autos and trucks, trucking and air travel. Politically the region swings back and forth between the parties, and thus is heavily contested and often decisive in elections.
The term Midwestern has been in use since the 1880s to refer to portions of the central U.S. A variant term, Middle West, has been used since the 19th century and remains relatively common. Another term sometimes applied to the same general region is the heartland. Other designations for the region have fallen out of use, such as the Northwest or Old Northwest (from "Northwest Territory") and Mid-America.
For decades after the sociological study by Robert Lynd and Helen Lynd Middletown appeared in 1929, commentators used Midwestern cities (and the Midwest generally) as "typical" of the nation. Middletown was Muncie, Indiana. The region has a higher employment-to-population ratio (the percentage of employed people at least 16 years old) than the Northeast, the West, the South, or the Sun Belt states as of 2011[update].
- 1 Definition
- 2 Physical geography
- 3 Prehistory
- 4 History
- 4.1 American Indian
- 4.2 European exploration and early settlement
- 4.3 American colonization
- 4.4 Development of transportation
- 4.5 American Civil War
- 4.6 Industrialization and immigration
- 4.7 History of the term Midwest
- 5 Farming and agriculture
- 6 Culture
- 7 Major Metropolitan Areas
- 8 Politics
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 Further reading
- 12 Primary sources
Traditional definitions of the Midwest include the Northwest Ordinance Old Northwest states and many states that were part of the Louisiana Purchase. The states of the Old Northwest are also known as Great Lakes states. Many of the Louisiana Purchase states are also known as Great Plains states.
- Illinois: Old Northwest, Ohio River, and Great Lakes state.
- Indiana: Old Northwest, Ohio River, and Great Lakes state.
- Iowa: Louisiana Purchase.
- Kansas: Louisiana Purchase, Great Plains state.
- Michigan: Old Northwest and Great Lakes state.
- Minnesota: Old Northwest, Louisiana Purchase, part of Red River Colony before 1818, Great Lakes state.
- Missouri: Louisiana Purchase, Border state.
- Nebraska: Louisiana Purchase, Great Plains state.
- North Dakota: Louisiana Purchase, part of Red River Colony before 1818, Great Plains state.
- Ohio: Old Northwest (Historic Connecticut Western Reserve), Ohio River, and Great Lakes state. The southeastern part of the state is part of Southern Appalachia.
- South Dakota: Louisiana Purchase, Great Plains state.
- Wisconsin: Old Northwest and Great Lakes state.
The vast central area of the U.S., into Canada, is a landscape of low, flat to rolling terrain in the Interior Plains. Most of its eastern two-thirds form the Interior Lowlands. The Lowlands gradually rise westward, from a line passing through eastern Kansas, up to 5,000+ feet in the unit known as the Great Plains). Much of the Plains are now converted land use-wise to farming.
While these states are for the most part relatively flat, consisting either of plains or of rolling and small hills, there is a measure of geographical variation. In particular, the eastern Midwest near the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains; the Great Lakes Basin; the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri; the rugged topography of Southern Indiana and far Southern Illinois; and the Driftless Area of northwestern Illinois, southwestern Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota, and northeastern Iowa exhibit a high degree of topographical variety.
Proceeding westward, the Appalachian Plateau topography gradually gives way to gently rolling hills and then (in central Ohio) to flat lands converted principally to farms and urban areas. This is the beginning of the vast Interior Plains of North America. As a result, prairies cover most of the Great Plains states. Iowa and much of Illinois lie within an area called the prairie peninsula, an eastward extension of prairies that borders conifer and mixed forests to the north, and hardwood deciduous forests to the east and south.
Geographers subdivide the Interior Plains into the Interior Lowlands and the Great Plains on the basis of elevation. The Lowlands are mostly below 1,500 feet above sea level whereas the Great Plains to the west are higher, rising in Colorado to around 5,000 feet.
The Lowlands, then, are confined to parts of Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Missouri and Arkansas have regions of Lowlands elevations but in the Ozarks (within the Interior Highlands) are higher. Those familiar with the topography of eastern Ohio may be confused by this; that region is hilly but its rocks are horizontal and are an extension of the Appalachian Plateau.
The Interior Plains are largely coincident with the vast Mississippi River Drainage System (other major components are the Missouri and Ohio Rivers). These rivers have for tens of millions of years been eroding downward into the mostly horizontal sedimentary rocks of Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic ages. The modern Mississippi River system has developed during the Pleistocene Epoch of the Cenozoic.
Rainfall decreases from east to west, resulting in different types of prairies, with the tallgrass prairie in the wetter eastern region, mixed-grass prairie in the central Great Plains, and shortgrass prairie towards the rain shadow of the Rockies. Today, these three prairie types largely correspond to the corn/soybean area, the wheat belt, and the western rangelands, respectively.
Although hardwood forests in the northern Midwest were clear-cut in the late 19th century, they were replaced by new growth. Ohio and Michigan's forests are still growing. The majority of the Midwest can now be categorized as urbanized areas or pastoral agricultural areas.
American Indians first came to North America through the Beringia land bridge between Asia and North America anywhere from 12,000 to 40,000 years ago. Genetic and archeological evidence suggests that these peoples are most closely related to peoples now inhabiting Siberia.
Prior to European colonization in North America, Native Americans had developed a large population in this vast land, estimated as between 1 million to 18 million, scattered across all of North America. Many tribes belonged to several main cultures and societies. In Midwestern America, the American Indians had experienced three main periods before the arrival of Europeans in the 17th century.
Paleoindian cultures were the earliest in North America, with some restricted to the Great Plains and Great Lakes of the modern United States and Canada, as well as adjacent areas to the west and southwest from about 12,000 BC to around 8,000 BC. These people moved into North America when the continental glaciers of the last great ice age, the Wisconsin glaciation, began to melt.
Following the Paleo-Indian period is the Archaic period (8,000 BC to 1,000 BC), the Woodland Tradition (1,000 BC to 100 AD), and the Mississippian Period (900 to 1500 AD). Archaeological evidence indicates that Mississippian culture traits probably began in the St. Louis, Missouri area and spread northwest along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and entered the state along the Kankakee River system. It also spread northward into Indiana along the Wabash, Tippecanoe, and White Rivers. The Mississippians suffered a tremendous population decline about 1400, coinciding with the global climate change of the Little Ice Age.
The Mississippi period was characterized by a mound-building culture. The namesake cultural trait of the mound builders was their construction of large, truncated earthwork pyramid mounds, or platform mounds, and other earthworks. These burial and ceremonial structures were typically flat-topped pyramids or platform mounds, flat-topped or rounded cones, elongated ridges, and sometimes a variety of other forms. Domestic houses, temples, burial buildings were usually constructed on the tops of such mounds. Prehistoric mounds are common from the plains of the Midwest to the Atlantic seaboard, but only in this general area was there a culture that regularly constructed mounds in the shape of mammals, birds, or reptiles.
Among the most well known are found at Effigy Mounds National Monument in northeastern Iowa, the largest known collection of mounds in the United States. The monument contains 2,526 acres (10.22 km2) with 206 mounds, of which 31 are effigies. The others are conical, linear and compound. Woodland period peoples built mounds from about 500 BC until the early European contact period. When the American prairies were plowed under by European settlers for agriculture, many mound sites were lost.
They were built as part of complex villages that attracted more dense populations, with a specialization of skills and knowledge. The best-known, flat-topped pyramidal structure, which at over 100 feet (30 m) in height is the largest pre-Columbian earthwork north of Mexico, is Monks Mound at Cahokia near Collinsville, Illinois.
The mound building cultures included many different tribal groups and chiefdoms, involving an array of beliefs and unique cultures over thousands of years. The general term covered their shared architectural practice of earthwork mound construction. This practice, believed to be associated with a cosmology that had a cross-cultural appeal, may indicate common cultural antecedents.
Mississippian peoples in the Midwest were mostly farmers who followed the rich, flat floodplains of Midwestern rivers. They brought with them a well-developed agricultural complex based on three major crops—maize, beans, and squash. Maize, or corn, was the primary crop of Mississippian farmers. They gathered a wide variety of seeds, nuts, and berries, and fished and hunted for fowl to supplement their diets. With such an intensive form of agriculture, these culture supported large populations.
Great Lakes Indians
The Great Lakes region—stretching from New York to Minnesota—has played a vital role in the lives and histories of Native American peoples who have resided along their shores for millennia. Tribes living around the Great Lakes area included the Hurons, Ottawa, Chippewas or Ojibwas, Potawatomis, Winnebago (Ho-chunk), Menominees, Sacs, Neutrals, Fox, and the Miami. Most numerous were the Hurons and Chippewas. Fighting and battle were often launched between tribes, with some tribes forced to move around.
Most Indian groups living in the Great Lakes region for the last five centuries are of the Algonquian language family. Some tribes—such as the Stockbridge-Munsee and the Brothertown—are also Algonkian-speaking tribes who relocated from the eastern seaboard to the Great Lakes region in the 19th century. The Oneida belong to the Iroquois language group and the Ho-Chunk of Wisconsin are one of the few Great Lakes tribes to speak a Siouan language. American Indians in this area did not develop a written form of language.
In the 16th century, American Indians used projectiles and tools of stone, bone, and wood to hunt and farm. They made canoes for fishing. Most of them lived in oval or conical wigwams that could be easily moved away. Various tribes had different ways of living. The Ojibwas were primarily hunters and fishing was also important in the Ojibwas economy. Other tribes such as Sac, Fox, and Miami, who wandered in the south and southwestern section of the Great Lakes region, both hunted and farmed to make their living.
They were oriented toward the open prairies where they engaged in communal hunts for buffalo. In the northern forests, the Ottawas and Potawatomis separated into small family groups for hunting. The Winnebagos and Menominees used both hunting methods interchangeably and built up widespread trade networks extending as far west as the Rockies, north to the Great Lakes, south to the Gulf of Mexico, and east to the Atlantic Ocean.
The Hurons reckoned descent through the female line, while the others favored the patrilineal method. All tribes were governed under chiefdoms or complex chiefdoms. For example, Hurons were divided into matrilineal clans, each represented by a chief in the town council, where they met with a town chief on civic matters. But Chippewa people's social and political life was simpler than that of settled tribes.
The religious beliefs varied among tribes. Hurons believed in Yoscaha, a supernatural being who lived in the sky and was believed to have created the world and the Huron people. At death, Hurons thought the soul left the body to live in a village in the sky. Chippewas were a deeply religious people who believed in the Great Spirit. They worshiped the Great Spirit through all their seasonal activities and viewed religion as a private matter: each person's relation with his personal guardian spirit was part of his thinking every day of life. Ottawa and Potawatomi people had very similar religious beliefs to those of the Chippewas.
Great Plains Indians
The Plains Indians are the indigenous peoples who live on the plains and rolling hills of the Great Plains of North America. Their colorful equestrian culture and resistance to white domination have made the Plains Indians archetypical in literature and art for American Indians everywhere.
Plains Indians are usually divided into two broad classifications, with some degree of overlap. The first group were fully nomadic, following the vast herds of buffalo. Some tribes occasionally engaged in agriculture; growing tobacco and corn primarily. These included the Blackfoot, Arapaho, Assiniboine, Cheyenne, Comanche, Crow, Gros Ventre, Kiowa, Lakota, Lipan, Plains Apache (or Kiowa Apache), Plains Cree, Plains Ojibwe, Sarsi, Shoshone, Stoney, and Tonkawa.
The second group of Plains Indians (sometimes referred to as Prairie Indians) were the semi-sedentary tribes who, in addition to hunting buffalo, lived in villages and raised crops. These included the Arikara, Hidatsa, Iowa, Kaw (or Kansa), Kitsai, Mandan, Missouria, Nez Perce, Omaha, Osage, Otoe, Pawnee, Ponca, Quapaw, Santee, Wichita, and Yankton.
The nomadic tribes of the Great Plains survived on hunting, some of their major hunts centered around deer and buffalo. Some tribes are described as part of the 'Buffalo Culture' (sometimes called, for the American Bison). Though the Plains Indians hunted other animals, such as elk or antelope, bison was their primary game food source. Bison flesh, hide and bones provided the chief source of raw materials for items that Plains Indians made, including food, cups, decorations, crafting tools, knives, and clothing. (See Bison hunting.)
The tribes followed the bison's seasonal grazing and migration. The Plains Indians lived in teepees because they were easily disassembled and allowed the nomadic life of following game. When Spanish horses were obtained, the Plains tribes rapidly integrated them into their daily lives. By the early 18th century, many tribes had fully adopted a horse culture. Before their adoption of guns, the Plains Indians hunted with spears, bows, and bows and arrows, and various forms of clubs. The use of horses by the Plains Indians made hunting (and warfare) much easier.
Among the most powerful and dominant tribes were the Dakota or Sioux, who occupied large amounts of territory in the Great Plains of the Midwest. The area of the Great Sioux Nation spread throughout the South and Midwest, up into the areas of Minnesota and stretching out west into the Rocky Mountains. At the same time, they occupied the heart of prime buffalo range, and also an excellent region for furs they could sell to French and American traders for goods such as guns. The Sioux (Dakota) became the most powerful of the Plains tribes and the greatest threat to American expansion.
- Isáŋyathi or Isáŋathi ("Knife," originating from the name of a lake in present-day Minnesota): residing in the extreme east of the Dakotas, Minnesota and northern Iowa, and are often referred to as the Santee or Eastern Dakota.
- Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋ and Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna ("Village-at-the-end" and "little village-at-the-end"): residing in the Minnesota River area, they are considered the middle Sioux, and are often referred to as the Yankton and the Yanktonai, or, collectively, as the Wičhíyena (endonym) or the Western Dakota (and have been erroneously classified as Nakota).
- Thítȟuŋwaŋ or Teton (uncertain, perhaps "Dwellers on the Prairie"; this name is archaic among the natives, who prefer to call themselves Lakȟóta): the westernmost Sioux, known for their hunting and warrior culture, are often referred to as the Lakota.
The Plains Indians followed no single religion. Animist religion was an important part of a Great Plains Indians' life, as they believed that all things possessed spirits. Their worship was centered on one main god, in the Sioux language Wakan Tanka (the Great Spirit). The Great Spirit had power over everything that had ever existed, and the Plains Indians believed that by worshiping him they would become stronger. Earth was also quite important, as she was the mother of all spirits. Spirits were worshiped daily. People sometimes prayed alone, while other times there were group gatherings. The most important group ceremony was the Sun Dance, in which participants danced for four days around a sacred object, and some would inflict harm upon themselves on purpose, all while staring at the sun. They believed this self-sacrifice would encourage powerful spirits to support and defend them.
Today, the Sioux maintain many separate tribal governments scattered across several reservations, communities, and reserves in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Montana in the United States; and Manitoba and southern Saskatchewan in Canada.
European exploration and early settlement
European settlement of the area began in the 17th century following French exploration of the region and became known as New France, the area colonized by France in North America during a period beginning with the exploration of the Saint Lawrence River by Jacques Cartier in 1534 and ending with the cession of New France to Spain and Great Britain in 1763.
At its peak in 1712 (before the Treaty of Utrecht), the territory of New France extended from Newfoundland to the Rocky Mountains and from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. The territory was then divided in five colonies, each with its own administration: Canada, Acadia, Hudson Bay, Newfoundland (Plaisance), and Louisiana.
The Treaty of Utrecht resulted in the relinquishing of French claims to mainland Acadia, the Hudson Bay and Newfoundland colonies, and the establishment of the colony of Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) as the successor to Acadia.
Marquette and Jolliet
Many governors of settlements and kings of nations hoped to be the first to find the Northwest Passage, a shortcut through the New World to the Indies of southeast Asia. The discovery of a Northwest Passage would result in great wealth for the founding nation because it would be able to directly import goods from the Asian markets while controlling the passage itself.
In 1673, the governor of New France (Quebec, the French settlement started by Samuel de Champlain), sent Jacques Marquette, a Catholic priest and missionary, and Louis Jolliet, a French Canadian fur trader, along with seven other explorers, on a mission to find the Northwest Passage. The team began their trip in Quebec and traveled through Michigan's upper peninsula to the northern tip of Lake Michigan. On canoes, they crossed the massive lake and landed at present-day Green Bay, Wisconsin at the mouth of the Fox River. They met native American Indians who described various rivers they would encounter. After portaging their canoes to the Wisconsin River, they entered the Mississippi River on June 17, 1673.
Marquette and Jolliet soon realized that the Mississippi couldn't possibly be the Northwest Passage they were hoping for because it flowed south. Nevertheless, the journey continued. They recorded much of the wildlife they encountered. They described the catfish as a monster with the head of a tiger, the nose of a wildcat, and with whiskers. They encountered herds of buffalo, which they described as cattle. The pair rowed south past the junction of the Mississippi River and the Missouri River at present day St. Louis, Missouri, and turned around at the junction of the Mississippi River and Arkansas River. They believed that the Mississippi River flowed into the Gulf of Mexico and were wary of being captured by Spaniards who controlled the area.
The Marquette and Jolliet party returned to Illinois Territory in late 1674, becoming the first Europeans to winter in what would become the city of Chicago. As welcomed guests of the Illinois Confederation, the explorers were feasted en route and fed ceremonial foods such as sagamite.
Upon journey's end, Father Marquette and Louis Jolliet became the first Europeans to see and map the northern portion of the Mississippi River. Marquette and Jolliet did not discover the Mississippi. American Indians had been using it for thousands of years, and Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto had crossed it more than a century before them. They did confirm, however, that it was possible to travel easily from the Great Lakes all the way to the Gulf of Mexico by water, that the native peoples who lived along the route were generally friendly, and that the natural resources of the lands in between were extraordinary. Equipped with this information, French officials led by LaSalle would erect a 4,000-mile network of trading posts to systematically exploit those riches over the next century and a half.
French control over the area east of the Mississippi River ended in 1763 with the conclusion of the French and Indian War. Colonists from the Thirteen Colonies began to expand into the Ohio Country during the 1750s. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 temporarily restrained expansion west of the Appalachian Mountains, but did not stop it completely. West of the Mississippi River, French settlers flourished in towns such as St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve until the mid-18th century.
France ceded the rest of New France to Great Britain and Spain at the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years War (the French and Indian War). Britain received all lands east of the Mississippi River, including Canada, Acadia, and parts of Louisiana, while Spain received the territory to the west—the larger portion of Louisiana. Spain returned its portion of Louisiana to France in 1800, but French leader Napoleon Bonaparte sold it to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, permanently ending French colonial efforts on the American mainland.
American settlement began either via routes over the Appalachian Mountains, such as Braddock Road, or through the waterways of the Great Lakes. Fort Pitt (now Pittsburgh) at the source of the Ohio River was an early outpost of the overland routes. The first settlements in the Midwest via the waterways of the Great Lakes were centered around military forts and trading posts such as Green Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, and Detroit. The first inland settlements via the overland routes were in southern Ohio or northern Kentucky, on either side of the Ohio River, and early such pioneers included Daniel Boone and Spencer Records.
The region's fertile soil made it possible for farmers to produce abundant harvests of cereal crops such as corn, oats, and, most importantly, wheat. The region soon became known as the nation's breadbasket.
Lewis and Clark
In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Corps of Discovery, a specially-established unit of the United States Army which formed the nucleus of the Lewis and Clark expedition that took place between May 1804 and September 1806, and named as its leader his personal secretary and U.S. Army Captain, Meriwether Lewis, who selected William Clark as his partner. The goals of the Corps of Discovery, whose cadre would be raised primarily from the U.S. military, was to explore the Louisiana Purchase, and establish trade and U.S. sovereignty over the native peoples along the Missouri River. Jefferson also wanted to establish a U.S. claim to the Pacific Northwest and Oregon territory by documenting an American presence there before other Europeans, such as the British, could claim the land. The Corps' objectives were also scientific and commercial – to study the area's plants, animal life, and geography, and to learn how the Louisiana Purchase could be exploited economically.
On May 14, 1804, the Corps of Discovery departed Camp Dubois, Illinois, then in the Indiana Territory, near St. Louis, and followed the Missouri River westward through what is now Kansas City, Missouri, and Omaha, Nebraska.
In August 1804, Sergeant Charles Floyd became the only member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to die during the three-year long journey, a death believed to have been caused by an appendicitis attack. A 100-foot high obelisk, located at the summit of Floyd’s Bluff near what is now Sioux City, Iowa, marks the Floyd burial site and offers visitors a view of the Missouri River Valley. The Sergeant Floyd Monument was declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1960, the first monument registered as such in the U.S. 
During the coming weeks, the expedition would reach the Great Plains. They would be among a select group of white people to see the area abounding with elk, deer, bison, and beaver before the large-scale encroachment of further European and American settlement.
Over the next two years, the Lewis and Clark Expedition established relations with more than two dozen indigenous nations between the Missouri and the Pacific Ocean. Researchers now acknowledge that without such contact or help, the Corps of Discovery would have undoubtedly starved to death or become hopelessly lost in the Rocky Mountains. 
In the winter of 1804-05, the party built Fort Mandan, an encampment near present-day Washburn, North Dakota. Here they met a French-Canadian fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau and his young Lemhi Shoshone wife Sacagawea. Sacagawea was pregnant with her first child when the Corps of Discovery arrived near their Hidatsa villages to spend the winter. Following the birth of her first child, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, on February 11, 1805, Sacagawea accompanied the expedition party on their journey west, acting as interpreter and guide.
The expedition continued to journey along the Missouri to its headwaters and over the Continental Divide to reach the Pacific Ocean. Following a second bitter winter at Fort Clatsop, near what is now Astoria, Oregon, the Lewis and Clark Expedition returned east to St. Louis in the spring of 1806.
The Corps met their objective of reaching the Pacific, mapping and establishing their presence for a legal claim to the land. With maps, sketches and journals in hand, the expedition returned to St. Louis in September 1806 to report their findings to Jefferson. 
Development of transportation
Two waterways have been important to the development of the Midwest. The first and foremost was the Ohio River, which flowed into the Mississippi River. Development of the region was halted until 1795 due to Spain's control of the southern part of the Mississippi and its refusal to allow the shipment of American crops down the river and into the Atlantic Ocean.
The second waterway is the network of routes within the Great Lakes. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 completed an all-water shipping route, more direct than the Mississippi, to New York and the seaport of New York City. In 1848, The Illinois and Michigan Canal breached the continental divide spanning the Chicago Portage and linking the waters of the Great Lakes with those of the Mississippi Valley and the Gulf of Mexico. Lakeport and river cities grew up to handle these new shipping routes. During the Industrial Revolution, the lakes became a conduit for iron ore from the Mesabi Range of Minnesota to steel mills in the Mid-Atlantic States. The Saint Lawrence Seaway (1862, widened 1959) opened the Midwest to the Atlantic Ocean.
In the 1870s and 1880s, the Mississippi River inspired two classic books—Life on the Mississippi and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—written by native Missourian Samuel Clemens, who used the pseudonym Mark Twain. His stories became staples of Midwestern lore. Twain's hometown of Hannibal, Missouri is a tourist attraction offering a glimpse into the Midwest of his time.
Inland canals in Ohio and Indiana constituted another important waterway, which connected with Great Lakes and Ohio River traffic. The commodities that the Midwest funneled into the Erie Canal down the Ohio River contributed to the wealth of New York City, which overtook Boston and Philadelphia.
Railroads and the automobile
During the mid-19th century, the region got its first railroads, and the railroad junction in Chicago became the world's largest. Even today, a century after Henry Ford, six Class I railroads meet in Chicago.
In the period from 1890 to 1930 many Midwestern cities, towns, villages, and even farms were connected by interurbans, or electrical streetcars. The Midwest had more interurbans than any other region. In 1916, Ohio led all states with 2,798 miles (4,503 km), Indiana followed with 1,825 miles (2,937 km). These two states alone had almost a third of the country's interurban trackage. The nation's largest interurban junction was in Indianapolis. During the 1900s (decade) the city's 38% growth in population was attributed largely to the interurban.
Competition with a growing population of automobiles and buses traveling on paved highways led to a decline in the interurban and other railroad passenger business. Henry Ford and Charles Kettering, the inventor of the electrical starting motor and leaded gasoline, were both products of the Midwest, as were the Wright Brothers.
American Civil War
Slavery prohibition and the underground railroad
The Northwest Ordinance region, comprising the heart of the Midwest, was the first large region of the United States that prohibited slavery (the Northeastern United States emancipated slaves in the 1830s). The regional southern boundary was the Ohio River, the border of freedom and slavery in American history and literature (see Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Beloved by Toni Morrison).
The Midwest, particularly Ohio, provided the primary routes for the Underground Railroad, whereby Midwesterners assisted slaves to freedom from their crossing of the Ohio River through their departure on Lake Erie to Canada. Created in the early 19th century, the Underground Railroad was at its height between 1850 and 1860. One estimate suggests that by 1850, 100,000 slaves had escaped via the Underground Railroad.
The Underground Railroad consisted of meeting points, secret routes, transportation, and safe houses and assistance provided by abolitionist sympathizers. Individuals were often organized in small, independent groups; this helped to maintain secrecy because individuals knew some connecting "stations" along the route but knew few details of their immediate area. Escaped slaves would move north along the route from one way station to the next. Although the fugitives sometimes traveled on boat or train, they usually traveled on foot or by wagon.
The region was shaped by the relative absence of slavery (except for Missouri), pioneer settlement, education in one-room free public schools, democratic notions brought by American Revolutionary War veterans, Protestant faiths and experimentation, and agricultural wealth transported on the Ohio River riverboats, flatboats, canal boats, and railroads.
The first violent conflicts leading up to the Civil War occurred between two neighboring Midwestern states, Kansas and Missouri, involving anti-slavery Free-Staters and pro-slavery "Border Ruffian" elements, that took place in the Kansas Territory and the western frontier towns of Missouri roughly between 1854 and 1858. At the heart of the conflict was the question of whether Kansas would enter the Union as a free state or slave state. As such, Bleeding Kansas was a proxy war between Northerners and Southerners over the issue of slavery. The term "Bleeding Kansas" was coined by Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune; the events it encompasses directly presaged the Civil War.
Setting in motion the events later known as "Bleeding Kansas" was the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Act created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, opened new lands that would help settlement in them, repealed the Missouri Compromise, and allowed settlers in those territories to determine through popular sovereignty whether to allow slavery within their boundaries. It was hoped the Act would ease relations between the North and the South, because the South could expand slavery to new territories but the North still had the right to abolish slavery in its states. Instead, opponents denounced the law as a concession to the slave power of the South.
The new Republican Party, born in the Midwest (Ripon, Wisconsin, 1854) and created in opposition to the Act, aimed to stop the expansion of slavery and soon emerged as the dominant force throughout the North.
An ostensibly democratic idea, popular sovereignty stated that the inhabitants of each territory or state should decide whether it would be a free or slave state; however, this resulted in immigration en masse to Kansas by activists from both sides. At one point, Kansas had two separate governments, each with its own constitution, although only one was federally recognized. On January 29, 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state, less than three months before the Battle of Fort Sumter officially began the Civil War.
The calm in Kansas was shattered in May 1856 by two events that are often regarded as the opening shots of the Civil War. On May 21, the Free Soil town of Lawrence, Kansas was sacked by an armed pro‐slavery force from Missouri. A few days later, the Sacking of Lawrence led abolitionist John Brown and six of his followers to execute five men along the Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin County, Kansas, in retaliation.
The so-called "Border War" lasted for another four months, from May through October, between armed bands of pro‐slavery and Free Soil men. The U.S. Army had two garrisons in Kansas, the First Cavalry Regiment at Fort Leavenworth and the Second Dragoons and Sixth Infantry at Fort Riley. The skirmishes endured until a new governor, John W. Geary, managed to prevail upon the Missourians to return home in late 1856. A fragile peace followed, but violent outbreaks continued intermittently for several more years.
National reaction to the events in Kansas demonstrated how deeply divided the country had become. The Border Ruffians were widely applauded in the South, even though their actions had cost the lives of numerous people. In the North, the murders committed by Brown and his followers were ignored by most and lauded by a few.
The civil conflict in Kansas was a product of the political fight over slavery. Federal troops were not used to decide a political question, but they were used by successive territorial governors to pacify the territory so that the political question of slavery in Kansas could finally be decided by peaceful, legal, and political means.
The election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 was the final trigger for secession by the Southern states. Efforts at compromise, including the "Corwin Amendment" and the Crittenden Compromise, failed. Southern leaders feared that Lincoln would stop the expansion of slavery and put it on a course toward extinction.
The U.S. federal government was supported by 20 mostly-Northern free states in which slavery already had been abolished, and by five slave states that became known as the border states. All of the Midwestern states but one, Missouri, banned slavery. Though most battles were fought in the South, skirmishes between Kansas and Missouri continued until culmination with the Lawrence Massacre on August 21, 1863. Also known as Quantrill's Raid, the massacre was a rebel guerrilla attack by Quantrill's Raiders, led by William Clarke Quantrill, on pro-Union Lawrence, Kansas.
Lawrence was targeted due to the town's long support of abolition and its reputation as a center for Redlegs and Jayhawkers, which were free-state militia and vigilante groups known for attacking and destroying farms and plantations in Missouri's pro-slavery western counties.
The Lawrence Massacre was one of the bloodiest events in the history of Kansas and the nation. Quantrill's band of 448 Missouri guerrillas raided and plundered Lawrence, killing more than 150 and burning all the business buildings and most of the dwellings. Pursued by federal troops, the band escaped to Missouri.
Industrialization and immigration
By the time of the American Civil War, European immigrants bypassed the East Coast of the United States to settle directly in the interior: German immigrants to Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and Missouri; Irish immigrants to port cities on the Great Lakes, especially Chicago; Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians to Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas; and Finns to Upper Michigan and northern/central Minnesota. Poles, Hungarians, and Jews settled in Midwestern cities.
The U.S. was predominantly rural at the time of the Civil War. The Midwest was no exception, dotted with small farms all across the region. The late 19th century saw industrialization, immigration, and urbanization that fed the Industrial Revolution, and the heart of industrial domination and innovation was in the Great Lakes states of the Midwest, which only began its slow decline by the late 20th century.
In the 20th century, African American migration from the Southern United States into the Midwestern states changed Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Detroit, Omaha, Minneapolis and many other cities in the Midwest, as factories and schools enticed families by the thousands to new opportunities. Chicago alone gained hundreds of thousands of black citizens from the Great Migration and the Second Great Migration.
History of the term Midwest
The term West was applied to the region in the early years of the country. In 1789, the Northwest Ordinance was enacted, creating the Northwest Territory, which was bounded by the Great Lakes and the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Because the Northwest Territory lay between the East Coast and the then-far-West, the states carved out of it were called the Northwest. In the early 19th century, anything west of the Mississippi River was considered the West. The first recorded use of the term Midwestern to refer to a region of the central U.S. occurred in 1886, Midwest appeared in 1894, and Midwesterner in 1916.
With the settlement of the western prairie, the new term Great Plains States was used for the row of states from North Dakota to Kansas. Later, these states also came to be considered Midwest by some.
The states of the "old Northwest" are now called the "East North Central States" by the United States Census Bureau and the "Great Lakes region" is also a popular term. The states just west of the Mississippi River and the Great Plains states are called the "West North Central States" by the Census Bureau. In some definitions, states such as Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana may be defined under Midwest as well. However, this definition is not in widespread use as those states are generally considered too far west to fall under the term "Midwest" as it is known.
Some entities in the Midwest are still referred to as "Northwest" due to historical reasons, for example, Northwestern University in Illinois.
The most common definition currently used colloquially is that the Midwest proper includes, for the most part, only the East North Central States of the Great Lakes region, specifically Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota, and in addition Iowa and Missouri are also usually understood to share the same regional characteristics.
Farming and agriculture
Agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of local economies in the Midwest, accounting for billions of dollars worth of exports and thousands of jobs. The area has some of the richest farming land in the world and is known for its corn and cattle. The extended area also includes soybean and wheat fields, particularly west of the Missouri River.
The very dense soil of the Midwest plagued the first settlers who were using wooden plows, which were more suitable for loose forest soil. On the prairie, the plows bounced around and the soil stuck to them. This problem was solved in 1837 by an Illinois blacksmith named John Deere who developed a steel moldboard plow that was stronger and cut the roots, making the fertile soils of the prairie ready for farming.
The tallgrass prairie has been converted into one of the most intensive crop producing areas in North America. Less than one tenth of one percent (<0.09%) of the original landcover of the tallgrass prairie biome remains. States formerly with landcover in native tallgrass prairie such as Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Missouri have become valued for their highly productive soils and are included in the Corn Belt. As an example of this land use intensity, Illinois and Iowa rank 49th and 50th out of 50 states in total uncultivated land remaining.
The region's fertile soil combined with the steel plow has made it possible for farmers to produce abundant harvests of cereal crops, such as corn, wheat, and oats. The region was soon known as the nation's "breadbasket."
The majority of mid-westerners are Protestant with rates from 48% in Illinois to 63% in Iowa. Roman Catholicism is the largest single denomination, varying between 18% and 34% of the state populations. Southern Baptists compose about 15% of Missouri's population and smaller percentages in other Midwestern states. Lutherans are prevalent in the Upper Midwest, especially in Minnesota and the Dakotas with their large Scandinavian and German populations.
Judaism is practiced by 2.5% and Islam is practiced by 1% or less of the population, with higher concentrations in major urban areas. People with no religious affiliation make up 13–16% of the Midwest's population. Surveys show 54% of Midwesterners regularly attend church.
Because of 20th century African American migration from the South, a large African-American urban population lives in most of the region's major cities, although the concentration is not generally as large as that of the Southern United States. The combination of industry and cultures, blues, and rock and roll led to an outpouring of musical creativity in the midwest during the post-Civil Rights movement years, including major contributions to jazz, funk, and R&B, and even new sub-genres such as the Motown Sound and techno from Detroit or house music from Chicago.
Additionally, the electrified Chicago blues sound exemplifies the genre, as popularized by record labels Chess and Alligator and portrayed in such films as The Blues Brothers, Godfathers and Sons, and Adventures in Babysitting.
Rock and roll music was first identified as a new genre in 1951 by Cleveland, Ohio, disc jockey Alan Freed who began playing this music style while popularizing the term "rock and roll" to describe it. By the mid-1950s, rock and roll emerged as a defined musical style in the United States, deriving most directly from the rhythm and blues music of the 1940s, which itself developed from earlier blues, boogie woogie, jazz, and swing music, and was also influenced by gospel, country and western, and traditional folk music. Freed's contribution in identifying rock as a new genre helped establish the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to be located in Cleveland. Chuck Berry, a Midwesterner from St. Louis, was among the first successful rock and roll artists and influenced many other rock musicians.
In the 1990s, the Midwest was at the center of the emo movement, with bands like The Get Up Kids (Kansas), Cursive (Nebraska) and Cap'n Jazz (Illinois) blending earlier hardcore punk sounds with a more melodic indie rock sentiment. This hybrid of styles came to be known as Midwest emo.
Numerous classical composers live and have lived in midwestern states, including Easley Blackwood, Kenneth Gaburo, Salvatore Martirano, and Ralph Shapey (Illinois); Glenn Miller and Meredith Willson (Iowa); Leslie Bassett, William Bolcom, Michael Daugherty, and David Gillingham (Michigan); Donald Erb (Ohio); Dominick Argento and Stephen Paulus (Minnesota).
Differences in the definition of the Midwest mainly split between the Heartland and the Great Plains on one side, and the Great Lakes and the Rust Belt on the other. While some point to the small towns and agricultural communities in Kansas, Iowa, the Dakotas, and Nebraska of the Great Plains as representative of traditional Midwestern lifestyles and values, others assert that the Rust Belt cities of the Great Lakes—with their histories of 19th- and early-20th-century immigration, manufacturing base, and strong Catholic influence—are more representative of the Midwestern experience.
Certain areas of the traditionally defined Midwest are often cited as not representative of the region, while other areas traditionally outside the Midwest are often described as part of the Midwest. These claims often embody historical, cultural, economic or demographic arguments for inclusion or exclusion. Perceptions of the proper classification of the Midwest also vary within the region, and tend toward exclusion rather than inclusion.
Two other regions, Appalachia and the Ozark Mountains, overlap geographically with the Midwest—Appalachia in Southern Ohio and the Ozarks in Southern Missouri. The Ohio River has long been the boundary between North and South and between the Midwest and the Upper South. All of the lower Midwestern states, especially Missouri, have a major Southern component, and Missouri was a slave state before the Civil War.
Western Pennsylvania, which contains the cities of Erie and Pittsburgh, plus the Western New York city of Buffalo, share history with the Midwest but overlap with Appalachia and the Northeast as well. In bordering Ontario, Canada, although there is a distinct culture separate to that of the Midwest, similarities do exist, a portion of the Corn Belt in the southwestern part and industrial, port cities on the Great Lakes centered around the auto manufacturing industry.
Kentucky is rarely considered part of the Midwest, although it can be grouped with it in some contexts. It is categorized as Southern by the Census Bureau and is usually classified as such, especially from a cultural standpoint.
The accents of the region are generally distinct from those of the South and of the urban areas of the American Northeast. To a lesser degree, they are also distinct from the accent of the American West.
The accent characteristic of most of the Midwest is considered by many to be that of "standard" American English or General American. This accent is preferred by many national radio and television broadcasters.
This may have started because many prominent broadcast personalities—such as Walter Cronkite, Harry Reasoner, Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Brokaw, John Madden, and Casey Kasem—came from this region and so created this perception. A November 1998 National Geographic article attributed the high number of telemarketing firms in Omaha to the "neutral accents" of the area's inhabitants. Currently, many cities in the Great Lakes region are undergoing the Northern cities vowel shift away from the standard pronunciation of vowels.
The dialect of Minnesota, western Wisconsin, much of North Dakota and Michigan's Upper Peninsula is referred to as the Upper Midwestern Dialect (or "Minnesotan"), and has Scandinavian and Canadian influences.
Missouri has elements of three dialects, specifically: Northern Midland, in the extreme northern part of the state, with a distinctive variation in St. Louis and the surrounding area; Southern Midland, in the majority of the state; and Southern, in the southwestern and southeastern parts of the state, with a bulge extending north in the central part, to include approximately the southern one-third.
Major Metropolitan Areas
All cities listed have a population of 250,000 or more.
The Midwest has been an important region in national elections, with highly contested elections in closely divided states often deciding the national result. In 1860–1920, both parties often selected either their president or vice president from the region.
One of the two major political parties in the United States, the Republican Party, originated in the Midwest in the 1850s; Ripon, Wisconsin had the first local meeting while Jackson, Michigan had the state county meeting of the new party. It membership included many Yankees who had settled the upper Midwest. The party opposed the expansion of slavery and stressed the Protestant ideals of thrift, a hard work ethic, self-reliance, democratic decision making, and religious tolerance.
Starting in the 1890s the middle class urban Progressive movement became influential in the region (as it was in other regions), with Wisconsin a major center. Under the LaFolletes Wisconsin fought against the GOP bosses and for efficiency, modernization, and the use of experts to solve social, economic, and political problems. Theodore Roosevelt's 1912 Progressive Party had the best showing in this region; carrying the states of Michigan, Minnesota, and South Dakota. In 1924 La Follette, Sr.'s 1924 Progressive Party did well in the region but only carried his home base of Wisconsin.
The Midwest—especially the areas west of Chicago—has always been a stronghold of isolationism, a belief that America should not involve itself in foreign entanglements. This position was largely based on the many German American and Swedish-American communities. Isolationist leaders included the La Follettes, Ohio's Robert A. Taft, and Colonel Robert McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune.
The region is now home to many critical swing states that do not have strong allegiance to either the Democratic or Republican party. Upper Midwestern states, such as Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan tend to vote Democratic, but the 2010 elections proved they can sometimes swing to either party. Indiana is usually considered a Republican stronghold, however in 2008 the state voted for a Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, for the first time in 44 years.
As a result of the 2010 elections, Republicans now control the governors' office in nine of the twelve Midwestern states, leaving only Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri in Democratic hands. Republicans also control every partisan state legislature in the Midwest, except Illinois, Minnesota and the Iowa Senate. (The unicameral Nebraska Legislature is officially nonpartisan.)
The state government of Illinois is currently dominated by the Democratic Party. The state currently has one Republican senator, one Democratic senator, and an 12-6 Democratic majority House delegation. Illinois voters have preferred the Democratic presidential candidate by a significantly large margin in the past six elections (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012).
Many analysts consider Iowa the most evenly divided state in the country, but it has leaned Democratic for at least the past fifteen years. Iowa had a Democratic governor from 1999 until Terry Branstad was re-elected in the mid-term elections in 2010, has had both one Democratic and one Republican senator since the early 1980s, currently has evenly split (2-2) House delegation, and has voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in five out of the last six elections, (1992, 1996, 2000, 2008, 2012). As a result of the 2010 elections, Republicans hold a significant majority in the Iowa House of Representatives, while Democrats hold a majority in the Iowa Senate.
Minnesota voters have chosen the Democratic candidate for president longer than any other state, having not voted Republican since 1972. Minnesota was the only U.S. state (along with Washington, D.C.) to vote for its native son Walter Mondale over Ronald Reagan in 1984. In Iowa and Minnesota, however, the recent Democratic victories have often been fairly narrow. Minnesota has elected and re-elected a Republican governor, as well as supported some of the strongest gun concealment laws in the nation. Republicans held control of both houses of the Minnesota state legislature from 2011-2013.
Consistently, Ohio is a battleground state in presidential elections. No Republican has won the office without winning Ohio. This trend has contributed to Ohio's reputation as a quintessential swing state. At the state level, however, Republicans are currently dominant. With the exception of one justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio, all statewide elected officials are Republicans, and Republicans have a majority in the Ohio House of Representatives and a supermajority in the Ohio Senate. Ohio has one Democratic and one Republican U.S. Senator. As a result of the 2012 elections, 12 of Ohio's 16 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are Republicans.
The Great Plains states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas have been strongholds for the Republicans for many decades. These four states have gone for the Republican candidate in every presidential election since 1940, except for Lyndon B. Johnson's landslide over Barry Goldwater in 1964. Although North Dakota and South Dakota have often elected Democrats to Congress, after the 2012 election both states' congressional delegations are majority Republican. Nebraska has elected Democrats to the Senate and as Governor in recent years, but the state's House delegation has been all-Republican since 1995 and both of its U.S. Senators are Republican. Kansas has elected a majority of Democrats as governor since 1956 but has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1932. Both of Kansas's U.S. Senators and all four of its U.S. House members are Republican.
Missouri was historically considered a "bellwether state" in presidential elections. Prior to 2008, Missouri had supported the winning candidate all but once since the beginning of the 20th century. Only three times since 1904 has the Show-Me-State not voted for the winner in a presidential election: in 1956, when the state voted for Democrat Adlai Stevenson; in 2008, when the state broke for Republican John McCain; and in 2012, when it broke for Republican Mitt Romney. Missouri's House delegation has generally been evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with the Democrats holding sway in the large cities at the opposite ends of the state, Kansas City and St. Louis (although the Kansas City suburbs are now trending Republican), and the Republicans controlling the rest of the state, save for a pocket of Democratic strength in Columbia, home to the University of Missouri. However, as a result of the 2012 elections, Republicans now have a 6–2 majority in the state's House delegation, with African-American Democrats representing the major cities. Missouri's Senate seats were mostly controlled by Democrats until the latter part of the 20th century, but the Republicans have held one or both Senate seats continuously since the 1976 elections.
The Iowa caucuses are an electoral event in which residents of Iowa meet in precinct caucuses in all of the state's 1,784 precincts and elect delegates to the corresponding county conventions. There are 99 counties in Iowa and thus 99 conventions. These county conventions then select delegates for both Iowa's Congressional District Convention and the State Convention, which eventually choose the delegates for the presidential nominating conventions (the national conventions). The most recent Iowa Caucuses were held on February 6, 2012.
The caucuses are noteworthy for the amount of media attention they receive during U.S. presidential election years. Since 1972, the Iowa caucuses have been the first major electoral event of the nominating process for President of the United States. Although only about one percent of the nation's delegates are chosen by the Iowa State Convention, the Iowa caucuses have served as an early indication of which candidates for president might win the nomination of their political party at that party's national convention.
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