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Midwestern United States

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Title: Midwestern United States  
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Subject: Demographics of the United States, United States, Emo pop, Missouri, German American
Collection: Census Regions of the United States, Midwestern United States, Regions of the United States
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Midwestern United States

The Midwest as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Midwestern United States, or the Midwest, is one of the four U.S. geographic regions defined by the United States Census Bureau.[1] The region was named the North Central region by the Census Bureau until 1984.[2]

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 and North Dakota the least. 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 divisions. The East North Central Division includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, all of which are also part of the Great Lakes region. The West North Central Division includes Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, and South Dakota, all of which, except for Iowa, Missouri and Minnesota, are located, at least partly, within the Great Plains region of the country. Major rivers in the region include, from east to west, the Ohio River, the Upper Mississippi River, and the Missouri River.

Chicago is the largest city in the American Midwest and the third most populous in the entire country. Other large Midwest cities include (in order by population): 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, Kansas City metro area, and the Columbus metro area.[3]

The term Midwestern has been in use since the 1880s to refer to portions of the central U.S.[4] A variant term, Middle West, has been used since the 19th century and remains relatively common.[5][6] Another term sometimes applied to the same general region is the heartland.[7] Other designations for the region have fallen out of use, such as the Northwest or Old Northwest (from "Northwest Territory") and Mid-America.

Some geographers have proposed alternative definitions of The Midwest that rely upon cultural characteristics rather than political (state) boundaries used in the U.S. Census Bureau definition. In such works the region referred to by the Census Bureau as The Midwest is often subdivided into smaller cultural units. [8] [9]

Map of USA defining regions according to cultural characteristics rather than state boundaries

Economically the region is balanced between heavy industry and agriculture, with finance and services such as medicine and education becoming increasingly important. Its central location makes it a transportation crossroads for river boats, railroads, autos, trucks and airplanes. Politically the region swings back and forth between the parties, and thus is heavily contested and often decisive in elections.[10][11]

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.[12] 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.[13]


  • Definition 1
  • Physical geography 2
  • Prehistory 3
  • History 4
    • American Indian 4.1
      • Great Lakes Indians 4.1.1
      • Great Plains Indians 4.1.2
    • European exploration and early settlement 4.2
      • New France 4.2.1
      • Marquette and Jolliet 4.2.2
    • American settlement 4.3
      • Lewis and Clark 4.3.1
      • Indian wars 4.3.2
    • Yankees and ethnocultural politics 4.4
    • Development of transportation 4.5
      • Waterways 4.5.1
      • Railroads and the automobile 4.5.2
    • American Civil War 4.6
      • Slavery prohibition and the Underground Railroad 4.6.1
      • Bleeding Kansas 4.6.2
    • Industrialization and immigration 4.7
      • German Americans 4.7.1
    • History of the term Midwest 4.8
  • Farming and agriculture 5
  • Culture 6
    • Religion 6.1
    • Education 6.2
    • Music 6.3
    • Sports 6.4
    • Cultural overlap 6.5
    • Linguistic characteristics 6.6
  • Health 7
  • Major metropolitan areas 8
  • Politics 9
    • Historical 9.1
    • Recent trends 9.2
  • See also 10
  • Notes 11
  • Further reading 12
    • Historiography 12.1
  • Primary sources 13


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.

The Midwest Region is defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as these 12 states:[1]

The Midwest Region of the National Park Service consists of these twelve states plus the state of Arkansas.


  • Frederick; John T., ed. Out of the Midwest: A Collection of Present-Day Writing (1944) literary excerpts online edition

Primary sources

  • Brown, David S. Beyond the Frontier: The Midwestern Voice in American Historical Writing (2009)
  • Lauck, Jon K. The Lost Region: Toward a Revival of Midwestern History (University of Iowa Press; 2013) 166 pages; criticizes the neglect of the Midwest in contemporary historiography and argues for a revival of attention


  • Aley, Ginette et al. eds. Union Heartland: The Midwestern Home Front during the Civil War (2013)
  • Barlow, Philip, and Mark Silk. Religion and Public Life in the Midwest: America's Common Denominator? (2004)
  • Buley, R. Carlyle. The Old Northwest: Pioneer Period 1815–1840 2 vol (1951), Pulitzer Prize
  • Cayton, Andrew R. L. Midwest and the Nation (1990)
  • Cayton, Andrew R. L. and Susan E. Gray, Eds. The Identity of the American Midwest: Essays on Regional History. (2001)
  • Cronon, William. Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (1992), 1850–1900 excerpt and text search
  • Garland, John H. The North American Midwest: A Regional Geography (1955)
  • Gjerde, John. Minds of the West: Ethnocultural Evolution in the Rural Middle West, 1830–1917 (1999) excerpt and text search
  • Jensen, Richard. The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflict, 1888–1896 (1971) online free
  • Meyer, David R. "Midwestern Industrialization and the American Manufacturing Belt in the Nineteenth Century", The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 49, No. 4 (December, 1989) pp. 921– JSTOR
  • Nordin, Dennis S., and Roy V. Scott. From Prairie Farmer to Entrepreneur: The Transformation of Midwestern Agriculture. (2005) 356pp.
  • Scheiber, Harry N. ed. The Old Northwest; studies in regional history, 1787-1910 (1969) 16 essays by scholars on economic and social topics
  • Shannon, Fred A. "The Status of the Midwestern Farmer in 1900" The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. Vol. 37, No. 3. (December 1950), pp. 491–510. in JSTOR
  • Sisson, Richard, Christian Zacher, and Andrew Cayton, eds. The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia (Indiana University Press, 2006), 1916 pp of articles by scholars on all topics covering the 12 states; ISBN 0-253-34886-2 ISBN 978-0-253-34886-9
  • Slade, Joseph W. and Judith Lee. The Midwest: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Regional Cultures (2004)
  • Wuthnow, Robert. Remaking the Heartland: Middle America Since the 1950s (Princeton University Press; 2011) 358 pages

Further reading

  1. ^ a b Census Regions and Divisions of the United States U.S. Census Bureau
  2. ^ "History: Regions and Divisions". United States Census Bureau. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 26 November 2014. 
  3. ^ Population in Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas Ranked by 2000 Population for the United States and Puerto Rico: 1990 and 2000 (pdf). U.S. Census Bureau. December 30, 2003. Retrieved on 2007-11-20 from
  4. ^ a b Oxford English Dictionary entries for Midwestern, Midwest, and Midwesterner,
  5. ^ Examples of the use of Middle West include: Turner, Frederick Jackson (1921). The Frontier in American History. H. Holt and Company.  ; among many others.
  6. ^ Library of Congress - Regions of the United States
  7. ^ Merriam-Webster online
  8. ^ Garreau, Joel (1982). The Nine Nations of North America. Avon Books.  
  9. ^ Woodard, Colin (2012). American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. Penguin Books.  
  10. ^ Earl Black; Merle Black (2008). Divided America: The Ferocious Power Struggle in American Politics. Simon and Schuster. p. 209. 
  11. ^ Richard J. Jensen (1971). The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflict, 1888–1896. U. Of Chicago Press. p. 15. 
  12. ^ Sisson (2006) pp. 69–73; Richard Jensen, "The Lynds Revisited," Indiana Magazine of History (December 1979) 75: 303–319
  13. ^ "Bureau of Labor Statistics". 2010-03-04. Retrieved 2010-10-03. 
  14. ^ "CSG Regional Offices". Council of State Governments. 2012. Retrieved February 13, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Remote Sensing Tutorial, Section 6, online". Retrieved 2011-06-09. 
  16. ^ a b Midwestern Literature: Indian American Culture in the Midwest prior to the Arrival of Europeans. Retrieved 2011-6-17.
  17. ^ Timothy R. Pauketat, Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi (2009)
  18. ^ Great Lakes History: A General View Indian Country Wisconsin.
  19. ^ Hamalainen, Pekka (2008). The Comanche Empire. Yale University Press. pp. 37–38.  
  20. ^ The Sioux Indians were a Great and Powerful Tribe. Native Net: Online.
  21. ^ Hamalainen, 20–21
  22. ^ For a report on the long-established blunder of misnaming as Nakota, the Yankton and the Yanktonai, see the article Nakota
  23. ^ Charles J. Balesi, The Time of the French in the Heart of North America, 1673-1818 (3d ed. 2000); W. J. Eccles, The French in North America, 1500-1783 (2nd ed. 1998)
  24. ^ onlineMarquette and JollietMr. Nussbaum – . Retrieved 2011-6-17.
  25. ^ Marquette and JollietWisconsin Historical Society –.
  26. ^ Beverly W. Bond, Jr., The Foundations of Ohio (1941) ch 10
  27. ^ Fritz, Harry W. (2004). The Lewis and Clark Expedition. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 13.  
  28. ^ Leroy V. Eid, "American Indian Military Leadership: St. Clair’s 1791 Defeat." Journal of Military History (1993) 57#1 pp: 71-88.
  29. ^ William O. Odo, "Destined for Defeat: an Analysis of the St. Clair Expedition of 1791." Northwest Ohio Quarterly (1993) 65#2 pp: 68-93.
  30. ^ John F. Winkler, Wabash 1791: St Clair's Defeat (Osprey Publishing, 2011)
  31. ^ Dwight L. Smith, "A North American Neutral Indian Zone: Persistence of a British Idea" Northwest Ohio Quarterly 1989 61(2-4): 46-63
  32. ^ Francis M. Carroll (2001). A Good and Wise Measure: The Search for the Canadian-American Boundary, 1783-1842. U of Toronto Press. p. 24. 
  33. ^ "Yankees" in Reiff, ed. Encyclopedia of Chicago
  34. ^ John Buenker, "Wisconsin" in James H. Madison, ed. (1988). Heartland: Comparative Histories of the Midwestern States. Indiana University Press. pp. 72–73. 
  35. ^ John Buenker, "Wisconsin"
  36. ^ Richard J. Jensen, Illinois: a Bicentennial history (1977) ch 1-3
  37. ^ "US History Encyclopedia: Interurban Railways". Retrieved 2010-10-03. 
  38. ^ David P. Morgan (ed.): The Interurban Era, Kalmbach Publishing Co., pp. 16–17.
  39. ^ Neil P. Hurley, "The automotive industry: a study in industrial location." Land Economics (1959): 1-14. in JSTOR
  40. ^ The Fugitive Slave Law African-American History, pp. 1–2.
  41. ^ Bordewich, Fergus, 2005,p. 236
  42. ^ Springfield's 375th: From Puritans to presidents
  43. ^ Robert W. Johansson, Stephen A. Douglas (Oxford UP, 1973) pp 374–400
  44. ^ Africans in America Resource Bank: People and Events, 1853–1861, online. Retrieved June 14, 2011.
  45. ^ Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. History: Pottawatomie Massacre. Retrieved June 14, 2011
  46. ^ United States History – Bleeding Kansas online. Retrieved June 14, 2011.
  47. ^ David Potter, The Impending Crisis, p. 485.
  48. ^ Daniel E. Sutherland, "Sideshow No Longer: A Historiographical Review of the Guerrilla War." Civil War History (2000) 46#1 pp: 5-23. online
  49. ^ a b
  50. ^ a b "National Historic Landmarks Program: Gateway Arch". National Historic Landmarks Program. Archived from the original on December 14, 2010. Retrieved December 14, 2010. 
  51. ^ Faust, Albert Bernhardt (1909),  
  52. ^ Census data from Bureau of the Census, Thirteenth census of the United States taken in the year 1910 (1913)
  53. ^ German Village Society, retrieved 19 November 2009 
  54. ^ Trudy Knauss Paradis, et al. German Milwaukee (2006)
  55. ^ Conzen, Kathleen (1980), "Germans", in Stephan Thernstrom, Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, Belknap Press, p. 407 
  56. ^ Richard Sisson, ed. The American Midwest (2007), p. 208; Gross (1996); Johnson (1951).
  57. ^ Kathleen Neils Conzen, Germans in Minnesota. (2003).
  58. ^ C. B. Schmidt, "Reminiscences of Foreign Immigration Work for Kansas," Kansas Historical Collections, 1905–1906 9 (1906): 485–97; J. Neale Carman, ed. and trans., "German Settlements Along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway," Kansas Historical Quarterly 28 (Autumn 1962): 310–16; cited in Turk, "Germans in Kansas," (2005) p 57.
  59. ^ Regional Song Sampler: The Midwest. Library of Congress. Retrieved January 5, 2014
  60. ^ Sisson (2006) pp. 57–60
  61. ^ Midwest Tourism Association. Retrieved on 2012-09-08 from
  62. ^ Greyson S. Colvin, T. Marc Schober: Investors' Guide to Farmland (2012) ISBN 978-1-4752-5845-5, p. 25
  63. ^ [1] University of Missouri Extension, Missouri Crop Resource Guide. [2]
  64. ^ Carl Kurtz. Iowa's Wild Places: An Exploration With Carl Kurtz (Iowa Heritage Collection) Iowa State Press; 1st edition (July 30, 1996)
  65. ^ The U.S. Department of State Fact Monster. Retrieved 2011-6-2.
  66. ^ Sisson R., Zacher C.K., Cayton A.R.L. (2006.) The American Midwest: An Interpretic Encyclopedia, Indiana University Press, pg. 705.
  67. ^ Philip Barlow and Mark Silk, Religion and public life in the midwest: America's common denominator? (2004)
  68. ^ "American Religious Identification Survey 2001" (PDF). The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Retrieved January 4, 2012. 
  69. ^ "Southern Baptist Convention statistics". Retrieved 2010-10-03. 
  70. ^ Jeffrey M. Jones (June 22, 2004). "Tracking Religious Affiliation, State by State". Gallup, Inc. Retrieved February 28, 2013. 
  71. ^ See Barna Research, "Church Attendance" at the Wayback Machine (archived July 16, 2008)
  72. ^ Andrew R. L. Cayton et al, eds. (2006). The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia. Indiana UP. pp. 809–12. 
  73. ^ Kenneth H. Wheeler, Cultivating Regionalism: Higher Education and the Making of the American Midwest (2011)
  74. ^ Edward Fiske, Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 (2014)
  75. ^ Philip Vilas Bohlman and Otto Holzapfel, Land without nightingales: music in the making of German-America (German-American Cultural Society, 2002)
  76. ^ James P. Leary, "Czech-and German-American 'Polka' Music." The Journal of American Folklore (1988) 101#401 pp. 339-345 in JSTOR
  77. ^ Lars Bjorn, Before Motown: a history of jazz in Detroit, 1920-60 (2001).
  78. ^ Ross Russell, Jazz style in Kansas City and the Southwest (1983)
  79. ^ Bordowitz, Hank (2004). Turning Points in Rock and Roll. New York, New York: Citadel Press. p. 63.  
  80. ^ Karolevitz, Robert F.; Hunhoff, Bernie (1988). Uniquely South Dakota. Donning Company.  
  81. ^ Defining the Midwest Megaregion
  82. ^ The North American Midwest: A Regional Geography.  
  83. ^ "Welcome to Travel South USA". Retrieved 2010-10-03. 
  84. ^ "Encyclopedia – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2010-10-03. 
  85. ^ Gewertz, Ken (12 December 2002). "Standing on line at the bubbler with a hoagie in my hand". Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 11 August 2010. 
  86. ^ "Northern Cities Shift". Retrieved 2010-10-03. 
  87. ^ Lavov, William, et alia. "A National Map of the Regional Dialects of American English". Linguistics Laboratory, Department of Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved September 18, 2013. 
  88. ^ Torio CM, Andrews RM (September 2014). "Geographic Variation in Potentially Preventable Hospitalizations for Acute and Chronic Conditions, 2005-2011". HCUP Statistical Brief #178. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 
  89. ^ Gould, Lewis L. (2012). Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans (2nd ed.). p. 126. 
  90. ^ Gould (2012). Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans (2nd ed.). p. 14. 
  91. ^ Nye, Russel B. (1968). Midwestern Progressive Politics. 
  92. ^ Smuckler, Ralph H. (1953). "The Region of Isolationism".  
  93. ^ Schacht, John N. (1981). Three Faces of Midwestern Isolationism: Gerald P. Nye, Robert E. Wood, John L. Lewis.  
  94. ^ David P. Redlawsk, Caroline J. Tolbert, and Todd Donovan, Why Iowa?: how caucuses and sequential elections improve the presidential nominating process (2011)


See also

The Midwestern states use primary election to select delegates to the national convention, except for Iowa. The Iowa caucuses in early January of leap years are the first votes in the presidential nominating process for both major parties. Party members gather in person in small groups to select delegates to higher level conventions which eventually choose delegates to the national convention. The caucuses gather enormous media attention, and are quickly followed by the first primary (in New Hampshire).[94]

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 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.

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 political offices open to statewide election are held by Republicans. Republicans have a majority in the Ohio House of Representatives and a supermajority in the Ohio Senate. At the federal level 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.

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 to 2013.

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 slight majority in the Iowa House of Representatives (53-47), while Democrats hold a majority in the Iowa Senate.

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).

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 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.

Recent trends

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.[92][93]

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.

In the early 1890s the wheat-growing regions were strongholds of the short-lived Populist movement in the Plains states.[91]

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. Its 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.[90]

The first local meeting of the new Republican Party took place here in Ripon, Wisconsin on March 20, 1854

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.[89]



All cities listed have a population of 250,000 or more.

Major metropolitan areas

The rate of potentially preventable hospital discharges in the Midwestern United States fell from 2005 to 2011 for overall conditions, acute conditions, and chronic conditions.[88]


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.[87]

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.

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.[86]

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.[85]

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.

Linguistic characteristics

Kentucky is rarely considered part of the Midwest, although it can be grouped with it in some contexts.[82] It is categorized as Southern by the Census Bureau and is usually classified as such, especially from a cultural standpoint.[83][84]

Western Pennsylvania, which contains the cities of Erie and Pittsburgh, plus the Western New York cities of Buffalo and possibly Rochester, share history with the Midwest but overlap with Appalachia and the Northeast as well.[81]

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 a 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.

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. In South Dakota, for instance, West River (the region west of the Missouri River) shares cultural elements with the western United States, while East River has more in common with the rest of the Midwest.[80]

The Milwaukee Art Museum is located on Lake Michigan.
Mount Rushmore is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Cultural overlap

Notable professional golf tournaments in the Midwest include the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Memorial Tournament, BMW Championship and John Deere Classic.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of the most pregistious auto racing tracks in the world, and hosts the Indianapolis 500, the Brickyard 400 and the Indianapolis motorcycle Grand Prix. Other motorsport venues in the Midwest are Mid-Ohio, Road America, Milwaukee Mile, Indianapolis Raceway Park, Michigan International Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and Iowa Speedway. Also, the Detroit Grand Prix has been held in the streets of Detroit.

In NCAA college sports, the Big Ten Conference features several top Division I football and men's basketball teams, such as the Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans, Ohio State Buckeyes, Wisconsin Badgers and Indiana Hoosiers. Other notable Midwestern college sports teams include the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Louisville Cardinals and Cincinnati Bearcats.

Successful teams include the St. Louis Cardinals (11 World Series), Chicago Bulls (6 NBA titles), the Green Bay Packers (4 Super Bowls) and the Detroit Red Wings (11 Stanley Cups).

  • Chicago: Bears (NFL), Cubs, White Sox (MLB), Bulls (NBA), Blackhawks (NHL), Fire (MLS).
  • Cincinnati: Bengals (NFL), Reds (MLB).
  • Cleveland: Browns (NFL), Indians (MLB), Cavaliers (NBA).
  • Columbus: Blue Jackets (NHL), Crew (MLS).
  • Detroit: Lions (NFL), Tigers (MLB), Pistons (NBA), Red Wings (NHL).
  • Green Bay: Packers (NFL).
  • Indianapolis: Colts (NFL), Pacers (NBA).
  • Kansas City: Chiefs (NFL), Royals (MLB), Sporting (MLS).
  • Milwaukee: Brewers (MLB), Bucks (NBA).
  • Minneapolis: Vikings (NFL), Twins (MLB), Timberwolves (NBA), Wild (NHL).
  • St. Louis: Rams (NFL), Cardinals (MLB), Blues (NHL).

Professional sports leagues such as the National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer have team franchises several Midwest cities:


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).

In the late 1990s, Eminem and Kid Rock emerged from the Detroit area. Eminem went on to become one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed rappers of all time. Meanwhile, Kid Rock successfully mixed elements of rap, hard rock, heavy metal, country rock, and pop in forming his own unique sound. Both artists are known for celebrating their Detroit roots.

In the 1990s, the Chicago-based band The Smashing Pumpkins emerged and went on to become one of the most successful alternative rock artists of the decade. Also in the 1990s, the Midwest was at the center of the emerging 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. Chicago-based artists Fallout Boy and Plain White T's popularized the genre in the early part of the 21st Century.

In the 1970s and 1980s, native Midwestern musicians such as John Mellencamp and Bob Seger found great success with a style of rock music that came to be known as heartland rock, which were characterized by lyrical themes that focused on and appealed to the Midwestern working class. Other successful Midwestern rock artists emerged during this time, including REO Speedwagon, Styx, and Kansas.

Notable soul and R&B musicians associated with Motown that had their origins in the area include Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, Mary Wells, Four Tops, The Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, The Marvelettes, The Temptations, and Martha and the Vandellas. These artists achieved their greatest success in the 1960s and 1970s. Michael Jackson, from the Jackson 5, went on to have an extremely successful solo career from the 1970s through the 2000s. Known as the "King of Pop", he went on to become one of the bestselling solo artists of all time and the most-awarded artist of all time. His sister, Janet Jackson, also had an extremely successful solo career in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.

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.[79] 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.

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.

The African American migration from the South brought jazz to the Midwest, along with blues, and rock and roll, with major contributions to jazz, funk, and R&B, and even new sub-genres such as the Motown Sound and techno from Detroit[77] or house music from Chicago. In the 1920s South Side Chicago was the base for Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941). Kansas City developed its own jazz style.[78]

The heavy German immigration played a major role in establishing musical traditions, especial choral and orchestral music.[75] Czech and German traditions combined to sponsor the polka.[76]

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio


Notable private institutions include the University of Chicago, funded by John D. Rockefeller in the 1890s. Others include the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University. Local boosters, usually with a church affiliation, created numerous colleges in the mid-19th century.[73] In terms of national rankings, the most prominent today include Oberlin College, Carleton College, Macalester College, Grinnell College, Kenyon College, Ohio Wesleyan University, Denison University, DePauw University, The College of Wooster, Calvin College, and Earlham College.[74]

The region is internationally famous for its many colleges and universities, both public and private. Research-oriented state schools include Indiana University, Purdue University, Iowa State University, University of Iowa, Ohio State University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, University of Minnesota, University of Nebraska and the University of Wisconsin. Numerous regional campuses have become established. The numerous state teachers colleges were upgrades into state universities after 1945.[72]


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.[71]

Roman Catholicism is the largest religion in the midwest, varying between 18% and 34% of the state populations.[67][68] Southern Baptists compose about 15% of Missouri's population[69] and smaller percentages in other Midwestern states. Many mid-westerners are Protestant with rates from 48% in Illinois to 63% in Iowa.[70] Lutherans are prevalent in the Upper Midwest, especially in Minnesota and the Dakotas with their large Scandinavian and German populations.

Religiously, like most of the United States, the Midwest is predominantly Christian.[66]



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."[65]

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.[64] 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 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.

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[62] and is known for its corn and cattle. The extended area also includes soybean and wheat fields, particularly west of the Missouri River. In 2012, Missouri was 9th nationally for cotton production and 4th in rice. Burley tobacco is cultivated and "air cured" along the central and western Missouri River.[63]

Central Iowa cornfield in June.
A rural farm road in Champaign County, Illinois amidst corn fields. Farming covers a large area of the American Midwest.
A pastoral farm scene near Traverse City, Michigan, with a classic American red barn.

Farming and agriculture

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.[61]

Some entities in the Midwest are still referred to as "Northwest" due to historical reasons, for example, Northwestern University in Illinois.

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.[60]

Following the settlement of the western prairie, some considered the row of states from North Dakota to Kansas to be part of the Midwest.[59]

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.[4]

Scotts Bluff National Monument in western Nebraska

History of the term Midwest

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, German Americans showed a high interest in becoming farmers, and keeping their children and grandchildren on the land. Western railroads, with large land grants available to attract farmers, set up agencies in Hamburg and other German cities, promising cheap transportation, and sales of farmland on easy terms. For example, the Santa Fe railroad hired its own commissioner for immigration, and sold over 300,000 acres (1,200 km2) to German-speaking farmers.[58]

While half of German immigrants settled in cities, the other half established farms in the Midwest. From Ohio to the Plains states, a heavy presence persists in rural areas into the 21st century.[55][56][57]

A favorite destination was Milwaukee, known as "the German Athens". Radical Germans trained in politics in the old country dominated the city's Socialists. Skilled workers dominated many crafts, while entrepreneurs created the brewing industry; the most famous brands included Pabst, Schlitz, Miller, and Blatz.[54]

The Midwestern cities of Milwaukee, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago were favored destinations of German immigrants. By 1900, the populations of the cities of Cleveland, Milwaukee, Hoboken, and Cincinnati were all more than 40% German American. Dubuque and Davenport, Iowa, had even larger proportions; in Omaha, Nebraska, the proportion of German Americans was 57 percent in 1910. In many other cities of the Midwest, such as Fort Wayne, Indiana, German Americans were at least 30 percent of the population.[51][52] Many concentrations acquired distinctive names suggesting their heritage, such as the "Over-the-Rhine" district in Cincinnati and "German Village" in Columbus, Ohio.[53]

As the Midwest opened up to settlement via waterways and rail in the mid 1800s, Germans began to settle there in large numbers. The largest flow of German immigration to America occurred between 1820 and World War I, during which time nearly six million Germans immigrated to the United States. From 1840 to 1880, they were the largest group of immigrants.

German Immigration to United States (1820–2004)
Region of
Number of
Region of
Number of
1820–1840 160,335 1921–1930 412,202
1841–1850 434,626 1931–1940 114,058
1851–1860 951,667 1941–1950 226,578
1861–1870 787,468 1951–1960 477,765
1871–1880 718,182 1961–1970 190,796
1881–1890 1,452,970 1971–1980 74,414
1891–1900 505,152 1981–1990 91,961
1901–1910 341,498 1991–2000 92,606
1911–1920 143,945 2001–2004 61,253
Total : 7,237,594
German population density in the United States, 1870 census
Distribution of German Americans according to the 2000 Census

German Americans

The Gateway Arch monument in St. Louis, clad in stainless steel and built in the form of a flattened catenary arch,[49] is the tallest man-made monument in the United States,[50] and the world's tallest arch.[50] Built as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States,[49] it is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and has become an internationally famous symbol of St. Louis and the Midwest.

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.

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.

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, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas; and Finns to Upper Michigan and northern/central Minnesota. Poles, Hungarians, and Jews settled in Midwestern cities.

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri

Industrialization and immigration

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 families in Missouri's pro-slavery western counties.

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. 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.[48]

The election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 was the final trigger for secession by the Southern states.[47] 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.

An animation depicting when United States territories and states forbade or allowed slavery, 1789–1861.

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.

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.[46]

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.[45] 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.

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.[44]

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.[43]

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.[42]

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.

1855 Free-State poster

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.

Bleeding Kansas

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 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.[41]

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.[40]

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).

A map of various Underground Railroad routes.

Slavery prohibition and the Underground Railroad

American Civil War

Competition with automobiles and buses undermined the interurban and other railroad passenger business. By 1900 Detroit was the world center of the auto industry, and soon practically every city within 200 miles was producing auto parts that fed into its giant factories.[39]

In the period from 1890 to 1930 many Midwestern citieswere connected by electric interurban railroads, similar to 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.[37] 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.[38]

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.

Railroads and the automobile

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.

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.

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.

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.

Lake Michigan is shared by four Midwestern states: Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin.


Development of transportation

Generally subscribed to the work ethic, a strong sense of community, and activist government but were less committed to economic individualism and privatism and ferociously opposed to government supervision of the personal habits. Southern and eastern European immigrants generally leaned more toward the Germanic view of things, while modernization, industrialization, and urbanization modified nearly everyone's sense of individual economic responsibility and put a premium on organization, political involvement, and education.[35][36]

Midwestern politics pitted Yankees against the German Catholics and Lutherans, who were often led by the Irish Catholics. These large groups, Buenker argues:

Because they arrived first and had a strong sense of community and mission, Yankees were able to transplant New England institutions, values, and mores, altered only by the conditions of frontier life. They established a public culture that emphasized the work ethic, the sanctity of private property, individual responsibility, faith in residential and social mobility, practicality, piety, public order and decorum, reverence for public education, activists, honest, and frugal government, town meeting democracy, and he believed that there was a public interest that transcends particular and stick ambitions. Regarding themselves as the elect and just in a world rife with sin, air, and corruption, they felt a strong moral obligation to define and enforce standards of community and personal behavior....This pietistic worldview was substantially shared by British, Scandinavian, Swiss, English-Canadian and Dutch Reformed immigrants, as well as by German Protestants and many of the Forty-Eighters.[34]

Historian John Bunker has examined the worldview of the Yankee settlers in the Midwest:

Yankee settlers from New England started arriving in Ohio Before 1800, and spread throughout the northern half of the Midwest. Most of the started his farmers, but the larger proportion moved to towns and cities as entrepreneurs, businessmen and professionals. They built Chicago in the 1830s and dominated the metropolis for nearly a century.[33]

Yankees and ethnocultural politics

The British had a long-standing goal of building a "neutral" but pro-British Indian buffer state in the American Midwest.[31][32] They demanded a neutral Indian state at the peace conference that ended the War of 1812 but failed to gain any of it because they had lost control of the region in the Battle of Lake Erie and the Battle of the Thames in 1813, where Tecumseh was killed. The British then abandoned the Indians south of the lakes. The Indians were major losers in the War of 1812. Apart from the short Black Hawk War of 1832, the days of Indian warfare east of the Mississippi River had ended.

In 1791, General Arthur St. Clair became commander of the United States Army and led a punitive expedition with two Regular Army regiments and some militia. Near modern-day Fort Recovery, his force advanced to the location of Indian settlements near the headwaters of the Wabash River, but on November 4 they were routed in battle by a tribal confederation led by Miami Chief Little Turtle and Shawnee chief Blue Jacket. More than 600 soldiers and scores of women and children were killed in the battle, which has since borne the name "St. Clair's Defeat." It remains the greatest defeat of a US Army by Native Americans.[28][29][30]

Indian wars

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark expedition that took place between May 1804 and September 1806. The goal was to explore the Louisiana Purchase, and establish trade and U.S. sovereignty over the native peoples along the Missouri River. The Lewis and Clark Expedition established relations with more than two dozen indigenous nations west of the Missouri River.[27] The Expedition returned east to St. Louis in the spring of 1806.

Lewis and Clark

The region's fertile soil produced corn and vegetables; most farmers were self-sufficient. They cut trees and claimed the land, then sold it to newcomers and then moved further west to repeat the process.

American settlement began either via routes over the Appalachian Mountains or through the waterways of the Great Lakes. Fort Pitt (now Pittsburgh) at the source of the Ohio River became the main base for settlers moving into the Midwest. Marietta, Ohio in 1787 became the first settlement in Ohio, but not until the defeat of Indian tribes at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 was large-scale settlement possible. Large numbers also came north from Kentucky into southern Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.[26]

While French control ended in 1763 after their defeat by Britain and Spain, most of the several hundred French settlers in small villages along the Mississippi River and its tributaries remained and were not disturbed by the new British government. Spain in 1763 gained the area west of the Mississippi; St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve in Missouri were the main towns, but there was little new settlement. Spain was forced to give it all to France in 1800. Napoleon realized he could not defend it from Britain, so he sold it to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Meanwhile the British maintained forts and trading posts in U.S. territory, not giving them up until the mid-1790s by the Jay Treaty.

Beaver hunting grounds, the basis of the fur trade.

At the end of the American Revolution there were few if any American settlers in the Midwest. However the U.S. gained possession of the entire Midwest east of the Mississippi, and pioneers headed to Ohio, where large tracks had been awarded to war veterans.

American settlement

Marquette and Jolliet were the first to map the northern portion of the Mississippi River. They confirmed that it was easy to travel from the St. Lawrence River through 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. New France officials led by LaSalle followed up and erected a 4,000-mile network of fur trading posts.[25]

Marquette and Jolliet soon realized that the Mississippi could not possibly be the Northwest Passage because it flowed south. Nevertheless, the journey continued. They recorded much of the wildlife they encountered. They turned around at the junction of the Mississippi River and Arkansas River and headed back.

In 1673, the governor of New France sent Jacques Marquette, a Catholic priest and missionary, and Louis Jolliet, a fur trader to map the way to the Northwest Passage to the Pacific. They 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. They entered the Mississippi River on June 17, 1673.[24]

c. 1681 map of Marquette and Jolliet's 1673 expedition

Marquette and Jolliet

European settlement of the area began in the 17th century following French exploration of the region and became known as New France.The French period began with the exploration of the Saint Lawrence River by Jacques Cartier in 1534 and ending with their expulsion by the British, who split New France with Spain. in 1763.[23]

New France

European exploration and early settlement

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.

  • Isáŋyathi or Isáŋathi ("Knife"): 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[22]).
  • Thítȟuŋwaŋ or Teton (uncertain) : the westernmost Sioux, known for their hunting and warrior culture, are often referred to as the Lakota.

The Sioux comprise three major divisions based on Siouan dialect and subculture:

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.[20][21]

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.[19]

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 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.

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 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.

Young Oglala Lakota girl in front of tipi with puppy beside her, probably on or near Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota.

Great Plains Indians

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.[16]

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.

They were oriented toward the open prairies where they engaged in communal hunts for buffalo (bison). 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.

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, both hunted and farmed..

Winnebago family (1852)

Most 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.[18] American Indians in this area did not develop a written form of language.

The major tribes of the Great Lakes region 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 the losers forced to flee.

Great Lakes Indians

American Indian


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.[16] 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. The Mississippi period was characterized by a mound-building culture. The Mississippians suffered a tremendous population decline about 1400, coinciding with the global climate change of the Little Ice Age. Their culture effectively ended before 1492.[17]

Monks Mound, located at the Cahokia Mounds near Collinsville, Illinois, is the largest Pre-Columbian earthwork in America north of Mesoamerica.

Among the American Indians Paleoindian cultures were the earliest in North America, with a presence in the Great Plains and Great Lakes areas from about 12,000 BC to around 8,000 BC.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. Most of the Great Plains area is now farmed.[15]

Corn fields in southern Nebraska
Flint Hills grasslands of Kansas
Typical terrain of the Driftless Area as viewed from Wildcat Mountain State Park in Vernon County, Wisconsin

Physical geography


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