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Iowa (IA) Fast Facts
Location and Geography: A Midwestern state, Iowa is considered to be a part of the American Heartland. Located just to the west of the Mississippi River, it is covered with rolling hills and fertile soil. Most of Iowa has been given over to farming, with very little of its natural terrain remaining.
Counties and Regions: Iowa’s 99 counties are mostly laid out in a clear grid, as the land was first parceled out to be used for farms. The major geographic areas of Iowa are as follows:
- Central Iowa
- Des Moines Metropolitan Area
- East-Central Iowa
- Eastern Iowa
- Great River Road
- Iowa Great Lakes
- Loess Hills
- Quad Cities (near Illinois)
- Western Iowa
Population: A little over three million people live in Iowa. Although in the past Iowa’s population was mainly rural, today a majority of people live in urban areas.
Major Cities: Iowa’s capital and largest city, Des Moines, is home to more than 200,000 people (with close to 600,000 living in the greater metropolitan area). Other large cities include Cedar Rapids and Davenport.
Story Behind the Name: Like many Midwestern states, Iowa’s name is derived from the name of a local Native American tribe (the Ioway people). Due to forced removal during the nineteenth century, few natives remain in the area today.
History and Colonization: Present-day Iowa was home to many thriving Native American tribes when it was first discovered by European explorers in the seventeenth century. France originally laid claim to the region, and ended up trading this claim back and forth with Spain until giving up most of its North American land to the United States through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Neither France nor Spain attempted to exert much authority in Iowa, and instead encouraged trade and commerce with the Native Americans. In the nineteenth century, as the United States expanded westwards, its government took an entirely different approach.
As the United States founded several military forts in the Midwest to establish control in the area, Native Americans who were allied with the European governments made a practice of attacking and destroying American settlements. As part of a major campaign to rid its new holdings of the natives altogether, most of the tribes were relocated or destroyed by the United States Army over a period of several decades. White settlers moved in and turned most of Iowa’s fertile soil into farmland. Statehood became imminent, and Iowa was admitted to the United States in 1846.
Iowa joined the Union during the Civil War, during which time it began to establish its reputation as the nation’s breadbasket. Food from Iowa fed a huge number of the Union troops throughout the conflict. The production of livestock and agricultural products, most especially corn, skyrocketed after the war. Like any other agriculturally-based economy, however, Iowa’s proved vulnerable to fluctuations in the national economy and the local weather. Like other Midwestern states, manufacturing became a major source of employment in Iowa during and after the Industrial Revolution.
Into the twentieth century, the profits available from agricultural pursuits continued to fall, creating economic depressions in Iowa. The state’s populace fought this by investing more local resources and manpower into other industries such as manufacturing, finance, services, and more recently, biotechnology. Nevertheless, Iowa remains proud of its agrarian heritage and remains one of the largest food producers in the nation.