Geography and Landforms:

Iowa is bordered by Minnesota on the north and by Missouri in the south. On the eastern border lie Wisconsin and Illinois, and South Dakota and Nebraska are on the west. The highest point in Iowa is on a farm in Osceola County and is 1,670 feet above sea level. Major rivers include the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Iowa, the Des Moines and the Cedar Rivers.

Iowa has some of the most fertile top soil in the world. The state can be divided into three main regions: the Young Drift Plains, the Driftless Area and the Dissected Till Plains. The Young Drift Plains cover most of northern and central Iowa and are flat and fertile, covered by the clay, sand, gravel and rocks (called "drift") left by retreating glaciers at the end of the Ice Age. In the Driftless Area in northeastern Iowa, the land was not flattened by glaciers and features hills and cliffs. The soil there is thin and not suitable for farming. The third region, the Dissected Till Plains, stretches across the southern part of Iowa, and consists of low rolling hills and ridges.


The first non-native people to reach Iowa were probably French explorers who were canoeing down the Mississippi River around 1673. Others began to make expeditions in the land surrounding the Mississippi, and in 1682, Robert Cavelier claimed the entire region for France, naming it Louisiana in honor of King Louis. After that time, relatively few Europeans ventured as far as what is now Iowa. Those who did were probably fur traders traveling through the area. In 1788 a French-Canadian named Julien Dubuque became the state's first white settler when he bought land from the Meskwaki people to mine lead. The present day city of Dubuque is named for him and is near that first settlement.

In 1803, the United States purchased the land known as Louisiana from France. This "Louisiana Purchase" included what is now Iowa. Two years later, the land was officially named the Louisiana Territory and the Lewis and Clark Expedition set out to explore the area. In 1808, the U.S. Army built Fort Madison, Iowa's first fort. Iowa became a formal territory in 1838. The Iowa territory included all of present-day Iowa, Minnesota and parts of North and South Dakota. In 1846, Iowa became the 29th state.

Iowa was admitted to the Union as a "free" state under the terms of the Missouri Compromise, meaning that it did not permit slavery. When the Civil War broke out, Iowans fought for the Union. After the War, the development of the railroads through the West brought important trade to Iowa and allowed businesses and farming to develop.


Iowa's fertile soil makes the production of grain, particularly, corn a central part of the state's economy. Hay and oats are also major crops. Corn grown in Iowa is used to feed livestock, making cattle and pig production another important element of the economy. In 1997, Iowa led the nation in the production of corn, soybeans, hogs, and pigs, and ranked in the top ten states in the raising of cattle. Today, Iowa's farm income ranks second in the U.S.

Agriculture also benefits the state's chief industry, food processing. Many factories in Sioux City and Cedar Rapids process farm products. Cement is the most important mineral product; others are stone, sand, gravel, and gypsum. Mineral production is small, however.

First Inhabitants:

Paleo-Indians living between 9500 and 7500 BC probably traveled through Iowa hunting various animals including some - like the mammoth, mastodon and giant bison - that are now extinct. However, there is no documented site of a permanent settlement of these people in the area we now call Iowa. By the early Archaic Period (7500--5500 BC), however, there is evidence that small numbers of people lived in Iowa, at least on a seasonal basis. There is evidence of artifacts like spear points and serrated and beveled blade edges. Populations increased through the late Archaic Period (2500--500 BC) and there is evidence of burial sites and more permanent settlements.

In the Woodland period (through 1000 AD), and the Late Prehistoric time (1000--1650) we can see that native people were adjusting to the prairies. There were planting corn, building earthlodge houses and hunting bison for meat and hides. Historians believe that native people belonging to the Oneota culture were the primary inhabitants of Iowa. These people had large villages with both single dwellings for one family and longhouses for many families. They lived by fishing, hunting, collecting plants, and cultivating other crops.

After 1650, these native people began to have contact with European explorers and traders, and this relationship drastically changed the nature of native society. Whites competed with native people for land and for the use of other natural resources, and native people began to depend upon trading with whites for their livelihood. One of the most important tribal groups in Iowa was the Mesquakie. The Mesquakie had once lived in Michigan and Wisconsin, but had been pushed westward by white settlement, first into Illinois, and by 1750, into Iowa. However, further white pressure led to Mesquakie lands being given to new settlers throughout the early 1800s. By the 1850s, almost all of the original inhabitants of Iowa had been moved off their homelands to settlements further west.

Books Related To Iowa

Famous Citizens:

Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson, born in Corning, Iowa, is best known for hosting The Tonight Show for over thirty years, but began his show business career doing magic tricks at the local Elks Lodge. He served in the Navy during World War II, and then graduated from the University of Nebraska before working in local radio and television. His first national television project was a daytime quiz show on ABC called Who Do You Trust?

William "Buffalo Bill" Cody
Born in LeClaire, Iowa, William Cody grew up on the Iowa prairie, and came to embody the spirit of the West. More than anyone else, he shaped popular concepts of the "Wild West" through his extravagant theatrical shows. He served with the Union Army during the Civil War, and after the war continued as a scout and dispatch carrier in Kansas. It wasn't until 1867 that he became a buffalo hunter and earned his famous nickname. His famous "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" show featured a buffalo hunt with real buffalo, a staged Indian attack and sharp shooters like Annie Oakley. For one season, Chief Sitting Bull traveled with the show.

Herbert Hoover
Born in West Branch, Iowa, and the son of a Quaker blacksmith, Herbert Hoover became the 31st President of the US. After attending Stanford University, Hoover traveled abroad, and after the outbreak of World War I, he was asked to assist the US government in getting Americans abroad safely home. This led to his appointment by President Wilson to head the Food Administration. His humanitarian work after the War influenced Presidents Harding and Coolidge to appoint him Secretary of Commerce. He became a candidate for President at the time of the stock market crash in 1928, and his experience in the government contributed to his election. Unfortunately, his enemies blamed the repercussions of the crash on him, and he was defeated in the next election. He died at age 90 in New York City.

Ann Landers & Abigail Van Buren
Two of the most well known newspaper columnists in the world, "Ann Landers" and "Dear Abby" were twins Esther Pauline Friedman and Pauline Esther Friedman. Born in Sioux City, Iowa, the two took different routes to writing nationally syndicated advice columns, and for a time in their lives were estranged from one another. Later in life, they reconciled.

John Wayne
Born Marion Michael Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, John Wayne was the son of the town pharmacist. He earned his nickname "Duke" from his childhood dog, with whom he was inseparable. He earned a football scholarship to the University of Southern California and got a job working on movie sets. He eventually began to earn roles in movie serials and westerns. His big break came when he earned the starring role in the 1939 movie Stagecoach, and then went on to star in heroic roles in westerns and war movies. Although nominated once for an Academy Award, he never won an Oscar.

Capital: Des Moines
Entered Union: December 28, 1846
Population: 3,107,126
Area 56,272
Bird Eastern Goldfinch
Flower Wild Prairie Rose
Nickname: Hawkeye State
Governor Terry Branstad

Places to Visit in Iowa: (Click the links to learn more.)

Frank Lloyd Wright Stockman House - Mason City
Tour the second house designed by famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, furnished with Arts and Crafts furnishings. The home is Wright's only middle class "Prairie" house-museum.

Winnebago Industries Factory Tour - Forest City
Winnebago Industries is the largest motor home manufacturing facility in the world. Founded in 1958, the word "Winnebago" has become synonymous with motor homes built in an automotive-style assembly line system.

Birthplace of John Wayne - Winterset
The modest four-room house in which movie legend John Wayne was born in 1907 has been preserved to reflect life in small town Iowa around the turn of the century. A new museum continues to grow nearby and opened to the public in 2015.

National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium - Dubuque
The museum is dedicated to collecting, interpreting and sharing the rich history of the Mississippi River and features the National Rivers Hall of Fame, the National Landmark steamboat William M. Black and a large collection of historic small watercraft.

Iowa 80 Trucking Museum - Walcott
Free museum of antique trucks, toy trucks, and a collection of petroliana, or artifacts associated with gasoline and truck stops. Located in near an old truck stop.