Quick geography lesson! Many people have heard the term “Midwest” but some aren’t sure exactly to where it refers.
Basically, “the Midwest” as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau consists of these twelve states.
Once upon a time, everything not on the eastern side of the Mississippi was considered “the West.” People started moving into this area in the 1800s, looking for better farmland, and the region has had a lot of names over the years – Northwest Territory, the Old Northwest, Middle West, and, of course, the heartland. The term “Midwestern” has been used since the 1880s. (No. Despite my title, I’m not actually old enough to remember back that far.)
In order of Statehood:
Ohio – Congress recognized the state of Ohio on February 19, 1803 , but there was no formal date of statehood set until August 7, 1953. That’s when Congress passed a law setting the date as March 1, 1803, the day Ohio’s first legislature convened. Ohio is home to the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Garden, plus a ton of other stuff.
Indiana – Admitted to the Union on December 11, 1816, Indiana is the nineteenth state, a fact immortalized in their flag. The golden torch represents liberty and enlightenment, and the rays symbolize the far-reaching influence of those qualities. The thirteen stars in the outer circle stand for – of course! – the original thirteen colonies; the five in the inner ring for the next five states to join the Union. Indiana’s star is the large one directly above the flame of the torch. And you can see more than the Indianapolis 500 in this state; there’s the John Dillinger Museum, the Hall of Heroes, and the World’s Largest Ball of Paint.
Illinois – The territory became a state on December 3, 1818, one of six states to be carved – whole or in part – out of the Northwest Territory, which was once claimed by the British Empire and set aside for use by the American Indians. The state’s name is from a French adaptation of the Algonquian – possibly Ojibwe – term ilenweewa, meaning “they speak normally,” and there’s lots to find here. The Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum, the Mecca of Albino Squirrels, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, a Two-Story Outhouse, and – definitely on my list of places to visit soon – the Dungeons and Dragons Park.
Missouri – Ratified into Statehood on August 10, 1821, it has at times been considered a Southern, not Midwestern, state. One of only two states that is bordered by eight different states, Missouri forms the torso of MIMAL, the child’s mnemonic for the states that form the “man” standing in the center of the U.S. For places to visit, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis springs to mind, as does Branson. But there’s so much more here. The Precious Moments Inspirational Park, the Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail, The Space Museum and Bonne Terre Mine – even a piece of the Berlin Wall.
Michigan – Becoming a state on January 26, 1837, “Michigan” is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning “large water” or “large lake.” Bounded by four of the five Great Lakes, Michigan has the longest freshwater coastline of any political subdivision in the world, and a person in the state is never more than six miles from a natural water source or more than 85 miles from a Great Lakes shoreline. Not a surprise that it’s known for recreational boating! Of course, you can also find the World’s Largest Tire, Paul Bunyan made of car parts, the Henry Ford Museum, and the U.S. National Ski Hall Of Fame And Museum.
Iowa – Recognized on December 28, 1846, Iowa is the only state whose western and eastern borders are created entirely by rivers – the Mississippi on the east and the Missouri on the West. (You know, considering how the banks of the nearby creeks here at home wander every time they flood, I wonder if the Iowa maps occasionally have to be redrawn?) In Iowa, look for the Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk, Snake Alley, the Axe Murder House, and the Birthplace of John Wayne.
Wisconsin – Another state born out of the Northwest Territory, Wisconsin joined the Union on May 29, 1848. Wisconsin has been home to many an industry on its way to becoming “America’s Dairyland;” fur trading, lead mining (this industry gave birth to the nickname “badger state”), agriculture and logging, and finally dairy production. No matter what your interests outside of travel, you can find something here – The Woodcarving Museum, JFK’s Ball of Twine, The Rock in the House, the World’s Largest Six-Pack, Deke Slayton Memorial Space and Bicycle Museum, the Wisconsin Dells, and of course the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame!
Minnesota – The Land of 10,000 Lakes became a state on May 11, 1858, and Minnesota has a little bit of everything, ya, sure, you bet’cha; extreme temperatures, extreme weather, land ranging from flat grasslands to deep forests, marshes to high rocky hills along the river valleys (well, I say hills, climb Barn Bluff in Red Wing some time and then tell me that’s a hill…), and industry across the gamut from farming to mining. And fishing. And hunting. And some of the most gorgeous sunrises you’ve ever seen, fierce pink and molten gold of the morning chasing the deep blues and purples of the night across the sky… (Um, yes. I am a native Minnesotan. Why do you ask?) In Minnesota you can find the Jolly Green Giant, the Source of the Mississippi, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, Sever’s Corn Maze, Rocky Taconite… yes, and the Mall of America.
Kansas – Earning statehood on January 29, 1861, Kansas has three climatic types, according to the Köppen Climate Classification; humid continental, semi-arid steppe, and humid subtropical, all of which combine to make the state vulnerable to severe weather. Kansas is also popularly considered to be the flattest state in the U.S.; scientifically, that isn’t quite true, but when driving through the great plains of the western two-thirds of the state it’s easy to see where people got the impression. With a history at times as tumultuous as its weather, Kansas is host to Dorothy’s Home and Land of Oz, the Hole of a home of soldier Boston Corbett – the man who shot John Wilkes Booth – the Underground Salt Museum, a German POW Camp, Truckhenge, M.T. Liggett’s Political Sculptures, and the Dalton Defenders Museum.
Nebraska – Joining the Union on March 1, 1867, Nebraska gets its name from the Platte River, called Ñí Brásge (flat water) in archaic Otoe, or the Omaha Ní Btháska. The Dissected Till Plains and the Great Plains are prime grazing country, and Nebraska is a source of beef and pork as well as corn or maize, soybeans, and sorghum. Kool-Aid was created in 1927 by Edwin Perkins in the city of Hastings, the Vise-Grip was invented by William Petersen in 1924 and manufactured in De Witt, the route of the original Transcontinental Railroad runs through Nebraska and the Union Pacific Railroad is headquartered in Omaha. You can also see the World’s Largest Ball of Stamps, the Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles, Carhenge, and the World’s Largest Time Capsule.
North Dakota and South Dakota – or, South Dakota and North Dakota, depending on your preference. These two states achieved statehood on the exact same day, November 2, 1889. The actual statehood proclamations were intentionally shuffled so that no one actually knows which was admitted first; President Benjamin Harrison always refused to tell the order in which he signed the two statehood bills. In North Dakota you can find the Geographic Center of North America, the Enchanted Highway, Theodore Roosevelt National Park (and that is so worth it just for the Painted Canyon, the colors are amazing), the Roger Maris Museum, and the Walk of Fame in Fargo. South Dakota, of course, is host to Mount Rushmore and the Chief Crazy Horse Memorial, but it also has the southern Badlands, Wall Drug, the Petrified Wood Park, and Devil’s Gulch.