Midwestern United States (in the U.S. generally
referred to as the Midwest) is one of the four
geographic regions within the United States of America that are officially recognized by the United States Census
consists of twelve states in the central and inland northeastern
US: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
The Midwestern United States, as
defined by the U.S.
A 2006 Census Bureau estimate put the
population at 66,217,736. Both the geographic center of the contiguous
U.S. and the population center of the
U.S. are in the Midwest.
The United States Census Bureau
divides this region into the East North Central States
(essentially the Great Lakes
the West North Central
Chicago is the
largest city in the region, followed by Detroit and Indianapolis. Chicagoland is the largest metropolitan statistical area,
followed by Metro Detroit, and the
Cities. Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan is the oldest city in the region, having been
founded by French missionaries and explorers in 1668.
The term Midwest
has been in common use for over 100
years. A variant term, "Middle West", has been in use since the
19th century and remains relatively common. Another term sometimes
applied to the same general region is "the heartland". Other
designations for the region have fallen into disuse, such as the
"Northwest" or "Old Northwest" (from "Northwest Territory
") and "Mid-America".
Since the book Middletown
appeared in 1929,
sociologists have often used Midwestern cities (and the Midwest
generally) as "typical" of the entire nation. 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.
Four of the states associated with the Midwestern United States
(Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) are
traditionally referred to as belonging to the Great Plains region.
However, in recent years they are often included in the Midwestern
Midwest as shown by U.S.
Census Bureau official map
Traditional definitions of the Midwest include the Northwest
Ordinance "Old Northwest
and many states that were part of the Louisiana Purchase
. The states of the Old
Northwest are also known as "Great Lakes states
the Louisiana Purchase states are also known as "Great Plains states".
Central Region is defined by the U.S.
- Illinois: Old Northwest,
Ohio River, and Great
- Indiana: Old
Northwest, Ohio River, and Great Lakes
- Iowa: Louisiana Purchase, Great Plains state.
- Kansas: Louisiana
Purchase, Great Plains state.
- Michigan: Old Northwest and Great Lakes
- Minnesota: Old Northwest, Louisiana Purchase, Great Lakes
- Missouri: Louisiana Purchase, Border state, Great Plains
- Nebraska: Louisiana Purchase, Great Plains
- North Dakota: Louisiana Purchase, Great Plains
- Ohio: Old
Northwest (Historic Connecticut Western Reserve),
Ohio River, and Great Lakes state. The southeastern part of
the state is part of Northern Appalachia.
- South Dakota: Louisiana Purchase, Great Plains
- Wisconsin: Old Northwest and Great Lakes state.
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 lying near the foothills of the Appalachian
Mountains; the Great Lakes
Basin; the Ozark
Mountains of southern
Missouri; and the Driftless Area of
southwest Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota, and northeast Iowa
exhibit a high degree of topographical variety. Prairies
cover most of the states west of the
exception of taiga
-clad northern Minnesota.
Illinois lies within an area called the "prairie peninsula", an
eastward extension of prairies that borders deciduous
forests to the north, east, and south.
Rainfall decreases from east to west, resulting in different types
of prairies, with the tallgrass
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
area, the wheat
belt, and the western rangelands, respectively.
Although hardwood forests in the northern Midwest were clear-cut in
the late 1800s, 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
Largest Midwestern U.S. cities and urban areas
Exploration and early settlement
Rural farmland covers a large area of
the American Midwest.
European settlement of the area began in the 17th century following
of the region. The French established a network of fur trading posts and Jesuit missions along the Mississippi River system and the upper
French control over the area ended in 1763
with the conclusion of the French
and Indian War
to expand into the Ohio Country
the 1750s. The Royal Proclamation of 1763
temporarily restrained expansion west of the Appalachian
Mountains, but did not stop it completely.
Early settlement began either via routes over the Appalachian
Mountains, such as Braddock Road
through the waterways of the Great Lakes. Fort
Pitt (now Pittsburgh) at the source of the Ohio River was an early
outpost of the overland routes. The first settlements
in the Midwest via the waterways of the Great Lakes were centered
around military forts and trading posts such as Green
Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, and Detroit. The first inland settlements via the
overland routes were in southern Ohio or northern Kentucky, on either side of the Ohio
River, and early such pioneers included Daniel Boone and Spencer Records.
Following the American
, the rate of settlers coming from the eastern
states increased rapidly. In the 1790s, American Revolutionary War
veterans and settlers from the original states moved there in
response to federal government
. Among the earliest
pioneers to Ohio and the Midwest were the Ulster-Scots Presbyterians of Pennsylvania (often through Virginia) and the Dutch
and Congregationalists of
The region's fertile soil made it possible for farmers to produce
abundant harvests of cereal
crops such as
, and, most
. The region soon became
known as the nation's "breadbasket".
Development of transportation
Two waterways have been important to the development of the
Midwest. The first and foremost was the Ohio
, 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
The Mississippi River inspired two classic books – Life on the Mississippi
– written by native Missourian Samuel
Clemens, who used the pseudonym Mark
. His stories became staples of Midwestern lore.
hometown of Hannibal,
Missouri is a tourist attraction offering a glimpse into the
Midwest of his time.
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.
Lakeport cities grew up to handle this new
shipping route. During the Industrial Revolution
, the lakes
became a conduit for iron ore
of Minnesota to steel mills
in the Mid-Atlantic States
. The Saint Lawrence Seaway
1959) opened the Midwest to the Atlantic Ocean.
Inland canals in Ohio and Indiana constituted another important
waterway, which connected with Great Lakes and Ohio River traffic.
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
New York State would proudly boast of the
Midwest as its "inland empire"; thus, New York would become known
as the Empire State.
19th century sectional conflict
The Northwest Ordinance region, comprising the heart of the
Midwest, was the first large region of the United States that
(the Northeastern United States
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
Harriet Beecher Stowe
by Toni Morrison
). The Midwest, particularly
Ohio, provided the primary routes for the "Underground Railroad
Midwesterners assisted slaves to freedom from their crossing of the
Ohio River through their departure on Lake Erie to Canada.
The region was shaped by the relative absence of slavery (except
for Missouri), pioneer settlement, education in one-room free public schools
notions brought by American
faiths and experimentation, and
agricultural wealth transported on the Ohio River riverboats
, and railroads
Industrialization and immigration
time of the American Civil War,
bypassed the East Coast
of the United States to settle directly in the interior:
German immigrants to Ohio,
Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and eastern Missouri; Irish immigrants to
port cities on the Great Lakes, especially Chicago; Swedes and Norwegians to Wisconsin, Minnesota and northern Iowa; and
Finns to Upper
Michigan and northern/central Minnesota. Poles
settled in Midwestern cities.
The U.S. was predominantly rural
at the time
of the Civil War. The Midwest was no exception, dotted with small
farms all across the region. The late nineteenth century saw
, and urbanization
that fed the Industrial Revolution
, and the heart
of industrial domination and innovation was in the Great Lakes states
Midwest, which only began its slow decline by the late twentieth
In the 20th century, African
migration from the Southern United States
Midwestern states changed Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee,
Kansas City, Cincinnati, Gary, Detroit, Minneapolis, and many other
cities in the Midwest dramatically, as factories and schools
enticed families by the thousands to new opportunities.
History of the term Midwest
region lies mostly in the eastern half of the United States, the term "Midwest" can be misleading if one does
not understand American history.
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
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, and
the Midwest was the region east of the Mississippi and west of the
Appalachians. In time, some users began to include Minnesota, Iowa
and Missouri in the Midwest. With the settlement of the western
prairie, the new term Great Plains States
was used for the
row of states from North Dakota to Kansas. Later, these states also
came to be considered Midwest by some.
The states of the "old Northwest" are now called the "East North
Central States" by the United States Census Bureau and the "Great
Lakes" region by some of its inhabitants, whereas the states just
west of the Mississippi and the Great Plains states are called the
"West North Central States" by the Census Bureau. Today people as
far west as the prairie sections of Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana
sometimes identify themselves with the term Midwest
parts of the Midwest are still referred to as "Northwest" for
historical reasons – for example, Minnesota-based Northwest Airlines and Northwestern
University in Illinois – so the Northwest region of the
country is called the "Pacific
Northwest" to make a clear distinction.
Religiously, like most of the United States, the Midwest is mostly Christian.
is the largest
religious denomination in the Midwest, varying between 19 and 29%
of the state populations. Southern
Baptists compose 15.42% of Missouri's population and a small percentage in other
Midwestern states. Lutherans are
prevalent in the Upper Midwest,
especially in Minnesota.
Judaism and Islam are each
practiced by 1% or less of the population, with higher
concentrations in major urban areas, such as Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Detroit, and Cleveland.
Those with no religious affiliation make up
13–16% of the Midwest's population. Around 50% of the people in the
Midwest regularly attend church.
The rural heritage of the land in the Midwest remains widely held,
even if industrialization and suburbanization have overtaken the
states in the original Northwest Territory.
Because of 20th century African
American migration from the South
a large African-American urban population lives in most of the
region's major cities, although the concentration is not generally
as large as that of the Southern
. The combination of industry and cultures,
jazz, blues, and rock and roll led to an outpouring of musical
creativity in the 20th century, including new music genres such as
the Motown Sound and techno from Detroit and house music from
Additionally, the electrified Chicago blues
sound exemplifies the genre, as
popularized by record labels Chess
and portrayed in such
films as The Blues
, Godfathers and Sons
Adventures in Babysitting
Rock and roll music was first identified as a
new genre by a Cleveland radio disc jockey, and the Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame is located in Cleveland.
Cultural overlap with neighboring regions
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 declining 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
Certain areas of the traditionally defined Midwest are often cited
as not being representative of the region, while other areas
traditionally outside of the Midwest are often claimed to be part
of the Midwest. These claims often embody historical, cultural,
economic or demographic arguments for inclusion or exclusion.
Perceptions of the proper classification of the Midwest also vary
within the region, and tend toward exclusion rather than
Two other regions, Appalachia
Ozark Mountains, overlap geographically with the Midwest –
Appalachia in Southern Ohio and the Ozarks in Southern Missouri.
The Ohio River
has long been the boundary
between North and South
between the Midwest and the Upper South
the lower Midwestern states, including Missouri, have a major Southern component, but only Missouri
was a slave state before the Civil
Western Pennsylvania, which contains
the cities of Erie and Pittsburgh and the Western New
York city of Buffalo, New York, shares history with the Midwest but overlaps with
Appalachia and the Northeast as well.
Kentucky is considered Midwestern by some, reflecting its
heritage as a border state that remained in the Union during the
Civil War, it is categorized as Southern by the Census
Because of significant corn and grain production,
much of the state forms part of the Corn Belt
, along with Midwestern states
such as Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa. Industrial regions in northern
Kentucky, such as Louisville, have also experienced population and
employment declines that have led to their being viewed as part of
the Rust Belt
. As Kentucky is entirely
south of the Ohio River
), much of the
state, excluding the urban areas such as Louisville, Lexington, and
Northern Kentucky(which is part of the Cincinnati Metro Area),
speaks in the Southern
dialect, and the
state is culturally and historically Southern
, it is usually not considered part of the
the two major political parties in the United States, the Republican Party,
originated in Ripon, in east-central Wisconsin, in the 1850s.
included opposition to the spread of slavery
into new states as one of its agendas.
Midwestern political caution is sometimes peppered with protest,
especially in minority communities or those associated with
agrarian, labor, or populist roots. This was especially true in the early
20th century, when Milwaukee was a hub of the Socialist
movement in the United States, electing three Socialist mayors and
the only Socialist Congressional representative (Victor L. Berger
) during that time. The
metropolis-strewn Great Lakes region tends to be the most liberal
area of the Midwest, and liberal presence diminishes gradually as
one moves south and west from that region into the less-populated
rural areas. The Great Lakes region has spawned politicians such as
the La Follette
family, labor leader and five-time Socialist Party of America
presidential candidate Eugene V.
, and Communist Party leader
. Minnesota has produced liberal
national politicians Paul Wellstone
, Eugene McCarthy
, and Hubert Humphrey
, and protest musician
The region is now home to many critical swing states
that do not have strong allegiance
to either the Democratic
Midwestern states, such as Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa have proven
reliably Democratic. Normally a Republican stronghold, Indiana became a key state in the 2006 mid-term elections,
picking up three House Seats to bring the total to five Democrats
to four Republicans representing Indiana in the U.S.
. In 2008, Indiana voted for the
Democratic candidate for the first time in 44 years.
The state government of Illinois is currently dominated by the
Both Illinois senators are Democrats and a majority of the state's
U.S. Representatives are also Democrats. Illinois voters have
preferred the Democratic presidential candidate by a significant
margin in the past five elections (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008).
is true of Michigan and Wisconsin, which also currently have Democratic governors and
two Democratic senators. Iowa is
considered by many analysts to be the most evenly divided state in
the country, but has leaned Democratic for the past fifteen years
Iowa has a Democratic governor, a Democratic Senator, three
Democratic Congressmen out of five, has voted for the Democratic
presidential candidate in four out of the last five elections,
(1992, 1996, 2000, 2008). As of the 2006 mid-term elections, Iowa
has a state legislature dominated by Democrats in both chambers.
Minnesota voters have chosen the Democratic candidate for
president longer than any other state.
Minnesota was the
only U.S. state (along with Washington, D.C.) to vote for Walter Mondale
over Ronald Reagan
in 1984 (Minnesota is Mondale's
home state). In Iowa and Minnesota, however, the recent Democratic
pluralities 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.
In 2006, Democrats scored major gains across the region. In Iowa,
Democrats gained control of the state legislature and held onto the
governor's mansion, giving them one-party control of Iowa's
government. Elsewhere, Democrats gained control of the Wisconsin Senate
, the Michigan Legislature
, and the Indiana House
thought to be trending Republican, saw the Democratic-Farmer-Labor
Party (DFL) post double-digit gains in the Minnesota House
all state-wide elections, save for the gubernatorial race.
Democrats also won all state-wide races in Ohio, and gained control
of all Illinois statewide offices. On a federal level, Democrat
incumbent Mike DeWine
56-44 for the
contrast, the Great Plains states of North Dakota, South
Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas have been
strongholds for the Republicans for many decades.
states have gone for the Republican candidate in every presidential
election since 1940, except for Lyndon
's landslide over
and Barack Obama
's capture of one electoral vote in
Nebraska in 2008
North Dakota's Congressional delegation has been all-Democratic
since 1987, and South Dakota has had at least two Democratic
members of Congress in every year since 1987. 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. Kansas
has elected a majority of Democrats as governor since 1956 but has
not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1932.
Missouri is considered a "bellwether state".
twice since 1904 has the Show-Me-State not voted for the winner in
the presidential election, in 1956
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, and the Republicans controlling the rest of the
state. 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
Around the turn of the 20th century, the region spawned the
in the Plains states and
later the Progressive Movement
consisted largely of farmers and merchants intent on making
government less corrupt and more receptive to the will of the
people. The Republicans were unified anti-slavery politicians,
whose later interests in invention
progress, women's rights
, progressive taxation
, and prohibition
eventually clashed with the Taft
split in 1912. Similarly, the
and Progressive Parties
developed intellectually from the economic and social progress
claimed by the early Republican party. The Protestant
and Midwestern ideals of profit
, thrift, work ethic, pioneer
rights, and religious tolerance
influenced both parties, despite their eventual drift into
Some in the Midwest favor isolationism
, a belief
that America should not involve itself in foreign entanglements.
This position gained much support from German- and Swedish-American
communities and leaders like Robert M. La Follette, Sr.
, Robert A. Taft
and Colonel Robert McCormick
publisher of the Chicago Tribune
The accents of the region are generally distinct from those of the
South and of the urban areas of the American Northeast. To a lesser
degree, they are also distinct from the accent of the American West
The accent characteristic of most of the Midwest is considered by
many to be "standard" American
. This accent is preferred by many national radio and
This may have started because many prominent broadcast
personalities – such as Walter
, Johnny Carson
, David Letterman
, Rush Limbaugh
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
However, many Midwestern cities are now undergoing the Northern cities vowel shift
from the standard pronunciation of vowels.
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.
- 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.
- Examples of the use of "Middle West" include: and ; among many
- Merriam-Webster online
- Sisson (2006) pp 69-73; Richard Jensen, "The Lynds Revisited,"
Indiana Magazine of History (Dec 1979) 75: 303-319, online
- Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Incorporated Places of 100,000 or More Ranked by
Population: 2000 (pdf) U.S. Census Bureau. April 22001. Accessed November 202007.
- Sisson (2006) pp 57-60
- Defining the Midwest Megaregion
- An Outline of American Geography, Map 9: The
- Census Brief: "Rust Belt" Rebounds
- Ralph H. Smuckler, "The Region of Isolationism," American
Political Science Review, Vol. 47, No. 2 (Jun., 1953), pp.
386-401 in JSTOR; John N. Schacht, Three Faces of Midwestern
Isolationism: Gerald P. Nye, Robert E. Wood, John L. Lewis
- Buley, R. Carlyle. The Old Northwest: Pioneer Period
1815-1840 2 vol (1951), Pulitzer Prize
- Cayton, Andrew R. L. Midwest and the Nation
- Cayton, Andrew R. L. and Susan E. Gray, Eds. The American
Midwest: Essays on Regional History. (2001)
- Frederick; John T. ed. Out of the Midwest: A Collection of
Present-Day Writing (1944) literary excerpts
- Garland, John H. The North American Midwest: A Regional
- Jensen, Richard. The Winning of the Midwest: Social and
Political Conflict, 1888-1896 (1971)
- Fred A. Shannon, "The Status of the Midwestern Farmer in 1900".
The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. Vol. 37, No. 3.
(Dec., 1950), pp. 491-510. in JSTOR
- Richard Sisson, 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
- Terre Haute
Tribune-Star (West Central news daily)
- Meyer, David R. "Midwestern Industrialization and the American
Manufacturing Belt in the Nineteenth Century". Vol. 49, No. 4
(Dec., 1989) pp. 921-937. The Journal of Economic
History, , JSTOR.