The area now known as Iowa is home to Native American tribes 13,000 years before European settlement. About 17 tribes reside in the Iowa region at various points in history, including the Ioway (for which the state is named), the Sioux, and the Missouri. By the Woodland period (1,000 BCE–1,000 CE), they are using the area’s rich soil to grow crops like corn and have established complex societies. These peoples will eventually be driven out of the area by social and political upheaval and U.S. encroachment.
1673–1805 EUROPEAN EXPLORATION AND CLAIMS
French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet explore the Mississippi River, reaching Iowa.
The French colony of Louisiana (New France) is established. This vast swath of 828,800 square miles (2,147,000 sq km) in the middle of the continent encompasses 14 modern-day states, including all of present-day Iowa.
France secretly cedes Louisiana to Spain with the Treaty of Fontainebleau.
France retakes the Louisiana Territory from Spain as part of the secretly negotiated Treaty of San IIdefonso.
The United States purchases the Louisiana Territory from France for $11,250,000 plus cancellation of almost $4 million of debt.
(March 24) President Thomas Jefferson approves an Act of Congress to divide the newly acquired Louisiana Territory into two parts: the Territory of Orleans and the District of Louisiana (which includes Iowa).
1805–1833 AN EMERGING TERRITORY
(July 4) The District of Louisiana becomes the Louisiana Territory.
Iowa’s Fort Madison is constructed by the U.S. Army to control trade along the Mississippi River and help pacify the Native American population in the region. It is the first permanent U.S. military fortification on the Upper Mississippi.
(June 4) Iowa becomes part of the Missouri Territory when the Louisiana Territory is renamed to avoid confusion with the new State of Louisiana.
British-allied Sauk war leader Black Hawk leads his first attack on the United States, capturing Fort Madison during the War of 1812. It remains the site of Iowa's only true military battle.
The U.S. Congress passes the Missouri Compromise, prohibiting slavery in the former Louisiana Territory north of parallel 36°30' except within the boundaries of the proposed state of Missouri.
Missouri becomes a state in 1821, effectively leaving Iowa part of an unorganized territory. The area is closed to new American settlers, not to be reopened until the end of the Black Hawk War in 1832.
The federal government exiles the Sauk and Meskwaki tribes from their villages in western Illinois, forcing them across the Mississippi River into the Iowa region.
After being defeated in the Black Hawk War, the Sauk and Meskwaki tribes are forced to relinquish some of their land in eastern Iowa. Known as the Black Hawk Purchase, the land constitutes a 50-mile-wide strip along the Mississippi River, stretching from the Missouri border to Fayette and Clayton counties in northeastern Iowa.
1833–1861 AMERICAN SETTLEMENT AND STATEHOOD
(June) The first official American settlement in Iowa is established in the area of the Black Hawk Purchase. Most of Iowa's early American settlers come from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Kentucky, and Virginia.
(June 8) Iowa becomes part of Michigan Territory.
When Michigan becomes a state, Iowa splits off as part of the Wisconsin Territory, becoming the Iowa District.
(July) Twenty-six years before the end of the Civil War, the Iowa Supreme Court decides a fleeing slave named Ralph became free when he stepped on Iowa soil. In Re the Matter of Ralph is the court’s first official ruling.
Iowa City becomes the capital of the Iowa District.
Although still part of a territory, Iowa drafts its first constitution. It is later rejected in a public vote, the key dispute being the suggested boundaries of the prospective State of Iowa.
Iowa drafts a second constitution, essentially the same document as the 1844 draft but calling for the state boundaries as they are known today. It is instrumental in Iowa being granted statehood.
(December 28) The Iowa District becomes the state of Iowa, the 29th state admitted to the Union.
The University of Iowa becomes the first public university in the country to admit men and women on an equal basis.
Limestone is discovered under the banks of the Wapsipinicon River. By the late 1800s there is a flourishing quarry industry, leading to the establishment of Stone City. The quarries have since become some of the largest in the U.S., shipping limestone across the nation.
The Santee band of the Sioux becomes the last native tribe to negotiate a treaty, or "peace document," with the federal government. While the resulting Santee reservation is located in Nebraska, today the majority of Santees live in Sioux City, which has a Santee population of 4,000.
Iowa abolishes barriers to marriage because of race more than 100 years before the U.S. Supreme Court will ban such laws nationwide.
Radical German Pietists found the Amana Villages about 20 miles from Iowa City. Known as the Ebenezer Society or the Community of True Inspiration, they live communally in the settlements for more than 70 years. The site will be designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1965 and become a popular tourist attraction.
Chief Mamenwaneke, representing the Meskwaki people, purchases 80 acres of land, establishing the Meskwaki Settlement. This will grow to over 7,000 acres not subject to the reversals of federal policy that will deprive most natives of a secure home.
(March 8–9) The Spirit Lake Massacre. A group of 14 Sioux attack Spirit Lake, a settlement of people from Milford, Massachusetts in the northwestern area of Iowa. They kill between 35 and 40 settlers. The massacre will be the first of a series of incidents leading up to the Sioux uprising in Minnesota five years later.
(September 3) Iowa’s new constitution goes into effect. Still in use today (although much amended), it is one of only 10 state constitutions in continuous use for more than a century. Neither African Americans nor women are given suffrage in the document. The issue of suffrage for blacks is submitted to a popular vote but is defeated.
1861–1900 THE CIVIL WAR AND RECONSTRUCTION ERAS
The Civil War erupts. A "free state," Iowa overwhelmingly supports the Union. While no battles will occur in the state, more than 75,000 Iowans will serve. Over 13,000 will be killed and 8,500 wounded.
The Union Pacific railroad reaches Council Bluffs, its designated eastern terminus at the time. The railroad’s freight capabilities help the growth of industry and agriculture. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, even small Iowa towns will have six passenger trains arriving and departing each day.
Iowa voters approve a state constitutional amendment giving African-American males the vote.
The Iowa Supreme Court rules that racially segregated "separate but equal" schools are unconstitutional, 85 years before the U.S. Supreme Court will rule similarly.
Iowa encourages immigration by printing a 96-page booklet entitled Iowa: The Home of Immigrants. As a result, German, English, Dutch, Swedish, and Danish immigration booms. These groups principally become farmers, while Italians, Croats, and African Americans are mainly drawn to the coal industry scattered throughout central and southern Iowa. Iowa will remain a primarily agricultural state into the 21st century, with 92 percent of its land devoted to agriculture, principally corn, soy, and pork production.
After an Iowa Supreme Court ruling, Iowa becomes the first state in the Union to admit women to the practice of law.
Both houses of the general assembly pass a women’s suffrage amendment. Two years later, when the legislature considers the amendment again before it can be submitted to the general electorate, it is defeated. Iowan women will have to wait until the passage of the federal 19th Amendment in 1920 for suffrage.
The Iowa Supreme Court rules against racial discrimination in public accommodations 91 years before the U.S. Supreme Court reaches the same decision.
The state capital is moved from Iowa City to Des Moines.
The Iowa Civil Rights Act passes, supposedly outlawing racial discrimination by businesses. However, the courts narrowly apply the law and de facto discrimination continues.
Women are granted "partial suffrage," allowing them to vote on issues but not for candidates.
1900–1930 EARLY 20TH CENTURY
John and Robert Stuart and George Douglas start an oats processing plant in Cedar Rapids. In time, this firm will merge with three other mills and adopt the name Quaker Oats.
The U.S. enters Word War I. Iowa farmers purchase more land and raise more corn, beef, and pork for the war effort with the help of federal wartime subsidies.
Wartime subsidies disappear, and Iowa farmers experience severe economic hardships for the first time. They form coalitions in an attempt to manipulate the market by withholding goods, with little success.
In Des Moines, construction begins on Salisbury House, cosmetic magnate Carl Weeks’ estate modeled after the King’s House in Salisbury, England. Completed in 1928, its building costs reach $1.5 million.
After developing an early variety of hybrid corn, Iowan agricultural researcher Henry A. Wallace founds the seed company Pioneer Hi-Bred. By 2000, Pioneer will be the second-largest producer of hybrid agricultural seed in the U.S.
West Branch native Herbert Hoover becomes the 31st president of the United States. Eight months after he takes office, the Wall Street stock market crash occurs. Hoover is widely blamed for the economic turmoil of the next few years. Shantytowns erected by the newly homeless are even labeled "Hoovervilles." Hoover serves only one term in office.
1930–1950 THE GREAT DEPRESSION AND WORLD WAR II
Iowa native Grant Wood creates the iconic painting American Gothic, using a house from Eldon as a backdrop. The house will be listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, and Grant’s painting will become one of the most recognizable and parodied images in American art.
The Great Depression influences the gradual shift away from smallholder farming to larger farms, increasing urbanization and the growth of manufacturing industries in Iowa.
(May 12) President Franklin Roosevelt introduces a federal farm aid program, The Agricultural Adjustment Act. Now secretary of agriculture, Henry A. Wallace serves as principal architect for the program. The act helps alleviate the situation, but Iowa farmers will not experience full economic recovery until the 1940s.
The Mother Mosque of America in Cedar Rapids becomes the first permanent structure in North America built specifically to serve as a mosque.
Bulgarian-American physicist John Vincent Atanasoff creates a prototype for the world’s first electronic digital computer while a professor at Iowa State University.
The U.S. enters World War II. Iowa’s city-centered manufacturing industries flourish during the war. By 2000, more than 60 percent of the state’s population will be urban.
The Iowa Supreme Court outlaws racial discrimination by public businesses after Edna Griffin is denied service at a Des Moines drugstore. Sometimes called "the Rosa Parks of Iowa," Griffin actually begins her anti-discrimination crusade seven years before Parks sparks the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
1950–PRESENT MODERN IOWA
The Iowa Civil Rights Act passes, establishing the Iowa Civil Rights Commission to investigate and litigate civil rights complaints.
(December) Three students wear black armbands with peace signs to school in protest of the Vietnam War and are subsequently suspended. The students sue the school board, and the case reaches the Supreme Court in 1969. In a landmark First Amendment decision, the court rules in favor of the students, confirming their right to express political views on school grounds.
Inspired by hybrid pioneer Henry A. Wallace, Iowa native Norman Borlaug receives the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to increasing crop yields worldwide. Iowa State University funds much of Borlaug’s research in plant genomics, in which he develops strains of high-yield rice.
Voters reject the addition of an Equal Rights Amendment outlawing gender-based discrimination to the state constitution. Another similar proposal is rejected in 1992, even though the state previously ratified a federal Equal Rights Amendment.
The Farm Crisis causes a major economic downturn in Iowa not seen since the Great Depression. The crisis spurs a major population decline in the state that will last a decade.
A state law passes restricting marriage to union "between one man and one woman."
(April 3) The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously overturns the state’s same-sex marriage ban, and Iowa becomes the third state to legalize gay marriage.
Click to enlarge an image
Prior to 1673: Sioux chief
1673: Jacques Marquette
1808: Upper Mississippi River near Harpers Ferry
1813: Black Hawk
1841: A bird's-eye view map of Iowa City circa 1868