Iowa

Significance: The interactive relationship between the land, immigration, and settlement patterns in the Iowa region has influenced its history, culture, and institutions. Many of the ethnic languages have faded with the third generations of immigrants, but the core values of family and community remain an ideological stronghold in Iowa.

Iowa’s first settlers came from the eastern and Old Northwest states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Kentucky, and Virginia. These groups often resided and lived in one other state before finally moving on to Iowa. Because there was a lack of timber in many parts of the state, many settlers constructed sod houses.

By the mid-nineteenth century, settlers were pouring into the region. Iowans began to plan the first railroad in the state with the development of the Illinois Central. while the Chicago and Northwesterneventually reached Council Bluffs near Omaha. Council Bluffs became the main eastern hub for the Union Pacific. A few years later, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific completed a line across the state for trading and shipping products and crops. The state eventually had five railroad lines, which contributed significantly to the growth of the agricultural sector for immigrant farmers.

Profile of Iowa

Region Midwest
Entered union 1846
Largest cities Des Moines (capital), Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Sioux City
Modern immigrant communities Hispanics
Population Total Percent of state Percent of U.S. U.S. rank
All state residents 2,982,000 100.0 0.99 30
All foreign-born residents 112,000 3.8 0.29 36

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract for 2006.

Notes: The U.S. population in 2006 was 299,399,000, of whom 37,548,000 (12.5%) were foreign born. Rankings in last column reflect total numbers, not percentages.

Hoping to attract more foreign-born settlers, state government officials government arranged the publication of a booklet titled Iowa: The Home for Immigrants (1870). Promoting the social, political, educational, and physical attributes of the state, the ninety-six-page booklet was issued in English, Dutch, and Swedish editions. In 1870, the state’s population rose from 675,000 to 1,194,000. Germans constituted the largest ethnic group. Many Germans took up such professions as shopkeepers, newspaper editors, schoolteachers, bankers, and craftsmen. Other groups whom Iowa attracted from Europe included Swedes, Danes, Hollanders, and Britons. Members of these groups tended to concentrate within specific counties. For example, Scandinavians settled in Winneshiek and Story counties, Swedes in Boone County, and Danes in southwestern Iowa.

Gayla Koerting

Further Reading

  • Dinnen, Steve. “Howan Immigration Raid Changed a Town: Tiny Postville, Iowa, Struggles to Regain Its Footing One Year After the Largest Immigration Sweep in U.S. History.” Christian Science Monitor, May 31, 2009. 
  • Iowa: The Home for Immigrants—Being aTreatise on the Resources of Iowa. Des Moines, Iowa: Mills, 1870. 
  • Michaud, Marie-Christine. From Steel Tracks to Gold- Paved Streets: The Italian Immigrants and the Railroad in the North Central States. New York: Center for Migration Studies, 2005. 
  • Stellingwerff, Johan. Iowa Letters: Dutch Immigrants on the American Frontier. Translated by Walter Lagerwey. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2004. 

See also: American Protective Association; Farm and migrant workers; Illinois; Kansas; Mississippi River; Missouri; Nebraska; Railroads.

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