MIDWEST is a region extending north and west from the Ohio River to just west of the Mississippi River and includes the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The region is often referred to as the heartland of America. It was originally home to numerous Native American groups who had a mixed economy of hunting, fishing, and agriculture. The region included three of North America's predominate biomes, that is, conifer forest, deciduous forest, and prairie. The climate is typical of midcontinental positions. Winters and summers are characterized by extremes in temperature and precipitation.
The land east of the Mississippi was acquired from the British as part of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and was designated the Northwest Territory. The land west of the Mississippi was acquired in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.The region's geography and identity are rooted in its creation in the Land Ordinance of 1785, which created the orderly survey of land, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which established a pattern of government for the new territory. These two federal acts laid the groundwork for rapid and orderly settlement in the nineteenth century.
The region was a productive fur trade area for over two hundred years. The timber industry moved west out of Maine and New England early in the nineteenth century. The rich and diverse forests of the region have made this a continuing and profitable industry. Early timber harvesting focused on pine, particularly white pine. As pine lands were exhausted the timber industry turned to hardwoods and pulpwood production. Settlers originally attempted to farm the cutover lands but found that conditions were not conducive to commodity agriculture. Second-and third-growth forests came to cover the land, and timber production and recreational uses came to predominate in the northern reaches of the Midwest.
Yankees, Pennsylvanians, and northern Europeans came throughout the nineteenth century. Agricultural settlement stretched out along the rivers first, then followed the railroad into the interior of the tall grass prairie. Commodity agricultural production, primarily grains and livestock, dominated the region from the start. Farming population rose dramatically until the early twentieth century but made a steady decline as mechanization increased. The rural character of the region is evident in the farms and small towns that dot the landscape.
Manufacturing and heavy industry also became prevalent in the region, particularly along major water ways and south of the Great Lakes. Early on waterpower and access to water transportation figured heavily in this development. The dramatic increase in iron mining in Michigan and Minnesota also contributed to development. Industrial development and mining attracted new immigrants in the first half of the twentieth century. African Americans fled the South during this period and were attracted to the Midwest by industrial jobs and greater freedom from "Jim Crow." Eastern Europeans also immigrated to work in the region's industrial and mining operations. Like other places across the United States, the region became home to a multitude of ethnic groups and immigrants from around the world.
While the region was originally blanketed by mixed forests and prairies, this is no longer the case. Forests have been cleared, the prairie has been plowed, and rivers have been dredged and straightened for commercial barge traffic. Agriculture, the timber industry, and heavy manufacturing have all left an indelible mark on the land.
Cayton, Andrew R. L., and Peter S. Onuf. The Midwest and the Nation: Rethinking the History of the Region. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.