State: Iowa – IA

Published on July 27th, 2015 | by Brandon Ramsey in Geography


The Iowa abbreviation is IA, representing just one of the 50 U.S. States. This is a unique place with its own history, culture, and geography. Today we’ll examine this state in great detail as we delve deeper into what is known as “The Hawkeye State.” The Midwestern location places it in a region known as the “American Heartland.”

This is also the only place where the eastern and western borders are defined entirely by rivers, specifically the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. This is one of the safest places to live but beyond that we’ll explore the geography and history of this place.

Before all of that, let’s look at some key information about this place:

  • State abbreviation: IA
  • Capital: Des Moines
  • Motto: “Our libterties we prize and our rights we will maintain.”
  • Admitted to the Union: December 28, 1846 (29th state)
  • Time zone: Central: UTC -6/-5
  •  State bird: Eastern goldfinch
  • Flower: Wild rose
  • Tree: Oak
  • Official website: iowa.gov
  • State Flag

map of Iowa in the United States

IA State Overview

Located in the American Heartland, this Midwestern state is bordered by the Mississippi River on the east and both the Missouri River and the Big Sioux River to the east. This is the only U.S. state that has rivers forming both the eastern and western borders.

To the east you’ll find Wisconsin and Illinois. Missouri is to the south, Nebraska and South Dakota are to the west, and Minnesota is to the north. During the colonial era, this place was part of French and Spanish Louisiana. After the land was acquired during the Louisiana Purchase, an agricultural economy was established in the heart of what is known as the Corn Belt.

The term “Corn Belt” refers to a region of the Midwestern United States where corn has been the dominant crop since the 1850’s. Towards the end of the 20th century, the economy moved towards a more diversified option. Advanced manufacturing, processing, financial services, information technology, biotechnology and green energy production all became new elements of the economy.

This place is also in the top 10 states with the lowest crime rates. In 2009 for example, it was reported that this place was ranked 8 in the top 10 states with the lowest crime rate. 

map of Iowa

Geographical Features and Climate

We’ve discussed the rivers that form the eastern and western borders of the state, which makes it unique. The south is also marked by the Des Moines river, but it’s not a straight line. The border was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Missouri v. Iowa in 1849. This case was seen by the court after there was a standoff between the two states known as the Honey War.

This territorial dispute didn’t result in any bloodshed, but militias from both sides stood at the border facing each other. The name comes from the fact that three trees containing beehives were cut down during the conflict. In total there are 99 counties in the state, but there are 100 county seats. This is a result of Lee County having two.

Moving from west to east, the bedrock in this area gets older. Samples from the Cretaceous period can be found in the northwest and are roughly 74 million years old. In the east, Cambrian bedrock is found dating back to 500 million years in age.

For the most part, the topography of the area is composed of rolling hills. In total, there are eight landforms that comprise the area based on glaciation, soils, topography, and river drainage. Loess hill are found along the western border. Some of these hills are hundreds of feet thick. The northwest houses the Driftless Zone where steep hills and valleys are found.

There are several natural lakes:

  • Spirit Lake
  • West Okoboji Lake
  • East Okoboji
  • Clear Lake

Man-made lakes include the following:

  • Lake Odessa
  • Saylorville Lake
  • Lake Red Rock
  • Coralville Lake
  • Lake MacBride
  • Rathburn Lake

The naturally occurring vegetation here consists of tallgrass prairie and savanna in the upland areas. In the northern prairie areas there are dense forests, wetlands, and flood plains. Most of the land here is used for agriculture, with over 60% of the state being used for crops.

Like most other areas in the Midwest, the climate here is classified as a humid continental climate that has extremes on both ends of the temperature scale. In the spring, severe weather is common here. On average, there are 50 days of thunderstorm activity here per year.

Tornadoes are a major issue here as well. In 2008 for example, twelve people were killed by tornadoes and there were a total of 105 that year as well, shattering a previous record from 1968.

History and Statehood

The first American Indians settled in this place around 13,000 years ago. Prior to this, there were hunters and gatherers here that lived in a Pleistocene glacial landscape. When Europeans first arrived here, the American Indians had already established a complex society complete with economic, social and political systems.

The first explorers to survey this land were Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet who traveled the Mississippi River and observed American Indian villages. It was claimed by the French until 1763 at which point it was transferred into Spanish control. It became part of the Louisiana territory, which was eventually transfer into Napoleon Bonaparte’s control in a treaty.

The United States gained control of the area through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Zebulon Pike was assigned to map the area in 1805. It wasn’t until Fort Madison was built in 1808 though that the U.S. had any form of military control in the area.

This fort fell though in the war of 1812 when it was seized by British-supported Indians. After the war, new forts were built in the region to help the U.S. regain control. The introduction of diseases and the forced relocation of the native peoples resulted in massive declines in the American Indian population.

The Sauk tribe made an attempt to fight back in the form of the Black Hawk War in 1832, but they ultimately lost. As punishment, and to support the long-term settlement goals, treaties were created to remove all of the Indiana from the area.

The Meskwaki tribe returned however and their settlement still stands to this day. In 1856 an act was passed that allowed them to purchase land, something that Indians were typically not allowed to do. When American settlers began to move into the area, the U.S. Congress established it as a territory in 1838. It had 22 counties and a population of 23,242.

It was shortly after that it became the 29th state. The economy relied on agriculture for a time until the Farm Crisis of the 1980’s. This collapse of the economy brought about changes that introduced other types of manufacturing and modern technologies into the fold.

Final Thoughts

All of this information, combined with our Iowa state facts will paint a perfectly detailed picture of what makes this place unique. For those of you who live here or visit, tell us about your Iowa experiences in the comments below!

printable map of Iowa



About the Author
Brandon Ramsey

Brandon Ramsey is the head author and editor of The Time Now Blog. Be sure to follow us via social media!


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