Missouri Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Located by the Mississippi River on the threshold of the western frontier, Missouri has had a somewhat different immigrant experience from those of neighboring midwestern states. Nevertheless, like many other states, it attracted significant numbers of European immigrants during the nineteenth century, and it has had similar experiences with illegal immigration since the late twentieth century.

Most early settlers in Missouri were Americans of English origin who entered the territory from Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. These groups spread into the river valleys into the central part of Missouri during the 1820’s and into western Missouri during the 1830’s. Meanwhile, the Mississippi River port of St. Louis, Missouri[Saint Louis, Missouri]St. Louis emerged as the gateway to the western Frontier;and St. Louis[Saint Louis]frontier. Over the next twenty years, the state’s population tripled, from 19,783 to 66,586, while trading posts in both Kansas City, MissouriKansas City and St. Joseph outfitted wagons trains heading west along the Santa Fe TrailSanta Fe and Oregon TrailOregon trails.MissouriMissouri[cat]STATES;Missouri[03570]

Substantial overseas immigration began during the 1830’s with the arrival of German immigrants;MissouriGermans, who established farms west of St. Louis and south of the Missouri River. On the eve of the U.S. Civil War, more 15 percent of the state’s residents were foreign born–mostly Germans and Irish. By the end of the nineteenth century, the state was beginning to attract Italian, Greek, Polish, and east European Jewish immigrants.

Twentieth Century Immigration

The basis of Missouri’s economy gradually shifted from agriculture to industry through the early twentieth century. Between 1900 and 1970, the state’s rural population dropped from 70 to less than 30 percent of the state total. However, Missouri differed from other midwestern states whose metropolitan centers grew significantly through that period. In fact, its major cities shrank. St. Louis, Missouri[Saint Louis, Missouri]St. Louis lost almost half its population between 1950 and 1980. St. Louis and Kansas City responded by undertaking massive urban renewal programs during the 1980’s to deal with air pollution, traffic, crime, and dilapidated housing, and Missouri’s economy slowly began to improve. By the twenty-first century, more than half of the state’s residents were clustered within its two largest metropolitan areas, St. Louis and Kansas City.

By the turn of the twenty-first century, Missouri’s immigrant heritage was reflected in large numbers of people of German, Irish, English, and French descent. During the 1990’s, they were joined by approximately 40,000 to 60,000 immigrants from war-torn Bosnian immigrantsBosnia. By the year 2004, the state was home to 195,000 foreign-born residents, about 5 percent of whom spoke languages other than English in their homes.

Missouri was also Illegal immigration;Missourihome to between 35,000 and 65,000 undocumented immigrants, who represented less than 1 percent of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants believed to be living in the United States. In 2009, state lawmakers decided to crack down on illegal immigration by requiring all public employers, including state and local agencies, to use a database that searches records from the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security to determine whether potential employees are in the country legally.Missouri

Further Reading
  • Aron, Stephen. American Confluence: The Missouri Frontier from Borderland to Border State. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.
  • Blouet, Brian W., and Frederick C. Luebke. The Great Plains: Environment and Culture. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979.
  • Foley, William E. A History of Missouri. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000.
  • Gjerde, Jon. The Minds of the West: The Ethnocultural Evolution of the Rural Middle West, 1830-1917. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979.
  • Kamphoefner, Walter D. The Westfalians: From Germany to Missouri. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987.
  • Thelen, David. Paths of Resistance: Tradition and Dignity in Industrializing Missouri. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1991.


German immigrants



Machine politics

Mississippi River


Westward expansion

Categories: History