Missouri Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Missouri lies almost in the center of the forty-eight contiguous states. It is the southernmost midwestern state. Its eastern boundary is the Mississippi River, its western boundary the Missouri River. It is bordered by eight states. West of Missouri are Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma. To its east are Illinois and Kentucky. Iowa borders it on the north, and Arkansas and Tennessee are on the south. Missouri is about three hundred miles from east to west and about 280 miles from north to south.

History of Missouri

Missouri lies almost in the center of the forty-eight contiguous states. It is the southernmost midwestern state. Its eastern boundary is the Mississippi River, its western boundary the Missouri River. It is bordered by eight states. West of Missouri are Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma. To its east are Illinois and Kentucky. Iowa borders it on the north, and Arkansas and Tennessee are on the south. Missouri is about three hundred miles from east to west and about 280 miles from north to south.

The earliest settlers in the area probably lived there more than twelve thousand years ago. By the seventeenth century, the Missouri and Osage Indian tribes were there. The first Europeans in the region were Jacques Marquette, a French missionary, and Louis Jolliet, a fur trader, known to be there in 1673. In 1683 René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, claimed a vast expanse of land, including present-day Missouri, for France, calling it Louisiana after King Louis XIV.

Early Settlements

The first permanent French settlement in Missouri was Sainte Genevieve, on the Mississippi River south of present-day St. Louis, established in 1735. In 1764, Pierre Laclède and René Auguste Chouteau founded St. Louis, also on the Mississippi River.

In 1762 Spain claimed France’s Louisiana Territory and futilely attempted to coerce Spaniards to move there. When the United States became independent in 1776, Spain invited Americans east of the Mississippi to move into Missouri. Substantial numbers of farmers and miners accepted. By 1799 groups of settlers inhabited the area.

In 1800 France reclaimed the Louisiana Territory, which, through the Louisiana Purchase, it sold to the United States for fifteen million dollars in 1803. The Missouri Territory, which included Kansas, had a population of about twenty thousand by 1812. Most settled on land that had been the property of Native Americans, who sought to reclaim it. Various treaties were signed between the indigenous people and the new arrivals, but by 1825, almost no American Indians remained in Missouri.

The Missouri Compromise

Black slaves came to Missouri as early as 1720, owned by French miners searching for gold and other minerals. These slaves were involved in building Missouri’s first cities. Soon southern farmers and plantation owners relocated in Missouri, bringing their slaves with them.

Missouri applied to join the United States in 1818, coming in as a slave state. This would have made for one extra slave state in the country, and the federal government could not sanction an imbalance between slave and free states. The solution was the Missouri Compromise of 1821, which assured that the number of slave states and free states would remain equal. Maine was to be admitted as a free state, thereby permitting Missouri statehood as a slave state. In 1821 Missouri became the twenty-fourth state.

Early Economy

Missouri’s land became fertile when advancing glaciers deposited rich topsoil upon it thousands of years ago. The state also has excellent river transportation in the east and the west. Steamboats carried their cargos to points along the rivers that eventually became thriving ports. Trails running west from Missouri led into the Rocky Mountains, where independent fur traders lived.

Soon there were permanent settlements and thriving towns along the river banks and trade routes. In 1822 the Santa Fe Trail was opened between Independence, in western Missouri, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, then a possession of Mexico. The beginning of the two-thousand-mile-long Oregon Trail was in Independence. When the Gold Rush to California began in 1848, thousands of prospectors passed through Missouri.

The potato famine in Ireland in the mid-1840’s resulted in an influx of Irish into Missouri, where they worked on railroad construction or as day laborers. Missouri was growing so fast that extra hands were welcome. By the late 1840’s, a wave of Germans seeking a better life came to the area around St. Louis.

Slavery

Slavery was a contentious matter in Missouri. By 1860, nearly 115,000 slaves were held in servitude in Missouri, many of them working on farms in the western part of the state. Some 3,600 free African Americans also lived in the state prior to the Civil War, most of them settling around St. Louis.

Dred Scott and his wife, Harriet, were slaves in Missouri. In 1846 the Scotts sued for their freedom, claiming that they were humans, not chattel. Their case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857. The Court ultimately ruled that the Scotts were property owned by the master who had bought them. As such, they had no rights as citizens. This decision enraged northern abolitionists and was one of the crucial factors that led to the Civil War, which started in 1861.

Missouri and the Confederacy

In 1861 the southern slave states formed the Confederacy, a separate nation with its own government. As a border state, Missouri, despite pressure from many of its slave owners, voted to remain in the Union, although nearly thirty-five thousand Missourians joined the Confederate armed forces.

Months before the war ended, Missouri freed all of its slaves, many of whom remained in the state. At the end of the twentieth century, Missouri had an African American population of nearly 11 percent. During the Civil War, more than a thousand battles were fought in Missouri, which sent more than 150,000 of its men to fight. About 115,000 of these men fought in the Union forces.

Urban Growth

Missouri’s strategic location and access to waterways and major trails resulted in the establishment of towns and cities along trade routes and encouraged urban development. The two cities that emerged as preeminent were St. Louis in the east and Kansas City on the western border with Kansas. Both cities became railroad centers, and Kansas City was known for its stockyards, first established in 1870, which still contribute substantially to its economy.

St. Louis became a major manufacturing center. In 1904 the city held a world’s fair that attracted people from around the world. In the same year, St. Louis also became the first U.S. city to serve as the site of the Olympic Games.

By 1990, 75 percent of Missouri’s residents lived in urban areas. Chief among these, besides Kansas City and St. Louis, were Springfield, Joplin, St. Joseph, and Columbia, the site of the University of Missouri’s main campus, established in 1841.

Other Factors in the Economy

Agriculture is a major contributor to Missouri’s economy. Soybeans are the state’s most lucrative crop, but Missouri farms produce sorghum, wheat, and hay as well. Cattle, hogs, and turkeys are also raised.

Its agricultural production notwithstanding, manufacturing became the largest and most important factor in Missouri’s economy. Among the major industries located in the state are General Motors and Ford, whose plants produce automobiles and trucks; McDonnell-Douglas, which makes commercial and private airplanes; and the Hallmark Card Company.

Tourism and commerce are also major factors in the economy. Tourists bring more than five billion dollars per year into the state, coming there to sightsee, gamble in the steamboat casinos, and attend the many shows in Branson, where nearly thirty well-known singers own theaters.

Missouri’s Attractions

Besides the riverboat casinos and Branson’s theaters, tourists are drawn to the state to view such attractions as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, designed by Eero Saarinen and opened in 1965, which commemorates St. Louis as the jumping-off point for many pioneers heading into the western frontier.

Tourists also flock into New Madrid, a town on the Mississippi River that in 1811 and 1812 was rocked by three of the worst earthquakes ever recorded in North America. The New Madrid Museum provides detailed information about these earthquakes, which were so destructive they were felt as far away as Washington, D.C., and changed the course of the Mississippi River.

The Ozark Mountains and Lake of the Ozarks in southern Missouri offer excellent recreational facilities. This area attracts both tourists and retirees in large numbers. Tourists also flock into Florida and Hannibal in the north to visit the birthplace of Mark Twain and the town in which he grew up and used as the setting for some of his most popular stories.

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