Ohio Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Located between previously settled eastern states and newer territories in the Midwest, Ohio was one of the first states to be established after the creation of the United States. Ease of transportation, supplied by Lake Erie along the northern border and the Ohio River along the southern border, quickly made Ohio one of the most populous states in the Union.

History of Ohio

Located between previously settled eastern states and newer territories in the Midwest, Ohio was one of the first states to be established after the creation of the United States. Ease of transportation, supplied by Lake Erie along the northern border and the Ohio River along the southern border, quickly made Ohio one of the most populous states in the Union. Ohio’s rich soils and abundant natural resources have made it one of the most important areas of agricultural and industrial activity in the nation.

Early History

About eleven thousand years ago, the earliest humans to reside in the area used stone tools to hunt bison as well as extinct species such as mammoths and mastodons. About 2,500 years ago, the people of the Adena culture, located in southern Ohio, built mounds, lived in villages, made pottery, and subsisted by hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plant foods. About five hundred years later, the people of the Hopewell culture, living in the same area, established agriculture with the growing of corn. They also produced the most advanced metal artifacts, mostly made from copper, found in North America until the Europeans arrived. About fifteen hundred years ago, the Hopewell culture began to decline. By the time Europeans first arrived in the region in the late seventeenth century, Ohio was mostly uninhabited.

Before Europeans were established in the area, however, Native Americans returned to Ohio in the early eighteenth century. The Wyandot, originally residing in Ontario, were driven south into northern Ohio by the devastation caused by newly introduced European diseases and by their eneies, the Iroquois League, a powerful confederation of eastern Native Americans. The Delaware, originally residing along the Atlantic coast, were driven west into northern Ohio by the Iroquois League and European settlers. The Miami, originally residing in eastern Wisconsin, expanded south and east into many areas, including southern Ohio. The Shawnee, who had originally resided along the Ohio River, were driven out by the Iroquois League but returned to southern Ohio in 1725.

Exploration and Settlement

The first European known to have visited the area was the French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, who journeyed southwest from Canada along the Saint Lawrence River, past Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, and into Ohio in 1670. During the first half of the eighteenth century, French traders from Canada and British traders from eastern colonies provided manufactured goods to the Native Americans in the area in exchange for deer and beaver skins. The lucrative fur trade led both sides to attempt to win control of the area. In 1749 the French sent an expedition led by Celeron de Bienville from Canada into Ohio, in order to make trade agreements with the inhabitants. The next year, the British sent a similar expedition, led by Christopher Gist, from Virginia to Ohio.

The conflict between France and England for control of North America led to the French and Indian War, which ended with the British in control of the area. During the American Revolution, American forces led by George Rogers Clark seized British outposts in Ohio. Clark also destroyed villages of the Shawnee, who were allied with the British. The war ended with the United States in control of the region. It became part of the newly created Northwest Territory in 1787.

The first permanent settlement in Ohio was founded in 1788 at Marietta by veterans of the Revolutionary War. The next year, settlers from New Jersey led by John Cleves Symes established a settlement at the future site of Cincinnati. These and other early settlements, located along the Ohio River, caused conflicts with the Native Americans inhabiting the region. On August 20, 1794, American forces led by Anthony Wayne defeated an alliance of Native Americans under Shawnee leader Bluejacket at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The next year Wayne negotiated a treaty that resulted in Native Americans ceding much of their land in Ohio to the United States.


Settlements continued to be located almost entirely in the southern part of Ohio until 1796, when settlers from Connecticut arrived in northeast Ohio. By 1802 Ohio had the sixty thousand white adult male residents required for statehood, and it became the seventeenth state the next year. The capital was located at Chillicothe until 1810, when it was briefly moved to Zanesville. After returning to Chillicothe in 1812, the capital was moved to the newly founded city of Columbus in 1816.

During the early years of statehood, Shawnee leader Tecumseh organized an alliance of Native Americans that attempted to win back control of the region from the United States. During the War of 1812 Tecumseh was allied with the British against the Americans. Tecumseh and British general Henry A. Proctor led an invasion of Ohio in 1812 but were driven back into Canada the next year.

After the war, the population of Ohio grew rapidly. In addition to settlers from eastern and southern states, emigrants from England, Ireland, and Germany arrived in large numbers after 1830. Advances in transportation contributed to this growth. Steamboats appeared on the Ohio River as early as 1811. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, linking the Hudson River with Lake Erie, improved transportation to Ohio and the territories beyond it. From 1825 to 1841, a series of canals linked the Ohio River and Lake Erie. The first railroad in the state was established in 1832. Between 1825 and 1838, the federal government extended the National Road across Ohio, linking the state to Pennsylvania and Maryland. By 1850, Ohio was the third most populous state in the Union.

At this time, agriculture was the most important part of the state’s economy. In 1850 Ohio had a larger agricultural output than any other state. Coal was discovered in Ohio in 1808 and was later of great importance to the iron and steel industry. Other important mineral resources developed at this time included limestone, sandstone, clay, shale, and rock salt.

The Civil War

During the Civil War, Ohio was divided in loyalty. The strongest support for the Union was found in northern Ohio. Southern Ohio, bordering on Kentucky and Virginia, was more sympathetic to the Confederacy. Ohio supplied 320,000 volunteers for the Union. Three of the Union’s most important generals, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Philip H. Sheridan, were from Ohio.

Ohio was an important center of the Peace Democrats, known to their opponents as Copperheads. The Peace Democrats advocated an end to the war through negotiation with the Confederacy. Clement L. Vallandigham, a leader of the Peace Democrats, was nominated for governor of Ohio in 1863 but was defeated by Union supporter John Brough. The same year, Confederate soldiers led by John Hunt Morgan raided southern Ohio, reaching farther north than any other Confederate forces.

Industry and Immigration

The demand for manufactured goods during the war led to the growth of industry in Ohio, particularly in the northern part of the state. Iron ore from states to the northwest was transported via the Great Lakes to the steelmaking cities of Toldeo, Cleveland, and Youngstown. During the 1870’s, Akron became a center of the rubber industry. Oil and natural gas were discovered in 1860. The Standard Oil Company, founded in Cleveland in 1870, soon controlled almost all oil production in the United States.

Immigrants from Italy, Poland, Hungary, and Russia arrived in large numbers after 1880. Cleveland was particularly diverse in the ethnic origins of its new residents, with immigrants arriving from Austria, the Netherlands, Portugal, Greece, China, Japan, Turkey, and Mexico. A large number of African Americans moved into the state at this time also, increasing the black population from about twenty-five thousand in 1850 to more than sixty-three thousand in 1870.

The Twentieth Century

Ohio was dominant in national politics during the turn of the century. Of the twelve U.S. presidents who held office from 1869 to 1923, seven were born in Ohio. Ohio was also the birthplace of Victoria Woodhull, who became the first woman to run for president, in 1872.

The state’s economy expanded during World War I. The increase in automobile manufacturing after the war strengthened Ohio’s oil, rubber, and glass industries. The Great Depression of the 1930’s led to widespread unemployment, and the economy did not recover until World War II. Although economic conditions were generally favorable until the late 1970’s, Ohio faced serious problems, including pollution in Lake Erie, race riots in Cleveland, poverty in the cities, and a decline in the quality of education.

A recession in the late 1970’s and 1980’s led to Ohio having 14 percent unemployment in 1982. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, Ohio shifted much of its economy away from manufacturing to the service and technology industries. The state also took steps to encourage new businesses, provide vocational training, and protect the environment.

Categories: History