The U.S. has four census regions: the West, South, Northeast, and Midwest. The Midwest is made up of 12 states in the north-central part of the country, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.
This region is home to over 68 million people and valuable agricultural and manufacturing industries.
The Midwestern U.S. is a diverse region covering the rolling hills of the Interior Plains between the Rocky Mountains to the west and the Appalachian Mountains to the east.
While much of the region is farmland and forests, there are some major cities, including Chicago, the third-most populous in the U.S.
Fun Midwest Facts
- It has the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers
- Columbus, Detroit, and St. Paul are big cities
- Its nickname is “America’s Heartland.”
- The Great Lakes touch six Midwest states
- The region is rich in mining, including iron ore
- The Louisiana Purchase included the Great Plains
- The Midwest has over 34 million workers
- There are 91 people for each square mile
The Mighty Mississippi
The Mississippi River begins in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, and flows south through the central U.S., all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. The 2,340 mile-long river flows through 10 states: Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennesee, Missouri, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
Since 1938, the Great River Road has run alongside the picturesque river, making up one of America’s top scenic drives along state and county roads. As the world’s third-biggest watershed, the Mississippi River holds on average between 1.5 and 5.2 million gallons depending on the location.
The river has 29 locks and dams with 175 million tons of commercial freight moved every year along the Upper Mississippi. It takes three months for a single drop water droplet to completely travel the river, which drops 1,475 feet from its source to its mouth.
The river reaches a depth of 200 feet at Algiers Point, a neighborhood in New Orleans. There are 360 fish species and 326 types of birds that live in the river or along its banks. 50 different mammals and 145 amphibian species also reside in the Mississippi habitat.
Many major U.S. cities are situated along the Mississippi River, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Davenport, and St. Louis. Other large cities in the Midwest are Milwaukee, Omaha, Kansas City, Lincoln, Omaha, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Madison.
Chicago has the highest population with 2.6 million people inside city limits and 9.4 million in total across the wider Windy City metro area. Chicago grew significantly in the late 1800s with the construction of the Home Insurance Building in 1885, which was the first skyscraper ever built. It was torn down in 1931 to make room for the present-day LaSalle Bank Building.
None of these buildings come close to the height of the Willis Tower. The former Sears Tower is 1,451 feet above the ground with 110 stories. From 1974-1998 it was the world’s tallest building.
While Chicago has the tallest skyscraper in the Midwest, along with seven other sky-high structures, Cleveland has the highest Midwest building outside of Chicago with the 57-floor Key Tower.
Midwestern Farming Facts
Agriculture is a huge part of the Midwest and has been for many years. With upwards of 127 million acres dedicated to agriculture, the Midwest is home to family farms dating back to the 1800s.
The increase in immigration, industrialization, technology, and transportation allowed for more farming and business to take place across the central states. 75 percent of agricultural land is used to grow corn and soybeans. Other popular Midwest crops include wheat, beans, and potatoes. Iowa is the leading producer of grain, beef, pork, corn, and soybean crops.
Agriculture is a $76 billion industry in the Midwest, with Iowa, Ohio, Illinois, and Minnesota leading the way with the most farms. Fairly predictable weather patterns, regular rainfall, and rich soil support Midwest farming operations, although farmers do deal with risks of drought, tornadoes, pest infestations, and early frost or snowfall.
The Great Lakes are the biggest group of lakes on the planet. These five freshwater lakes are interconnected and provide a substantial shipping route along the Saint Lawrence River to the eastern seaboard. Lake Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior collectively cover 94,600 square miles.
Lake Superior is the biggest freshwater lake and the second-largest lake on earth. Lake Michigan is the only one that doesn’t border Canada, and it’s classified as the biggest lake located entirely inside one nation.
The Great Lakes are often referred to as inland seas due to the high winds and currents. More than 6,000 shipwrecks have occurred on these lakes, included an estimated 550 on Lake Superior.
Most of those shipwrecks have not been discovered due to the lake’s depth, which has an average depth of 489 feet but can reach as low as 1,333 feet in some spots.
Manufacturing has played a big role in the growth of the Midwest, especially as Chicago flourished in the 1880s and 1890s. The post-Civil War era saw the Midwest contribute 29 percent of the nation’s manufacturing jobs and 1/3 of the industry’s total value.
There are over 70,000 manufacturing companies in the Midwest today, including Ford Motor Company and General Motors Company in Detroit, MI, Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, and Caterpillar Inc. in Deerfield, IL.
The auto industry grew rapidly from its early days in the Midwest as machinery and assembly plants became more common. Today, the U.S. exports over a million new vehicles every year, many of them still made in Midwest auto headquarters, with 17 million vehicles sold throughout the country. Overall, the Midwest manufacturing output across all industries has surpassed $500 billion in recent years.
The Great Plains
The Midwest is made up of the Great Plains, which are relatively flat prairies and grasslands covering over 180 million acres in total. The consistent low elevation makes the Midwest a popular place for farming, outdoor recreation, and construction.
Parts of the Great Plains have the nickname of Tornado Alley, an area with a higher frequency of tornadoes than the rest of the U.S. Kansas has the second-highest average of tornadoes with 96, while Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska have somewhere between 51 and 66 tornadoes every year.
The Great Plains were included in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, and the fertile soil and abundance of natural resources like coal, limestone, oil, and iron ore spurred the region’s growth in the next century.
Pronghorn and American Bison herds call the Great Plains home, as well as prairie dogs, coyotes, and rattlesnakes. Cattle ranching and wind farms are popular throughout The Great Plains.
The Midwest is a popular place for suburban families, and it also has some famous landmarks and tourist attractions. Mount Rushmore is a national memorial with the faces of past presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt carved into the side of the Black Hills.
Missouri’s Gateway Arch is the tallest in the world and overlooks St. Louis. The Mall of America in Bloomington, MN, has more than 500 stores and is currently the third-largest in the U.S. with 40 million yearly visitors.
Wisconsin has the world’s largest fish, thanks to a massive musky sculpture made of fiberglass that’s the same length as a Boeing 757. The fish stands more than four stories high and is located in Hayward.
It has an observation tower inside, so visitors can walk through the fish from the tail all the way up to its jaw. Illinois has a giant bronze statue of Robert Wadlow, who grew to stand 8’11 and is remembered in his hometown of Alton.
Many other tourist attractions date back decades and beyond, as the Midwest originally became a hotspot for tourists from the South and Northeast in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
More Facts About the Midwest
The Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, and Minnesota are part of the West North Central. The East North Central contains Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Overall, the Midwest has just over 750,000 square miles of land and more than 27 million households calling the area home.
Immigration has played a key role in the growth of the Midwest, with large groups of Germans, Swedes, and Norwegians settling in the region in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, 7.3% of midwesterners are born outside the U.S., and 11.7% speak a language other than English at home.
The most populous metropolitan areas in the Midwest are Detroit, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Kansas City, and Columbus. One thing Midwest residents in both cities and rural areas understand about their region is how unpredictable the weather can be.
A 2016 study determined the top ten U.S. cities for unpredictable weather were all located in the Midwest, including Sioux Falls and Minneapolis at the top of the list.