Iowa: The Hawkeye State

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Nickname: The Hawkeye State

Statehood: 1846; 29th state

Population (as of July 2016): 3,134,693

Capital: Des Moines

Biggest City: Des Moines

Abbreviation: IA

State bird: eastern goldfinch

State flower: wild rose


Iowa state flag


The first people came to what’s now Iowa at least 12,000 years ago. Thousands of years later Native American tribes including the Dakota Sioux, Illini, Ioway, Missouria, and Otoe lived on the land.


French explorers reached the area in 1673, and in 1682 the land was claimed by France. Over the next century Spain and France fought multiple wars over the region, and control of the land shifted back and forth between the two countries. In 1803 the United States acquired the territory through the Louisiana Purchase. Iowa became the 29th state in 1846.


Beginning in 1972 Iowa has kicked off every U.S. presidential race by holding the first caucuses (that’s when people gather to choose delegates who will vote for their chosen candidate at the next convention—a step on the road to selecting a presidential candidate).



Experts don’t agree on how Iowa got its name. Some say that the name comes from the Ioway tribe.


There’s also disagreement over the source of Iowa’s nickname, the Hawkeye State. Some say the name honors a Native American chief, Black Hawk. Others claim it was inspired by a character named Hawkeye in James Fenimore Cooper’s book, The Last of the Mohicans.


This midwestern state is bordered by South Dakota and Minnesota in the north, Wisconsin and Illinois in the east, Illinois and Missouri in the south, and Nebraska and South Dakota in the west. Some sources divide Iowa into three different regions.


The flat, fertile Young Drift Plains region sweeps across northern and central Iowa. (Drift is a mixture of clay, sand, rocks, and gravel that glaciers left behind during the last ice age about 12,000 years ago.) This area also contains lakes and swamps.


The Driftless Area covers northeastern Iowa. This region consists of pine-forested hills and cliffs.


The Dissected Till Plains roll across southern Iowa and into the northwest. Rivers and streams have dissected (or cut into) the land, creating hills, ridges, and bluffs.


Red foxes, thirteen-lined ground squirrels, least weasels, and white-tailed deer are among Iowa’s most common mammals. Cerulean warblers, grasshopper sparrows, and scarlet tanagers are a few of the state’s birds. Iowa’s reptiles include Great Plains skinks, western hognose snakes, and yellow mud turtles. Amphibians such as blue-spotted salamanders, central newts, Great Plains toads, and mudpuppies (a type of salamander) slither and hop through Iowa.


Sugar maple, sycamore, red cedar, and oak (the state tree) are a few of the most common trees that grow in Iowa. Indian blanketflower, squirrel corn, morning glory, and dalmatian toadflax are among the state’s wildflowers.

State Tree: oak; State Bird: eastern goldfinch; State Flower: wild rose; State Quarter


The Hawkeye State’s greatest natural resource is its rich soil, which farmers use to grow corn and soybeans—the state’s top crops. Iowa produces the most corn in the nation, and it even converts some of its corn into a fuel called ethanol—in fact, Iowa is the top U.S. producer of this energy source.



  • Over 200 prehistoric earthen mounds in the shapes of giant panthers, bison, deer, and other animals stand at Effigy Mounds National Monument. The mounds are considered sacred to many Native Americans, and they may have been used by tribes as territory markers.
  • President Herbert Hoover, television host Johnny Carson, showman Buffalo Bill Cody, and Mildred Wirt Benson (who wrote the Nancy Drew detective series under the pen name Caroline Keene) were all born in Iowa.
  • The house that inspired artist Grant Wood’s famous painting “American Gothic” stands in Eldon, Iowa. It’s a top selfie spot: Visitors are encouraged to copy the pose of the people featured in the painting!
Map of U.S. showing location of Iowa

Text by Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh

Photos: Gaussian_Blur, iStockphoto (quarter); FrankvandenBergh, iStockphoto (flag); Stephen Bonk, Dreamstime (goldfinch); deebrowning, iStockphoto (oak); Iurii Konoval, Dreamstime (wild rose)

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