North America > United States of America > Midwest
- For other places with the same name, see Midwest (disambiguation).
The Midwest is known as "America's Heartland": the massive Great Lakes, the vast northwoods, wide-open plains full of corn and wheat, a patchwork of industrial cities and small towns, and one of America's greatest cities, Chicago.
The following eight states of the Midwest account for one-fifth of the U.S. population:
Ranging from Southern-influenced Southern Illinois to rural farmland in Central Illinois to the iconic metropolis of Chicago.
The heart of the Midwest, with the pristine Indiana Dunes on Lake Michigan, extensive farmland, and a few concentrated cities like Indianapolis.
Though starting to urbanize, Iowa still has lots of farms and college towns. Every four years it gets the eyes of the nation upon it when it kicks off the presidential election campaign.
Including miles of Great Lakes coastline and extensive forests, Michigan is blessed with natural beauty, as well as important college towns like Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo and the major city of Detroit.
The cheery "land of 10,000 lakes" has both beautiful wilderness and the Twin Cities. Lace up your skates for hockey and take a visit to the city-sized Mall of America.
With Midwestern, Southern, and Great Plains flavor, Missouri has a foot in a few different parts of the country—vibrant St. Louis is known as the "Gateway to the West".
Said to be "The Heart of It All", Ohio is centrally located and quintessentially American, with a mosaic of big cities like Cleveland and Columbus and large agricultural areas dotted with small towns.
Lakes, nature, and outdoor recreation, as well as the university town of Madison and the major city of Milwaukee. Known for its fresh-from-the-cow dairy and hospitality, Wisconsin has small-town charm even in its big cities.
See also the pages for the states of the Midwest, for smaller but still substantial cities in the region.
- 1 Chicago – the "Windy City" and third largest city in the U.S., with architecture galore and plenty of deep dish pizza or hot dogs to scarf down for hungry travelers
- 2 Cincinnati – the "Queen City" is the oldest large city in the region with hills and Victorian architecture.
- 3 Cleveland – the "Heart of Rock and Roll" has a revitalized 21st-century downtown on the water
- 4 Detroit – the "Motor City", a.k.a. "Motown", where some of the nation's most popular music acts got their start
- 5 Indianapolis – the "Circle City" and "Crossroads of America;" home of the Indy 500 as well as the world's largest children's museum and a number of arts and cultural districts
- 6 Kansas City – the "City of Fountains" and its own style of barbecue eats
- 7 Milwaukee – "Brew City", "Cream City" and the "City of Festivals"
- 8 St. Louis – "Gateway City", home of the Gateway Arch often considered the easternmost city of the West and the northernmost city of the South
- The "Twin Cities" – Minneapolis & Saint Paul
- 1 Boundary Waters – A large chain of lakes, rivers and marshes known for its seclusion and natural beauty on the border of Minnesota and Canada
- 2 Cuyahoga Valley National Park – one of the country's busiest national parks, along the Cuyahoga River south of Cleveland.
- 3 Driftless Area – A hilly area shared between Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois known for its tourist areas and skiing.
- 4 Great Lakes – the "North Coast" of the United States, and the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface and volume.
- 5 Indiana Dunes National Park – beautiful dunes and beaches, hidden on the industrial northwest coast of Indiana.
- 6 Isle Royale National Park – a beautiful, wild island at the northern tip of the Midwest.
- 7 Ozarks – the famous lakes and hill country at the intersection of Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
- 8 Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – enormous dunes in a wild part of Northern Michigan.
The term "Midwest" refers to the states generally west of Appalachia, north of the Ohio River and east of the Great Plains. This area is sometimes referred to as the "heart" or "rust belt" of America and is often associated with agriculture and industry (historically manufacturing but this has faded as years have passed). The culture of the Midwest is generally acknowledged to be "down to earth", as much of the population is far from the influences of coastal cities and cultural centers such as New York City and Los Angeles. The Midwest is largely nearly evenly divided between liberals and conservatives, and the region has the highest concentration of swing states in presidential elections.
A synonym, the North Central Region, describes its geographic location more accurately; the "west" suffix is a historical artifact from the country's early history, when most of the U.S. population lived east of the Appalachian Mountains.
States bordering the Great Lakes (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin) are sometimes called the "North Coast", "Third Coast" or "Fresh Coast" as parallels to the East and West coasts. These are the states of the region which make up the rust belt.
Also known as "America's Heartland", for its primary role in the nation's manufacturing and farming sectors as well as its patchwork of big commercial cities and small towns that, in combination, are considered as the broadest representation of American culture. In fact, most national television broadcasters speak with a Midwestern accent. The Midwest was the home of more than one quarter of U.S. Presidents (and that's taking into account that a half dozen people were President before most the Midwest achieved statehood) as well as the birthplace of the inventors and entrepreneurs of most of the technology that fuels the world's economy- examples include airplane, automobile, electric lighting, the transistor, petroleum, steel production.
Major population centers tend to be located either on the Great Lakes (Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee and Duluth) or on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers (Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Louis and Cincinnati). This reflects the historical importance of waterways as a method of connecting the region to the ports of New York (via the Erie Canal) and New Orleans (via the rivers). Chicago, originally a marshy area, boomed due to being the easiest method of shipping from the St. Lawrence and Erie Canal to New Orleans. Commerce via the Great Lakes remains a major portion of the region's economy. The major exception to this is Indianapolis, which has unnavigable waterways but is a major intersection for road travel. Chicago also became a major railroad hub in the 19th century and has kept this position to this day.
With the advent of globalisation, much of the heavy industry that many Midwestern cities were dependent on were outsourced to countries in Asia and Latin America with lower labour cost, leading to a decline of many once-great cities. As such, many Midwestern cities continue to suffer from high unemployment, urban decay and high violent crime rates. This is particularly true in cities which were built on a single industry such as Detroit, Flint, East St. Louis and Gary, with automobiles.
While the Midwest has been home to several indigenous nations, the Iroquois came to conquer most of the lands during the 17th and 18th centuries. France became the first colonial power in the Midwest, mostly doing peaceful commerce with the indigenous peoples, with few settlements.
In the 1783 Treaty of Paris, the United States annexed the territories which came to form the Midwest; still, well into the 19th century, the Midwest was considered to be part of the Wild West. Large-scale settlement came with the railroads and the Industrial Revolution.
The Midwest was primarily settled by Central European and Scandinavian immigrants, the heritage of which is reflected in the local cuisines, which tend to be simple and hearty, with a strong emphasis on meat and potatoes, as well as dairy products.
English is, as with the rest of the U.S., the de facto official language. The "Midwestern Accent" is the voice most commonly heard on national newscasts across the country. Some areas with large Hispanic populations might have a majority speaking Spanish, but most native speakers of Spanish in the Midwest have at least basic English skills. There is also a substantial German-speaking history which is now mostly confined to rural areas made up of plain Anabaptist communities.
Most of the larger cities have sizeable diverse ethnic communities with many first-generation immigrants. This is particularly true of Chicago, which is known for its large communities of Assyrians, Jews, Poles, and African-Americans transplanted from the South: dialectical and linguistic diversity vary widely in this city. That said, the classic Chicago accent is moribund, and most younger Chicagoans speak with a general American accent. Missouri, Wisconsin and Minnesota have their own minor linguistic quirks, but generally the English spoken here is among the easiest dialects to understand in all America and is largely devoid of unusual terms for everyday items.
Local dialects of other European languages such as German, Norwegian and Swedish are spoken by some elderly residents, though these dialects are now moribund, and most of the younger generation is monolingual in English.
The Midwest is served by several international airports, including many of the major US airlines' national hubs. Chicago-O'Hare (United and American), Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky (Delta), Detroit (Delta), and Minneapolis-Saint Paul (Delta). Many major metropolitan areas also have secondary international and regional airports, served by minor and discount airlines.
The Midwest is served by several interstate highways. Most of the states in the Midwest can be accessed by the major east-west corridors of:
- I-94 – connects Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota
- I-90 – connects Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota
- I-80 – connects Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa
- I-70 – connects Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri
Additionally, several major interstate highways have their northern, eastern and western termini in Midwest states including:
- I-24 – connects southern Illinois to the Southeastern U.S.
- I-29 – starts in Kansas City and provides an important link to Canada by running through northwestern Missouri, western Iowa, and up thru the Dakotas
- I-35 – starts in northern Minnesota, serves Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Des Moines, Kansas City and ends in Texas
- I-39 – gives traffic from north and northwest a bypass around Chicago when heading south.
- I-43 – Links Milwaukee to I-39, thus allowing them to avoid to Chicago to get further south.
- I-44 – begins in St. Louis, runs through the Missouri Ozarks into Oklahoma and Texas and thus provides an important link between the Midwest and Southwest.
- I-55 – starts in Chicago, serves St. Louis and reaches New Orleans
- I-57 – gives Chicago traffic an alternative to I-55 in getting to Memphis and bisects Illinois vertically.
- I-64 – starts in St. Louis and connects it with southern Illinois and southern Indiana through Evansville, and ultimately to Virginia. I-64 is an important east-west corridor linking the Midwest to the Southeast.
- I-65 – starts just outside of Chicago in Gary, Indiana, serves Indianapolis and ultimately terminates in Alabama
- I-69 – Links Indianapolis to Lansing, Michigan and runs to the Canadian border in Port Huron
- I-71 – starts in Cleveland, also serving Columbus and Cincinnati then on to Kentucky
- I-72 – Planned to run from St. Joseph, Missouri eventually. It links Hannibal, Missouri to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois via Springfield, Illinois.
- I-74 – Links the Quad Cities to Peoria, Illinois, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati
- I-75 – starts in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, contains the only bridge connecting the two parts of Michigan, and linking through Detroit, Michigan and Cincinnati ultimately terminating in Florida
- I-77 – starts in Cleveland and runs all the way to South Carolina
- I-80 – the second-longest interstate in the nation, running from New Jersey to California, and serves Midwest hubs Cleveland, Chicago and Des Moines
- I-88 – relieves congestion on I-80 between the Quad Cities and Chicago.
- I-94 – Links Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and points west together.
- I-96 – Links Detroit to West Michigan
- See also: Rail travel in the United States
Amtrak also operates several routes through the Midwest, including several that primarily connect Chicago directly to other major Midwest cities. The major routes running through several Midwest states and major cities include:
- Capitol Limited (Chicago, Cleveland and onto Washington, D.C.)
- Cardinal/Hoosier State (Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and onto Washington, D.C. and New York City)
- Empire Builder (Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-Saint Paul and onto Seattle or Portland)
- Lake Shore Limited (Chicago, Cleveland and onto New York City or Boston)
- Texas Eagle (Chicago, St. Louis and onto Texas)
- California Zephyr (Chicago onto Denver and the San Francisco Bay Area)
- Greyhound offers passenger bus service from many U.S. cities.
- Megabus is a low-cost bus company primarily offering service in the Midwest connecting its hub in Chicago to Ann Arbor, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Des Moines, Detroit, Indianapolis, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, St. Louis and Toledo.
- Great Lakes - The northern Midwest can be traversed by boat throughout the Great Lakes. Many boaters utilize the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway and their connection points as a travel route. The Great Lakes Cruising Company and the American Canadian Caribbean Line provide cruises with several Midwest cities (including Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee) in their itineria.
- River Travel - Additionally, the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio Rivers are some of the primary navigable waters in the U.S. There are also steamboat and cruise options connecting points along Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
Many major metropolitan areas also have secondary international and regional airports, supporting national, discount and commuter airlines.
In addition to the major interstates listed above, many Midwest cities have secondary interstate service such as outerbelt and by-pass systems. With the exception of Chicago, Midwestern cities have unreliable public transportation networks, making driving the best way to get around.
Most of the Midwest lacks regional passenger rail service, but segments of Amtrak routes may suffice. Chicago, however, is a major Amtrak hub, and also has a relatively comprehensive urban rail network.
- Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail - including Northern Ohio and Southeastern Michigan.
- Lake Erie Islands. Located west of Cleveland, Ohio and southeast of Detroit, Michigan, a group of picturesque and festive islands in Lake Erie are accessible via ferry. In addition to several Ohio State Parks located on the islands, there is plenty to do including wineries, restaurants, bars, marinas and beaches.
- North Shore Scenic Drive - Along Lake Superior in Minnesota, this picturesque route is popular for stunning vistas of the water and beautiful fall foliage. Follow Minnesota Route 61 northeasterly from Duluth all the way to Thunder Bay, Canada.
- The Mackinac Bridge - Connecting the two peninsulas of Michigan via I-75. An engineering marvel and an important transportation artery.
- Great River Road - the Mighty Mississippi, from Wisconsin and Minnesota through Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri and south to the Gulf of Mexico
- Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Route - Illinois
- Ohio River Scenic Byway - a river trail through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois
- Ohio & Erie Canalway - from Lake Erie in Cleveland through Ohio to the Ohio River valley
Inland History and Culture
- Historical National Road - a trail of history running through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois
- Amish Country Byway - Ohio
- Lincoln Highway - Illinois
- Amana Colonies - Iowa
- Beaches, including the dunes in Indiana along Lake Michigan.
- Fishing, with many charters in most major cities to choose from.
- Boating, in and around the Apostle Islands in northern Wisconsin.
- Lighthouses worthy of a picture in Wisconsin's Door County.
- Resorts along the Traverse City area of Michigan.
- Casino riverboats in Dubuque, Iowa.
- Rafting and tubing along the Wisconsin River in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.
- Boatwatching along the Mississippi River in Hannibal, Missouri, Mark Twain's hometown.
- Cedar Point
- Six Flags' Great America
- Kings Island
- Michigan's Adventure
- Six Flags St. Louis
- Valleyfair in Shakopee, Minnesota
- Holiday World & Splashin' Safari, Santa Claus, IN
Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City have legendary jazz and blues clubs. Many of the greats have not only traveled the region extensively whilst on tour, but more than a handful were born or resided in the region, with these three cities leading the way.
The Midwest is a patchwork of big cities, small towns and farming communities. Being the epicenter of the American Industrial Revolution, it attracted an influx of immigrants and African Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, resulting in a diverse ethnic culinary experience from the heavy German, Irish, Polish, Scandinavian and African-American urban populations to rural Amish and Mennonite cooking traditions. Due to its harsh climate away from the coast, as well as a history of Central European and Scandinavian settlement, Midwestern cuisines tend to be simple and hearty, with a heavy emphasis on meat, potatoes and dairy products.
Being the main center of cattle farming in the United States, the Midwest is generally regarded as having the best steaks in the country. Chicago in particular is known for having an exceptionally large number of top quality steakhouses.
Big Midwest cities, like Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee, are known for their bratwurst, kielbasa, Italian sausage and good old American hot dogs. Smaller, rural clusters, like the German Amana Colonies, in east-central Iowa, is home to some of the best German-American food in the Midwest. Known for family-style dining, the Amana Colonies provide hearty foods the Midwest is known for. As many African-Americans trace their family roots to the South, regional specialities of the South are often found in African-American communities.
Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin have heavier Scandinavian influences. Large Hispanic, pan-Asian, Middle-eastern and Indian now add spice to this international potpourri.
Wisconsin is also known as one of America's main cheesemaking regions, with cheddar cheeses being the most popular. Due to a history of Swiss-German settlement Wisconsin is also known for its Emmentaler cheeses (known as "Swiss cheese" in most of the U.S.), and some parts of Wisconsin are known for their localized version of Swiss-German dishes such as rösti and kalberwurst.
Locally grown food is seasonally available in rural areas, often at roadside stands. Spring crops include salad greens, radishes, sweet peas and spinach. Summer's abundance includes sweet corn, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, onions, melons, berries, apples, cherries, peaches and pears. The agricultural abundance can be excellent in season and seems to encourage large helpings year around.
- Beer – The Midwest was historically the center of the American brewing industry, and major domestic breweries Anheuser-Busch (St. Louis) and Miller (Milwaukee) remain headquartered in the area. Many well-known craft breweries are also in the region, including Summit (St. Paul), Goose Island (Chicago), Great Lakes (Cleveland, OH), Bell's (Kalamazoo, MI), New Glarus (New Glarus, WI), Gluek's (Cold Spring, MN), Schell's (New Ulm, MN), Leinenkugel's (Chippewa Falls, WI). Microbreweries and brew-pubs can be found throughout the area. Millstream Brewery, located in the Amana Colonies, Iowa is home to the world's best (2010 World Beer Cup, Gold medal winner) Vienna style lager beer.
- Milk – Wisconsin in particular is renowned for its fresh dairy: milk, cream, and all manner of cheeses.
- Wine – Wine is made in every state of the Midwest. Catawba grapes were first discovered in Ohio in 1802 and thus Catawba vineyards line the shores and islands of Lake Erie. Michigan and Missouri also have significant wine countries. The Amana Colonies, located in Iowa, is home to five wineries featuring their traditional sweet, fruit wines, as well as many varieties of German and French-style wineries. Iowa is home to almost 90 wineries, many featuring the unique flavors of "cold-climate" grapes.
The rural areas and small cities of the Midwest are among the safest for travelers and residents in all America. Parts of the larger cities—particularly southern Chicago, East Saint Louis, and several regions in Detroit—should be avoided after dark.
Weather in the Midwest ranges from blistering heat waves in July and August, to fierce blizzards in January and February. Tornadoes are common in the southern parts of this region in the springtime, but ample warnings are often given to help protect property and lives. If the weather on the road appears to be turning inclement, local radio and television stations will continuously offer advice and information. Disastrous weather is rare and the region is not earthquake prone.