Since at least the 1830s, the people of Indiana have been called Hoosiers. The state's nickname is the Hoosier State. The source of this name is a mystery. Did it come from the settlers' cry of "Who's here?" to visitors? Did it originate with the brawling Indiana rivermen, called "hushers"? They silenced opponents with their fists. Perhaps it came from the English word "hoozer." It means hill or hill people. Whatever its origin, few state nicknames are more distinctive or more proudly claimed.

Indiana is located in the east north central United States (U.S.). It is in the region known as the Midwest. It is bordered by Ohio on the east, by Illinois on the west, and by Michigan on the north. The Ohio River forms the southern boundary of the state.

The land of central and northern Indiana is mostly level and fertile. This encouraged the first settlers to farm. And farming has remained important to the state's economy. The south's hills and narrow valleys are poorly suited for agriculture. But they proved to be rich in mineral deposits. Later, the area became important for tourism. In the 1900s, Indiana emerged as a national leader in manufacturing. Industry blossomed in the northwest corner of the state. That corner is near the ports of Lake Michigan and the markets of Chicago, Illinois.

Indiana is one of the smaller of the fifty states. But it ranks high in population. Most residents live and work in cities and towns. In the middle of the state is a large urban area that is centered around Indianapolis. Indianapolis is Indiana's capital and largest city. Elsewhere in the state, population centers have grown up near neighboring Chicago, Illinois; Louisville, Kentucky; and Cincinnati, Ohio. Yet this urban flavor can be misleading. A trip through Indiana reveals vast open spaces and thousands of farms surrounding rustic villages. And there is a network of state and national recreational facilities, fish and wildlife areas, and nature preserves.

Indiana is many things in the popular mind. Hoosiers appear as down-to-earth, hard-working, church-going people, conservative and distrustful of authority. Yet the state has seen bold experiments in utopian (model) communities. It has undergone wild speculation in land, canals, and railroads. And it has achieved leading edge innovations in manufacturing. Moreover, it has nurtured national political leaders. And it is home to great writers, artists, and musicians. It also has an impressive tradition of amateur sports.


Indiana's average elevation is about 750 feet (230 meters) above sea level. The highest point, 1,257 feet (383 meters), is on a flat plateau in Wayne County, near the eastern border. The lowest point, 320 feet (98 meters), is at the junction of the Ohio and Wabash rivers in the southwest.

Land Regions

Indiana can be divided into three separate land regions. The physical features of these areas were formed by three giant glaciers. They moved across the area between 2 and 3 million years ago. Most parts of the state were smoothed by the vast sheets of moving ice. They leveled off hilltops and filled in low areas with soil. Only the south central area was not crossed by glaciers. It remained hilly and rugged.

The Northern Lake and Moraine Region covers the northern third of the state. Glaciers leveled this part of Indiana. And they dug out many small lakes. The region also has huge moraines. (Moraine are low ridges of earth and rock deposited by glaciers.) And there are bogs, marshes, and plains. The sand dunes along the shores of Lake Michigan are among the finest in North America.

The Central Till Plain stretches from border to border in central Indiana. It covers almost one third of the state. In this area, glaciers deposited great amounts of earth material, or till. Most of the land is extremely flat. But here and there the melting ice left small hills and ridges with gentle slopes. Fertile soils have made this region a rich farming area.

The Southern Hills and Lowlands have a variety of surface features. They include the flat Wabash Lowland and the rugged Norman Upland. It is the only part of the state that was not crossed by glaciers. Much of the region has underlying deposits of limestone. There are caves, underground streams, and thousands of sinkholes caused by the gradual erosion of the limestone. Wyandotte and Marengo caves are among the most beautiful in the United States. They are located in Crawford County, Indiana.

Rivers and Lakes

Nearly all of Indiana's rivers flow into the Mississippi River. The longest is the Wabash. It flows for about 435 miles (700 kilometers) in Indiana. It drains about two thirds of the state. The next longest river is the Ohio. It follows the state's southern boundary for about 350 miles (563 kilometers).

About one thousand natural and artificial lakes dot Indiana. Many are in the north. Lake Wawasee, in Kosciusko County, is Indiana's largest natural lake. Artificial lakes are used as water reservoirs. They are also used for recreation, flood control, and electricity production. Monroe Lake, in Monroe County, is the largest artificial lake. It is also the largest body of water in Indiana. Indiana also owns 143,000 acres (58,000 hectares) of Lake Michigan.


Indiana has relatively cold winters. It has hot, humid summers. Annual precipitation ranges from 36 inches (914 millimeters) in the north to 44 inches (1,118 millimeters) in the south. From March through June, tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico and cold air from the polar regions meet over Indiana. This causes severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Flooding commonly occurs in the winter or early spring. Annual snowfall amounts vary. But they generally range from 40 inches (102 centimeters) in the north to 10 inches (25 centimeters) in the south.

The average January temperature varies from 25°F (−4°C) in northern Indiana to 34°F (1°C) in the southern region. In July, the temperature averages 73°F (23°C) in the north and 79°F (26°C) in the south. The northeast has the shortest growing season with 150 frost-free days. The southwest has a growing season of 190 days.

Plant and Animal Life

About one fifth of Indiana's land is covered by forests. Most of the trees are hardwood. They include oak, hickory, maple, beech, sycamore, ash, and poplar. Softwoods include pine, cypress, and red cedar.

Prairie grass is found on less than 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) of protected prairie lands. Indiana has a variety of woodland wildflowers. They include the May apple, fire pink, bloodroot, toothwort, trillium, and the rare forked aster.

The state's lakes and streams are filled with sunfish, bluegill, bass, crappie, northern pike, and trout. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources maintains eight fish hatcheries. Deer, raccoon, opossum, squirrel, cottontail rabbit, fox, and coyote are native to the state. Game birds include ruffed grouse, pheasant, quail, and wild turkey. Each year some 15,000 sandhill cranes flock to the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area. It is one of the nation's largest gatherings of sandhill cranes.

Natural Resources

In addition to water, forests, and wildlife, soils and minerals add to Indiana's natural wealth. Rich, loamy soil was deposited by glaciers in much of central and northern Indiana. It forms the basis of the state's extensive agriculture. The least productive soils lie in the rugged south central area.

Limestone mined from the southern hills is an important resource. Bituminous (soft) coal is found mainly in the west and southwest. Petroleum and natural gas are the major fossil fuels. Other important minerals are crushed stone, sand, gravel, clay, peat, and gypsum.


Nearly 80 percent of the people of Indiana reside in urban areas. More people live in central and northern Indiana than in the southern part of the state. The greatest recent population increases have occurred in the north central and northeast regions, the Indianapolis metropolitan area, and counties containing major universities or corporations. In rural areas, only one out of five persons lives on a farm. The rest live in small towns.

Most of the people who settled Indiana in the 1800s came from other states. European immigrants came mainly from Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland. Some 87 percent of the people of Indiana identify themselves as white, around 9 percent as African American, and less than 2 percent as Asian. Some 6 percent claim Hispanic or Latino descent. This is a cultural rather than a racial designation.


Indiana's education system is founded on the state constitution of 1851. It called for tax-supported, free public schools. In early days, students were educated in one-room schools controlled by local authorities. Today, Indiana has 302 public school districts. They are run by professional corporations under the authority of a state board of education. The state education system also includes adult education programs. And the state supports schools for people who are blind, deaf, and mentally handicapped.

Indiana's four-year public universities are: Indiana University, with eight campuses; Purdue University, with five campuses; Ball State University in Muncie; the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville; and Indiana State University in Terre Haute. Ivy Tech State College is a two-year public college. It has 23 campuses.

Indiana has more than 30 private colleges. They include: the University of Notre Dame near South Bend; Butler University in Indianapolis; the University of Evansville in Evansville; Wabash College in Crawfordsville; and Earlham College in Richmond.

Libraries, Museums, and the Arts

Indiana has an extensive public library system. It reaches many people through its branches and bookmobiles. The state also has more than 300 academic, institutional, and special libraries. There are rare and historic books in the Old Cathedral Library and Museum in Vincennes. Such works are also available at Indiana University's Lily Library in Bloomington, the University of Notre Dame Library, and the library of the Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis. The Indiana State Library in Indianapolis houses the largest collection of state-related materials. The Calumet Regional Archives in Gary is a center for ethnic materials.

Government plays an active role in the state's culture. There are state museums and commissions on the arts, humanities, and historic preservation. The state's art museums include the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The Indianapolis Children's Museum is the largest children's museum in the world. Other notable museums include: the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art in Indianapolis; the Howard Steamboat Museum in Jeffersonville; and the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum in Fort Wayne.

Indiana has many art galleries, opera houses, and symphony orchestras. There are also theaters and performing arts centers. Examples are the Verizon Wireless Music Center and the Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis. There is also the Civic Theatre in Fort Wayne.


Professional sports in Indiana began in 1871. That was when the Fort Wayne Kekiongas joined the first U.S. professional baseball league. The top professional sports teams are the Indiana Pacers and the Indiana Fever (basketball) and the Indianapolis Colts (football).

Amateur sporting events are huge attractions. Indiana University basketball and Notre Dame football have become part of sports history. They have spawned legendary players and coaches. But high school basketball reigns supreme. Games are highly attended. Indiana has some of the country's largest high-school gymnasiums. They were built to hold large numbers of spectators. A championship game at the RCA Dome, in Indianapolis, can attract some 40,000 fans.


Indiana's economy was once dominated by agriculture and later by manufacturing. Today it is based on a combination of farming, manufacturing, and service industries.


Service industries are a major part of the economy. They employ about two thirds of Indiana's workers. Wholesale and retail trade combine to form a leading service industry. Wholesale trade includes the distribution of farm products, metal products, and automotive equipment. Retail trade refers mainly to the sale of automobiles, food, clothing, and other products in stores and restaurants.

Finance, insurance, and real estate make up another important service industry. One of Indiana's largest public companies is the Lincoln National Power Corporation of Fort Wayne. It is an insurance and investment company. There are also other leading service industries. They include business, social, and personal services; transportation, communication, and utilities; and government services.


About one fourth of Indiana's workers are employed in manufacturing. Indiana ranks ninth in the nation in industrial output and in manufactured exports. It ranks first in the production of raw steel, radios and televisions, and engine electrical equipment.

Indiana's steel industry is centered in the Calumet region. That is in the northwestern part of the state. The industry produces 20 million tons of steel annually. This is almost one fourth of the total U.S. output. A variety of products are made from steel and other metals. They include electrical equipment, such as stoves, refrigerators, and television, and transportation equipment, such as automotive and aircraft parts.

Other leading manufactures are food products, plastics, and chemical products, including pharmaceuticals. Eli Lilly and Company is a leading maker of pharmaceuticals. It is located in Indianapolis.


Indiana has more than 70,000 farms. They employ less than 5 percent of the work force. Most farms are smaller than 1,000 acres (405 hectares). Most are owned by individuals or families rather than by corporations. The major crops are corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay. Hogs are the main livestock product, followed by cattle and calves. Indiana ranks high in the production of popping corn, eggs, chickens and ducks, tomatoes for processing, and spearmint and peppermint.


Over 450 mining operations employ about 1 percent of Indiana's workers. This is mainly in coal, oil, and gas fields. Coal is mined in 20 counties in the southwest. Most coal is collected from the surface, not from underground. The state's electrical utility is the largest consumer of coal. Indiana's petroleum reserves are also in the southwestern counties. Most of the state's nearly 1,000 gas and oil wells operate there.

There are limestone deposits in south central Indiana. They have been quarried for more than 100 years. The famed Indiana limestone has been used in buildings throughout the country. An example is the Pentagon. Limestone is also used to make fertilizer and cement. Other mineral products include crushed stone, sand and gravel, aluminum, and clay.


Indiana has a wide-ranging network of roads and highways. Several major highways cross the state from east to west and north to south. These include interstates 70 and 65. Five interstate routes converge on Indianapolis.

The state's rail system consists of nearly 5,000 miles (8,050 kilometers) of track. Coal and farm products account for half of all products shipped by rail. Amtrak trains provide passenger service to most major cities.

Ports on Lake Michigan provide access to the Atlantic Ocean by way of the St. Lawrence Seaway. This enables ships to bring raw materials to the steel mills of the Calumet region. Lake Michigan ports include the Indiana Harbor and Burns International Harbor. Burns is operated by the Indiana Port Commission. Ports on the Ohio River include the state-run Southwind and Clark maritime centers.

Indiana has more than 100 public-use aviation facilities. Indianapolis International Airport is the state's largest airport. Other large airports are in South Bend, Fort Wayne, and Evansville. The Indianapolis Downtown Heliport opened in 1985. It was the nation's first full-service helicopter facility in a downtown area.


Indiana has more than 200 daily, weekly, and semi-weekly newspapers. Among the leading newspapers are the Indianapolis Star, the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, the South Bend Tribune, and the Evansville Courier. More than 30 television stations and nearly 200 radio stations operate in the state.


Indianapolis is the hub of activity in Indiana. Most of the other large cities are located in the north, especially around Lake Michigan. The two largest cities in the south are Evansville and Terre Haute.

Indianapolis is the capital and largest city in Indiana. It is situated near the center of the state. It is often called the "Crossroads of America." (This is also the state motto.) It is referred to as the crossroads because of its importance as a transportation center.

Fort Wayne is Indiana's second largest city. It was founded in 1824. Located at the junction of three rivers, Fort Wayne was occupied first by the Miami and Iroquois Indians. It was later the site of a fort built by General Anthony Wayne. Fort Wayne is known as the Summit City. This is because it once stood at the highest point of the Wabash and Erie Canal. The city now ranks high as an affordable and livable community. Among its assets are renovated downtown and riverside areas. It also has a thriving economy based on automotive, high-technology, and service industries. The computerized gasoline pump was invented in Fort Wayne. Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman), the wandering planter of apple trees, is buried there. Miami Indian Chief Little Turtle is also buried in Fort Wayne.

Evansville lies in what is called the "pocket" of Indiana, its southwest corner. The city dominates the economic and cultural life of southwestern Indiana, western Kentucky, and southeastern Illinois. Its physical layout on a horseshoe bend of the Ohio River has given it the nickname the Crescent City. Evansville made its mark with coal mining, mills, breweries, and lumber-related industries. Car, truck, and refrigerator production came later. The city has eleven historic districts and many other landmarks. Willard Library and the Evansville Museum of Arts and Sciences are famous cultural institutions.

Gary is the largest city in the heavily industrialized Calumet region. (Calumet region is in northwestern Indiana.) Gary was founded in 1906 by the United States Steel Corporation (now USX Corporation). And it was named for the corporation's chairman of the board, Elbert H. Gary. The city soon became a leading steel producer. The steel industry remains important despite a ten-year slump during the 1980s. Gary has many African American residents and elected its first African American mayor, Richard Hatcher, in 1967. Hatcher was one of the first African American mayors of a major city. He was re-elected four times.


The 1851 Indiana constitution contains the state's fundamental principles and laws. The legislative branch of state government is called the General Assembly. It is composed of a senate and a house of representatives. The governor heads the executive branch. He or she sees that laws are enforced, appoints administrative and judicial officers, and is commander in chief of the state armed forces. The state supreme court is composed of five justices. It is the state's top judicial body. Lower courts include the court of appeals, circuit courts, and superior courts.

Legislation enacted in 1980 gave local governments jurisdiction over their own operations, within constitutional limits. Counties, cities, and towns maintain roads, administer schools, and collect taxes. They also perform other duties that directly affect the lives of citizens.


Indiana's first inhabitants arrived more than 10,000 years ago. They found a land covered in forest and prairie. With handmade tools, they hunted, fished, and farmed. They established cities and built large burial and ceremonial mounds. Some of the mounds can still be seen, at Mounds State Park, near Anderson, and at Angel Mounds, near Evansville. These early peoples left the area for unknown reasons about 400 years ago. The next residents were Miami, Piankashaw, and Wea Indians. They settled along Indiana's large rivers.

Early Exploration and Settlement

The first known European to reach Indiana was the French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. He traveled south from Canada in 1679. French fur traders came after. They gave cloth, beads, and other goods to the Indians in exchange for animal furs. The French built trading posts at sites near present-day Fort Wayne and Lafayette. And they founded Vincennes, Indiana's first permanent settlement.

The British competed with the French for the fur trade. This rivalry was a major cause of the French and Indian War (1754–63). The French lost the war. And they surrendered control of Indiana and other lands to the British. At first, the British forbade white settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. Settlers soon disregarded that policy, however. They poured into the Ohio Valley. This outraged the area's Indian residents.

During the Revolutionary War (1775–83), American General George Rogers Clark captured the British fort at Vincennes. That helped to give Americans control of the region. At the close of the Revolution, the new United States extended west to the Mississippi River. Under the Ordinance of 1787, Indiana became part of the Northwest Territory. The Ordinance provided a government for the territory and made rules for partitioning it into states.

Territorial Years

Indians continued to resist white settlement. A union of tribes was led by the Miami Indian Chief Little Turtle. The union twice defeated large American armies in 1790 and 1791. An army led by General Anthony Wayne defeated the Indians. This was at Fallen Timbers, near Toledo, Ohio, in 1794. Under the resulting treaty, the Indians gave up most of present-day Ohio and portions of the future state of Indiana.

In 1800, Congress divided the Northwest Territory. The western portion became the Indiana Territory. William Henry Harrison became its governor and Vincennes its capital. The territory was much larger than the present state of Indiana. But in 1800 it had fewer than 6,000 residents. By 1809, the Indiana Territory had been reduced in size. This was a result of the creation of Ohio (1803) and the territories of Michigan (1805) and Illinois (1809).

In 1809 the U.S. government bought large tracts of Indian lands in southern Indiana. This opened up the region to white settlement. Some Indians felt cheated by the purchase agreement. They organized under the Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his brother, known as the Prophet. And they fought to recover their lands. American forces, led by William Henry Harrison, defeated the Indians. This was at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. (This and other military successes helped Harrison win election as the ninth U.S. president in 1840.)

Hostilities with the Indians continued after the Battle of Tippecanoe. But by 1815 Indians no longer posed a threat to white settlement. Some Indians were moved from the area against their will. The tribes that remained gave up their hunting grounds in a series of agreements between 1818 and 1840.


By 1816 the Indiana Territory had more than the 60,000 residents required for statehood by the Ordinance of 1787. In June, delegates gathered at Corydon, in southern Indiana, to write a constitution. Indiana joined the Union on December 11, 1816, as the 19th state. Corydon was the first state capital. Indianapolis became the capital in 1825.

Indiana's population soared after 1816. Pioneers came to upper Indiana from New England and to lower Indiana from the southern states. One of the new arrivals was future president Abraham Lincoln. He moved with his family from Kentucky at age 7 in 1816.

In 1825 the town of New Harmony was founded on the Wabash River by Robert Owen. Owen was a wealthy reformer. He wanted to establish a new kind of community. In it, all property would be shared equally among residents. The community was short-lived. But it drew many scientists, educators, and other intellectuals to Indiana.

Religious communities were founded by the Quakers and the Shakers. The Quakers moved to Wayne County. The Shakers settled near Oaktown. African American families formed communities. And Irish and Germans arrived in great numbers.

The new Hoosiers cleared the land and laid out towns. They built highways from north to south and east to west. A program to build canals linking Indiana's river systems to the Great Lakes was begun in the 1830s. By the 1850s, railroad lines ran from New Albany, in the south, to the shores of Lake Michigan, in the northwest. The ambitious building program plunged the state into debt. But the improvements in transportation hastened Indiana's development.

By the Civil War (1861–65), Indiana's population had grown beyond 1 million. The state contributed nearly 200,000 men to the Union cause. After the war, the state's rail system continued to grow. By 1880, 46 railroad lines crisscrossed the state. Natural gas was discovered in east-central Indiana during the 1880's. The new energy source soon powered industries. It also illuminated homes and streets in Indiana's rapidly growing cities.

Early to Mid-1900s

As a new century dawned, traditional industries such as meat packing and grain milling were joined by new enterprises. Medical drugs were produced by the Eli Lilly company in Indianapolis, glass jars by the Ball glassworks plant in Muncie, and steel by the factories of Gary. These products were transported by train throughout the country. Indiana was an early leader in the automobile industry. Between 1900 and 1920, more than 200 different makes of cars were produced in the state.

Hoosiers read works by famed native authors. They included James Whitcomb Riley, George Ade, Theodore Dreiser, Booth Tarkington, and Lew Wallace. Hoosiers also enjoyed paintings by the artists of the Hoosier Group. "Hoosier Hysteria " over amateur sports began in 1911 with Indiana's first high school basketball tournament. In the same year, Ray Harroun won the first Indianapolis 500 auto race. This was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The years following World War I (1914–18) brought more industrialization. People moved to the cities. And the state's population gradually became more urban than rural. Thousands lost their jobs in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Hoosiers supported many federal relief policies and adopted similar measures within the state.

World War II (1939–45) ended the Depression. Factories shifted to producing war materials and jobs again became plentiful. Hoosiers at first opposed the war. But they sent 300,000 men and women to serve in the armed forces. The returning soldiers took advantage of financial benefits for veterans. They crowded the state's universities.

Continued migration to the cities led to housing developments in outlying areas, called suburbs. People lived in the suburbs and commuted to the cities to work. Inner cities were deserted by businesses, which moved to the suburban areas. The state built miles of four-lane highways to serve the commuters. The new roads spurred the trucking industry. But it also led to a decline in railroads.

Recent History

During the last decades of the 1900s, Indiana's economic base shifted from manufacturing to service industries. As steelmaking declined, state government policies encouraged the development of new businesses and welcomed foreign investors. Water transportation was revived with the building of ports on Lake Michigan and locks, dams, and maritime centers along the Ohio River.

After 1960 many Indiana cities began urban renewal projects to attract new life to their downtown areas. Indianapolis, in particular, enjoyed a building boom. And offices, hotels, convention centers, and sports facilities were built. The state continued to respond to social problems, especially issues of health, the environment, and civil rights.

Robert M. Taylor, Jr.
Indiana Historical Society

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SOURCE: The New Book of Knowledge

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