The Midwest is a common, unofficial name for a region of the United States of America. It originally referred to States subject to the Northwest Ordinances of the 1780s and has since been extended further westward across the Grain Belt into the Great Plains.
In spite of its frequent usage, the name Midwest is somewhat out-of-date. In the early years of the country, the vast majority of the population lived east of the Appalachian Mountains, but the country's borders stretched west all the way to the Rocky Mountains. The vast region west of the Appalachians was divided into the Far West (now just the West), and the Middle West.
The states include:
Among the westernmost States listed, residents of the eastern agricultural areas generally consider themselves part of the Midwest, while residents of the remaining ranching areas usually do not. Of course, exact boundaries are nebulous and shifting.
The Midwest is a cultural crossroads. Starting in the early 1800s, easterners moved there in search of better farmland, and soon European immigrants bypassed the East Coast to settle directly in the interior: Germans to eastern Missouri, Swedes and Norwegians to Wisconsin and Minnesota. The region's fertile soil made it possible for farmers to produce abundant harvests of cereal crops such as corn, oats, and, most importantly, wheat. The region was soon known as the nation's "breadbasket."
Two waterways have been important to the Midwest's development. The first and foremost is the Mississippi River, flowing south from Minnesota to Louisiana, and its tributaries (particularly the Ohio River, flowing southwest from Pennsylvania to Missouri). Spanish control of the southern part of the Mississippi, and refusal to allow the shipment of American crops down the river and into the Atlantic Ocean, halted the development of the region until 1795. The river inspired two classic American books written by a native Missourian, Samuel Clemens, who took the pseudonym Mark Twain: Life on the Mississippi[?] and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
The second waterway is the Great Lakes. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 completed an all-water shipping route, more direct than the Mississippi, to New York and the seaport of New York City. Lakeport cities grew up to handle this new shipping route. During the Industrial Revolution, the lakes became a conduit for iron ore from the Mesabi Range of Minnesota to steel mills[?] in the Mid-Atlantic States. Te Saint Lawrence Seaway later opened the Midwest to the Atlanic Ocean.
Midwesterners are alternately praised as open, friendly, and straightforward, or steroetyped as unsophisticated and stubborn. Their politics tend to be cautious, but the caution is sometimes peppered with protest. The Midwest gave birth to one of America's two major political parties, the Republican Party, which was formed in the 1850s to oppose the spread of slavery into new States. The rural Midwest is a Republican stronghold to this day. Around the turn of the 20th century, the region also spawned the Populist Movement[?] and later the Progressive Movement[?], which largely consisted of farmers and merchants intent on making government less corrupt and more receptive to the will of the people. Perhaps because of their geographic location, many Midwesterners have been strong adherents of isolationism, the belief that Americans should not concern themselves with foreign wars and problems.