As big days go, July 4th is one of the big dogs.  It's America's birthday.  July 4th is not just a big day for America.  It's also part of Iowa history.

Here's how it goes

We learned from Iowa PBS that early in its journey, the U.S. Congress set up a roadmap for western lands to become states, remembering how the American colonists weren't exactly fans of British rule (cue the Revolutionary fireworks). One of their star acts was the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. It gave a how-to guide for places like Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin to join the statehood club.

After winning the American Revolution, the U.S. scored prime real estate east of the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes. This meant the federal government had to play landlord for this wild, wild west of the original 13 states.

Pioneers were packing up and heading west faster than you could say "cornfield," and Congress saw this coming and said, "Okay, we need some ground rules." Until an area hit 5,000 voters it was a district with a governor and judges picked by the president, not the people. No democracy yet!

Once an area hit 5,000 voting citizens, they could elect their own legislature—progress! They'd be called a territory, and they could even send a non-voting rep to Congress.  When the headcount hit 60,000, they could finally throw their hat in the statehood ring.

It was a big day in Iowa history

Fast forward to Iowa's epic journey: First attached to Michigan, then Wisconsin, until finally sprouting into its own Iowa Territory on July 4, 1838. Talk about fireworks on fireworks day!


President Martin Van Buren picked Robert Lucas as Iowa's first gov. Then, the capital moved from Burlington to Iowa City—new digs alert! Despite early governors urging for statehood, some settlers were like, "Eh, let the feds foot the bill."

Iowa was picking up steam

By 1844, with President Polk in charge, Iowa's population had boomed to over 75,000. Suddenly, statehood was as hot as a skillet in July. Even slavery was a buzzkill in the statehood debate, with Iowans saying nope to that mess from the get-go.

And then there was the sizing issue—talk about a tailor's nightmare! Northern states wanted Iowa's borders slimmed down, leaving more space out west for other 'free' states. But Iowans were all, "We want our full size!" Eventually, they compromised on today's Iowa shape—still no fairytale ending, but hey, good enough.

K92.3 logo
Get our free mobile app

After drafting a killer state constitution and wading through Congress's red tape, Iowa finally got the golden ticket. On December 28, 1846, President Polk whipped out his pen and made it official: Iowa was now state number 29.

So, almost 60 years after the Northwest Ordinance laid down the law, Iowa got to play with the big kids. Voting for prez, sending senators to D.C., and making laws—it was a full-on statehood party. And all those American settlers? They knew they weren't just leaving home—they were expanding it westward, one cornstalk at a time.

New Restaurants That Have Opened in Eastern Iowa in 2024

Gallery Credit: Courtlin

Where to 'Glamp' in Iowa in 2024

Want to have a camping experience without having to sleep on the ground? There are plenty of options here in Iowa! Here are 12 places that you can go "glamping" in Iowa this summer:

Gallery Credit: Courtlin

More From K92.3