Of all the nicknames of the fifty states, Missouri's—the Show Me State—may be the most spirited. In the early 1890s, many Missourians went to work in mines in Colorado. They found the techniques used there unfamiliar. A saying began, "He is from Missouri, so you have to show him." Later in the decade, a Missouri congressman made a speech and gave the phrase a whole new meaning. He said, "Frothy eloquence neither convinces or satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me." Thereafter, the slogan suggested that Missourians have a questioning attitude and need proof of an argument.

People who live in areas settled by southerners pronounce the state's name Missourah. Most others say Missouree. The name comes from a Native American language. It means "place (or town) of the big canoes." This referred to the large dugout logs the Indians used to travel the region's great Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Missouri is a midwestern state. It is located near the center of the continental United States. It has 5.6 million residents. More than half of them live in two major metropolitan areas. These are Kansas City, on the Missouri River, and St. Louis, on the Mississippi River. Both cities are manufacturing and finance centers. Each has a Federal Reserve bank. That makes Missouri the only state with two.

Missouri farms grow corn and soybeans. Cotton and melons are grown in the southeastern region known as the Boot Heel. Cattle, hog, and poultry farms are also important to the state's economy. Missourians mine coal and zinc in great quantities. They produce about 90 percent of the nation's supply of lead. Yet the service industries, which include tourism, provide even greater income.

Missouri has many attractions. One is the famous Gateway Arch in St. Louis. It is a monument to America's territorial expansion. Recreational sports abound in Missouri's beautiful lakes and rivers. Missouri also offers the homesteads of two of its favorite sons. They are Harry S. Truman, the 33rd president of the United States, and Mark Twain. Twain was the creator of the fictional characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Another popular attraction is Branson. This town in the Ozarks is one of the world's most popular country music capitals.

Much of Missouri's history mirrors the drama of early American politics. The first major political debate over the expansion of slavery occurred when Missouri applied for admission to the Union as a slave state in 1820. Then in 1857, the state was again spotlighted. A Missouri slave named Dred Scott unsuccessfully sued for his freedom. He took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Throughout the Civil War (1861–65), Missourians were divided in their loyalties. The state officially sided with the Union. But it also sent representatives to the Confederate Congress. In addition, during the main years of western migration, Missouri served as the starting point for the pioneers. They began their long journeys west along the famed Santa Fe and Oregon trails.


The rich Missouri Valley cuts the state roughly in two. It divides the plains of northern Missouri from the highlands of the south. It extends from Kansas City in the west to the vicinity of St. Charles in the east. Here it meets the Mississippi Valley. The valley itself runs along the entire eastern border.

Land Regions

Missouri is divided into four major landforms. They are: the Dissected Till Plains of the north; the Osage Plains of the west; the Ozark Plateau highlands of the south; and the Mississippi Alluvial Plain of the southeast.

The Dissected Till Plains.

The Dissected Till Plains or glaciated plains, form the northern part of the state. They make up one of the richest agricultural regions in the world. Thousands of years ago, immense glaciers melted. They left behind rich deposits of soil, called till. Wind currents created rich deposits of topsoil, called loess, in the northwest part of the state.

The Osage Plains.

The Osage Plains is an extension of the Great Plains of the West. It is a triangular-shaped landform in western Missouri that was unaffected by glacial action. Alternately flat and rolling prairie, the section reveals more hills and steeper grades as it approaches the Ozark Plateau.

The Ozark Plateau.

The Ozark Plateau covers most of south central Missouri. It is the state's largest region. The Ozarks get their picturesque beauty from their high ridges and steep gullies. These resulted from the gradual water erosion of elevated lands. The St. Francois Mountains are in the eastern Ozarks. They contain Taum Sauk Mountain, Missouri's highest point. They also feature some of the state's most unusual rock formations. A broad upland of tree-covered hills, fast-flowing streams, and deep narrow valleys makes up the rest of the Ozark Plateau.

The Mississippi Alluvial Plain.

The Mississippi Alluvial Plain is a lowland region also known as the Mississippi Delta. It covers the Boot Heel of southeastern Missouri. It extends from Cape Girardeau well into Arkansas. The Delta's rich topsoil is a product of the frequent flooding of the Mississippi Valley. It has made this a highly productive agricultural region. The soil and weather in the Delta region provide crops with a two-hundred-day growing season. This allows Missouri to grow a wide variety of agricultural produce.

Rivers and Lakes

Missouri benefits from the nation's two greatest rivers. They are the Mississippi and the Missouri. Both are major transportation avenues for heavy and bulky cargoes best carried by barges. Many cities, including St. Louis, depend on the rivers for water. Northern rivers include the Grand, Chariton, and Salt. South central Missouri is drained by the lovely Gasconade, Osage, and Meramec rivers. Farther south the White, Current, and St. Francis rivers flow.

Missouri's major lakes have been formed by dams on its rivers. The largest are the Harry S. Truman Reservoir and Lake of the Ozarks. They were created by damming the Osage River. Dams on the White River created Table Rock, Taneycomo, Bull Shoals, and Norfolk lakes on the Missouri-Arkansas border.

Missouri also has 11 of the nation's 75 largest springs. Big Spring is its largest. It has an average daily flow of 277 million gallons (1,048 million liters). Others of importance include Alley, Maramec, and Round.


Missouri has four distinct seasons. Summers tend to be hot and sultry. July is the hottest month. The average temperature is 77°F (25°C). But daytime highs of 100°F (38°C) are not uncommon. Winters can be intensely cold for short periods. January is the coldest month. Temperatures in January average 30°F (−1°C). Missouri's springs and autumns are usually mild and sunny.

Northern Missouri receives an average of 35 inches (889 millimeters) of rain and snow per year. Southern Missouri receives about 46 inches (1,150 millimeters). The most rain and snow generally falls in the Boot Heel region.

Plant and Animal Life

Missouri's large size and different climatic zones produce a variety of plant and animal life. Botanists have classified 2,400 species of wild ferns and flowering plants. Most of Missouri's heavily wooded areas lie in the Ozarks. Found there are oak, linden, maple, papaw, hickory, sweet gum, and walnut trees. There are also pecan, cottonwood, hornbeam, ash, pine, redbud, dogwood and catalpa trees. And there are red cedar, hazelnut, crab apple, sycamore, hackberry, and sumac trees.

There are many deer, red foxes, coyotes, and otters. There are also raccoons, opossums, squirrels, rabbits, and skunks. A few black bears can still be found in the Ozarks. Birds native to the state include cardinals, eastern bluebirds, blue jays, crows, and hawks. Also found are bobwhite quail, turkeys, and wrens. And there are red-winged blackbirds, brown thrushes, and woodpeckers. Rivers and lakes hold many kinds of fish. Examples include crappie, bluegill, carp, buffalo sucker, four species of bass, and three species of catfish. They also hold the misnamed-but-famous spoonbill cat.

Natural Resources

Both the Mississippi and Missouri river valleys provide farmers with excellent soil. This varies from the rich loess of the Missouri River bluffs to the productive topsoil of the Boot Heel.

Missourians produce 90 percent of the nation's lead supply. They also produce large quantities of coal, fire clay, iron ore, zinc, shale, stone, copper, sand and gravel, and silver. At one point Missouri was called the Mineral State.

Missouri has important rivers. It also has many lakes and abundant rainfall. They ensure a steady supply of water. Plentiful water provides many opportunities for recreation and transportation. It is also the key to a variety of manufacturing and agricultural enterprises.

When Europeans first explored Missouri, forests covered about two-thirds of the region. Today little more than one-third is forestland. Much of this lies in the Ozarks. Timber harvesting occurs on private lands and in the national forests. This supplies building materials, wood pulp, and numerous other products.


Missouri was originally inhabited by Native Americans. It attracted its first white settlers in the 1700s. But it was not until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 that the population swelled. During the next several decades, the bulk of settlers came from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. Many brought slaves. This greatly increased Missouri's African American population. The French had introduced slaves into the region as early as 1720. The slaves worked in the lead mines. One hundred years later, African Americans made up about one-sixth of Missouri's population.

Missouri attracted settlers from the northern states. It also attracted immigrants from Ireland, Poland, England, and most of all Germany. By 1860, more than one-third of the population of St. Louis had been born in Germany. After the Civil War, large numbers of Italians, Russians, and European Jews settled in Kansas City and St. Louis.

In recent years, immigrants from Latin America and Asia have increased Missouri's cultural diversity. According to the latest national census, 84 percent of the people of Missouri identify themselves as white and nearly 2 percent as Asian. About 12 percent of Missouri's residents are African Americans. Most live in metropolitan areas. Few Native Americans remain in the state. Nearly 4 percent of Missouri's people claim Hispanic or Latino descent. This is a cultural rather than a racial designation. Kansas City has a significant Hispanic population.


Missouri claims several firsts in education. St. Louis University began as an academy in 1818. It is the nation's oldest university west of the Mississippi River. The University of Missouri received its charter in 1839. It was the first state university founded west of the Mississippi River. The first public kindergarten was opened in St. Louis in 1873. The first school of journalism was founded as a part of the University of Missouri in 1908.

Missouri established a public school system in 1839. But private schools had functioned as early as 1774. The state organized districts in 1874. It ran two separate school systems for black and white children until 1954. In that year the U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Kansas) struck down racial segregation. Private institutions include many church-supported schools. There are also three private military academies.

In the fifty years after the Civil War, the state created five regional campuses that became universities. These are: Northeast Missouri State in Kirksville; Northwest Missouri State in Maryville; Southwest Missouri State in Springfield; Southeast Missouri State in Cape Girardeau; and Central Missouri State in Warrensburg. Lincoln University in Jefferson City was established in 1866 for African American students. The University of Missouri added a campus in Rolla to teach mining and engineering in 1871. Additional campuses opened in Kansas City and St. Louis in 1963. In the late 1960s, the legislature established four-year schools in Joplin and in St. Joseph. Students may also attend any of 15 community colleges.

Among Missouri's 25 private colleges and universities are: St. Louis University and Washington University in St. Louis; Rockhurst College in Kansas City; Stephens College in Columbia; and Westminster College in Fulton. At Westminster, in 1946, British prime minister Winston Churchill delivered a famous speech. In it he first referred to the political isolation of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as an "iron curtain." Today a Winston Churchill Memorial Library is housed on the campus.

Libraries, Museums, and the Arts

Missouri provides state and local tax support for more than one hundred public libraries. The largest of these is the St. Louis Public Library. The Pope Pius XII Memorial Library is at St. Louis University. It contains important special collections. These include a complete microfilm edition of the Vatican Library in Rome. The Linda Hall Library is in Kansas City. It houses one of the best collections of science and technology material in the Midwest. The Kansas City Public Library and the Mercantile Library are in St. Louis. They contain significant collections of regional and Western history materials.

There are two other important history libraries. One is the State Historical Society in Columbia. The other is the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis. Missouri's most famous library, however, is the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence. It contains the papers of the nation's 33rd president. In 2006, the National World War I Museum opened in Kansas City.


Missouri hosts several major league sports teams. They include two baseball teams. They are the Kansas City Royals of the American League and St. Louis Cardinals of the National League. There are also the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League and the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League.


As in many other states, Missouri's service industries employ the most people. Nearly 70 percent of all Missourians work in service industries. Agriculture, fishing, and forest industries employ 3 percent. Manufacturing and all other occupations employ the remaining 27 percent.


Services account for more than 70 percent of the gross state product (GSP). Professional and personal services make up the largest segment. They are followed by: wholesale and retail trade (the buying and selling of personal and industrial goods); financial services (such as banking, insurance, and real estate); transportation and utilities; and government. The people employed in these professions include teachers, lawyers, physicians, architects, custodians, and salesclerks. Other examples are waiters, maids, chefs, entertainers, police and firefighters, and the like. Many of these jobs are supported by Missouri's extensive tourist industry.


Traditional industries associated with the processing of agricultural products employ many Missourians. These include grain milling, meat packing, beer brewing, and wine making. Major chemical, electrical, and pharmaceutical companies are headquartered in St. Louis and Kansas City. Missouri is also a top producer of automobiles. Assembly plants for Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors are located in Kansas City and St. Louis. In addition, St. Louis is headquarters to McDonnell-Douglas Corporation. It is one of the nation's largest aircraft defense contractors.


Cattle and hogs are raised primarily north of the Missouri River. They account for more than 50 percent of Missouri's total farm income. They also consume much of the state's corn and hay. Dairy and poultry industries flourish in the Ozarks. Missourians also raise sheep, goats, and riding horses.

Soybeans and corn account for more than 65 percent of the state's crop sales. They are followed by hay and cotton. Rice, tobacco, wheat, oats, grain sorghum, apples, peaches, and grapes are grown. In addition, the state produces melons, strawberries, walnuts, vegetables, seeds, and other produce. The areas of highest productivity include the Missouri River valley and the Boot Heel counties.

Mining and Construction

Coal underlies about one-third of the state and is mined extensively. The mining of lead has been associated with the state since the early 1700s. Missourians also produce zinc, shale, stone, fire clay for brick making, copper, iron ore, lime, sand and gravel, marble, barite, and silver. Missouri limestone is turned into cement in St. Louis and Kansas City. Silica sand is the basis for glass manufacturing in Crystal City. Marble from Carthage is used for construction in Missouri and in various parts of the world.


The Missouri River carries barge traffic throughout much of the year. The Mississippi River has an extensive system of locks and dams. The river provides cheap transportation to heavy cargoes in all except the coldest weather.

At one time, practically every town in Missouri had rail transportation with passenger service. Freight hauling now creates most of the income for railroads. And the miles of track have been greatly reduced. Trucks and automobiles travel an extensive and excellent road system. Such travel has either replaced or eroded the importance of the railroads. State efforts and the completion of the Interstate Highway System by the federal government created the comprehensive road system that Missouri enjoys. Major airports include Lambert Airport in St. Louis and Mid-Continent International Airport in Kansas City. Regional airports serve Springfield, St. Joseph, Joplin, and Columbia.


More than two hundred radio stations and more than twenty television stations operate in Missouri. Cable television is available throughout most of the state. Of the many newspapers published in Missouri, two command the most readership. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch was founded by Joseph Pulitzer in 1878. It has a national reputation for excellence in reporting. The Kansas City Star was founded by William Rockhill Nelson in 1880. It has a loyal readership throughout western Missouri. Daily papers are also published in St. Joseph, Springfield, Joplin, Independence, and Rolla. More than three hundred communities publish weeklies.


More than 60 percent of Missourians live in the metropolitan areas of the state's two largest cities, Kansas City and St. Louis. The people who live in these cities commonly refer to the rest of Missouri as "Outstate."

Jefferson City has been the state capital since 1826. It was named for Thomas Jefferson. He was the U.S. president who purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803. Government is its chief industry. But the city also serves as a trade center for surrounding farmers. Jefferson City is the home of Lincoln University. It is also the location of the state penitentiary.

Kansas City is Missouri's largest city. It is a significant commercial, educational, and transportation center.

St. Louis is the state's second largest city but largest metropolitan area. It is one of the major cities of the Midwest.

Springfield is known as the Queen City of the Ozarks. It is Missouri's third largest city. It is also one of its fastest-growing regions. It was first settled in 1829. The local economy is based on light manufacturing, food processing, livestock, and dairy products. Springfield is the home of Southwest Missouri State University, Drury College, and Evangel College. It is also the headquarters for Assemblies of God churches.

Independence is the state's fourth largest city. It was settled in 1827. It later served as the starting point for western travelers following the Oregon and Santa Fe trails. Independence has oil refineries and manufactures chemicals and farm machinery. It is the world headquarters for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It is also the site of the Harry S. Truman library, museum, and home.


Missouri's original constitution of 1820 was rewritten in 1865, 1875, and 1945. All provided for a government composed of three branches—executive, legislative, and judicial.

The governor heads the executive branch. The governor is elected to a 4-year term along with a lieutenant governor, auditor, secretary of state, treasurer, and attorney general. The governor may be re-elected to no more than one more term.

The legislative branch is called the General Assembly. It is composed of a house of representatives and a senate. All members of the house must stand for election every two years. State senators serve 4-year terms. Members of both bodies represent districts whose boundaries are based on population. The General Assembly meets annually.

The judicial branch is headed by a seven-member supreme court. Three courts of appeal are located in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield. Forty-five circuit courts and municipal courts for cities of more than 40,000 residents complete the system. Smaller communities may have municipal and probate courts as well. But they are administered at the local level.


Missouri's rich history dates back thousands of years. As early as 100 B.C., prosperous Native Americans inhabited major river sites in the Midwest. They were known as the Hopewell. They traded goods with other native cultures from Canada to Florida. Often today the Hopewell and their successors, the Mississippians, are called the Mound Builders. This is because of the huge earthen burial mounds they left behind.

If the state had been named after the Native Americans who most influenced the region's early history, it would be called Osage. The Osage were the largest Indian group living in what is now Missouri when European explorers discovered the region. Smaller groups included the Sauk, Mesquakie (Fox), and Shawnee. By the end of the 1830s, none of these groups remained. They had been forced to give up their lands to the white settlers. They were pushed west into Kansas and Oklahoma.

Exploration and Settlement

French explorers, fur traders, and settlers made the first European impact on Missouri. In 1673, explorers Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet sailed down the Mississippi River. They were the first known Europeans to reach the mouth of the Missouri River. In 1682, another French explorer, the nobleman Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, claimed the entire region for France. For many years the French hunted fur-bearing animals and mined lead in Missouri. But it was not until 1750 that they established the first permanent settlement at Ste. Genevieve.

Then in 1756, the Seven Years' War erupted between England and France and other European powers. In 1762 the French realized they would lose the war. So they ceded to Spain French lands west of the Mississippi River to deny the prize to England. Spain officially controlled the area until 1800. Then international matters caused it to cede the region back to France.

In 1803, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France. And Missouri became part of the United States. In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson dispatched Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to investigate the enormous new territory. Upon their return in 1806, Lewis and Clark brought news of abundant furs on the upper Missouri River. The trade in furs provided income to many Missourians well into the 1820s.

Territorial Period and Statehood

During the territorial period (1805–21), settlers flocked into Missouri from many parts of the United States. This was despite a series of earthquakes that hit the New Madrid region in southeastern Missouri in 1811. Scientists now rank these earthquakes among the strongest ever to hit the United States.

By 1819 the fur trade, lead mining, agriculture, and commerce had attracted about 50,000 settlers. And in that year, the first bill for statehood was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives. But statehood was delayed by Congress. This was due to a major debate that was raging over the practice of slavery in Missouri. To keep an equal balance of slave and free states, Congress finally approved what was called the Missouri Compromise. It allowed Maine to come into the Union as a free state and Missouri to enter as a slave state. Missouri became the 24th state on August 10, 1821. In autumn of that year, the Santa Fe Trail was established. It opened up an important overland trade route between Missouri and the southwestern regions.

Early Politics

Missouri Democrats, led by U.S. senator Thomas Hart Benton, controlled state politics during most of the period before the Civil War. But in the 1850s, the party was split in opinion. The split concerned whether or not slavery should be allowed in new U.S. territories. This political division ended Senator Benton's career. It reflected the nation's crisis in its failure to resolve the conflict over slavery. Bloodshed in Kansas between Missouri pro-slavery forces and Northern "freesoilers" from 1856 to 1858 foreshadowed the Civil War. Antislavery forces were further inflamed when in 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Dred Scott. He was a Missouri slave who tried to claim his freedom. The court declared that blacks had no rights as citizens in their own homeland.

Civil War (1861–65)

Missourians remained divided during the Civil War. The state officially remained in the Union. But it also sent representatives to the congress of the new government of the Confederate States of America. About 110,000 Missourians fought for the Union. About 40,000 joined the Confederate forces. Some of the fiercest fighting of the war took place in Missouri. Only Virginia and Tennessee had more battles and skirmishes.

The Outlaw State

During the war, a band of Confederate guerrilla fighters known as Quantrill's Raiders terrorized Union supporters in Kansas and Missouri. The rebel leader William Quantrill was killed before the war ended. But his comrades, including Frank and Jesse James, continued their outlaw ways after the war. They robbed banks and trains and killed people. Missouri became so associated with such violence that it became known as the Outlaw State.

Growth and Development

In the fifty years after the Civil War, railroads replaced steamboats as the most important means of transporting goods. In the 1900s, Missouri developed its highway system. It also diversified farming and encouraged the growth of industry. Manufacturing began to rival agriculture in economic importance. By 1900, the population of Kansas City had grown to more than 150,000. That of St. Louis exceeded 500,000. By 1910 more than 40 percent of Missouri's population lived in cities.

Missouri has many advantages. They include: a central location; abundant water supplies; low energy costs; productive agricultural land; a growing service economy; and a low rate of taxation. Such benefits make it a pleasant place to live.

Lawrence O. Christensen
University of Missouri, Rolla

How to cite this article:

MLA (Modern Language Association) style:

Christensen, Lawrence O. "Missouri." . Scholastic Grolier Online, go.scholastic.com/content/schgo/D/article/a20/194/a201946
0-h.html. Accessed 4 Apr. 2020.

Chicago Manual of Style:

Christensen, Lawrence O. "Missouri." . Scholastic Grolier Online. https://go.scholastic.com/content/schgo/D/article/a20/194/a201946
0-h.html (accessed April 4, 2020).

APA (American Psychological Association) style:

Christensen, L. O. (2019). Missouri. . Retrieved April 4, 2020, from Scholastic Grolier Online. https://go.scholastic.com/content/schgo/D/article/a20/194/a201946

SOURCE: The New Book of Knowledge

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