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Minnesota, state in the north central United States, south of Canada and west of Wisconsin. Its total area is 225,181 sq km (86,943 sq mi). The state name comes from a Sioux word meaning “cloudy water,” first applied to the Minnesota River. Minnesota is known as the Gopher State; no one is sure why. It is also called Land of 10,000 Lakes and in fact contains 15,000. The capital is Saint Paul.
II. Physical Geography
Most of Minnesota has been shaped by glaciers. The northeastern part of the state has low, rounded hills and many lakes. In the east near Lake Superior are sharp, pointed hills. In the southeastern corner, along the Mississippi River, is a narrow unglaciated strip with severe stream erosion. The southwestern corner shows moderate stream erosion. In the south central part of the state are very gently rolling plains, only slightly eroded by streams. The central portion contains plains and many hilly areas. The shoreline of Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake, lies partly in Minnesota.
Minnesota has extreme seasonal temperature variations, with frigid winters and humid summers, with occasional heat waves. Precipitation is generally adequate, although occasional damaging droughts occur in the western part of the state. Snow cover is common over the state for long periods.
Minnesota’s original vegetation was primarily of three types: northern coniferous forest, eastern deciduous forest, and tall grass prairie. The northeast coniferous forests once covered more than one-third of the state, but early logging removed valuable conifers, now replaced by birch, poplar, and various species of scrub growth. The remainder of the state was cleared for agriculture long ago. A broadleaf deciduous forest, composed predominantly of oak, maple, elm, and basswood, occurred in a diagonal band running northwest to southeast across the state. The south, west, and extreme northwest, with deep, fertile soils, were once part of the great tall grass prairie. The state flower is the pink and white lady’s slipper, and the state tree is the Norway pine.
Minnesota’s population of eastern timber wolves, numbering about 1750, was the largest in the lower 48 states in the mid-1990s. The gopher, the state animal, inhabits open spaces, and the common loon, the state bird, finds perfect habitat in the state’s thousands of lakes.
III. Economic Activities
Cooperatives, organizations that sponsor group buying and selling, particularly for farmers, have long been important in Minnesota’s economic life. Minnesota has more consumer, producer, and business service cooperatives than any other state in the Union.
Minnesota ranks high among the states in farm income. Nearly three-fifths of the state’s agricultural earnings come from the sale of livestock and livestock products, and the remainder comes from crop sales. Dairy products are the leading source of farm income in Minnesota. The state stands first nationally in sales of turkeys.
In the northeast farming is relatively unimportant because of poor soils and the short, cool summers. South and southwest of this region, dairying is a major activity. In the northwest, farmers on the Red River Valley plains grow a wide variety of crops, such as sugar beets, hard spring wheat, corn, and soybeans. Minnesota leads the nation in the production of sugar beets, and is third in soybeans. The southern and southwestern section of the state grows high-yielding corn crops, the state’s most important cash crop.
Between the 1860s and the early 1900s, Minnesota was the leading lumber-producing state. The lumbering industry has declined, but second-growth timber is still important. Most of the revenue comes from pulp and paper production and from other processed wood products.
Minnesota has been the country’s leading iron ore producer almost since the opening of mines on Minnesota’s famed northeastern iron ranges in the 1880s. A century later, Minnesota still produced 70 percent of the nation’s iron ore. Over the years accessible high-grade iron ore reserves have been nearly used up, and most of the mines in northeastern Minnesota have closed. However, the state has an abundance of an iron-bearing flintlike rock known as taconite. A grinding process removes iron minerals from taconite, and the mineral particles are then cemented into pellets for blast furnaces. The uniformity of these taconite pellets has made them a desirable substitute for high-grade iron ores.
Minnesota’s most important manufacturing industry is the processing of food. Workers make dairy products from the milk produced on the state’s farms, package fruits and vegetables, mill grain, and brew malt beverages. Other manufactures include printed material, machinery, and metal products.
IV. The People of Minnesota
The population of 4,685,549 (1997 estimate) is largely and increasingly urban, with more than half in the Twin Cities metropolitan area that joins Saint Paul and Minneapolis, the state’s largest city. In 1990 the population of Minnesota was almost 95 percent white. French Canadians, Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Germans, and Irish were the first immigrants in Minnesota. Late in the 1800s, immigrants came from Finland, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. More recent arrivals are from countries of the former Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, India, the Philippines, and Mexico. Most of Minnesota’s Native Americans are Ojibwa or Sioux. The Ojibwa live in the Twin Cities and on northern reservations, while the Sioux live mainly in southern counties.
V. Education and Cultural Institutions
Education is compulsory in Minnesota from age 7 to age 17. Of state residents over age 25, more than 82 percent hold a high school diploma, the sixth-highest percentage in the country. In the mid-1990s the state had 54 public and 44 private institutions of higher learning, including the University of Minnesota. The Minnesota Orchestra, Tyrone Guthrie Repertory Theater, and Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center are leading cultural organizations.
VI. Recreation and Places of Interest
Near the Canadian border is Minnesota’s largest wilderness area, the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park, containing thousands of lakes dotted with islands. This area attracts campers, canoeists, and hunters. The state also has two national forests and many state parks, especially along Lake Superior. Itasca State Park holds the source of the Mississippi River.
Minnesota’s winters provide ideal conditions for skiing, hockey, ice fishing, and iceboat racing. The United States Hockey Hall of Fame is in Eveleth. Minnesota has a number of winter and summer festivals, such as the Winter Sports Festival in Duluth, the Saint Paul Winter Carnival, Ethnic Days in Chisholm, and the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag.
Minnesota’s chief executive is the governor, elected for a four-year term. The state legislature consists of the House of Representatives, with 134 members elected for two-year terms, and the Senate, with 67 members elected for four-year terms. Minnesota sends two senators and eight representatives to the Congress of the United States. The state has ten electoral votes. In 1998 the governor was a Republican.
People first lived in what is now Minnesota about 6000 BC. By about 500 BC their society had developed into the Mound Builders, who in turn gave rise to the Dakota, called Sioux. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries AD the Ojibwa, called Chippewa, moved into Minnesota because of increasing pressure from white settlers to the east.
French explorers first claimed the Minnesota area when they were extending their fur trade west through the Great Lakes region. The French and the British set up various fur trading posts. France’s rivalry with Great Britain for control of North America culminated in the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Defeated, France surrendered its claim to North American lands.
The British controlled the northeastern part of what is now Minnesota from 1763 to the end of the War of 1812 (1812-1815), although Britain gave the United States the portion east of the Mississippi after the American Revolution (1775-1783). The United States acquired the area of modern Minnesota west of the Mississippi River as part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.
In 1820 the U.S. Army began constructing a massive stone fortress, Fort Snelling, at the juncture of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. Until 1840, when Saint Paul was established, Fort Shelling was the most important place on the upper Mississippi. Congress created the Minnesota Territory in 1849.
In 1851 the Dakota sold their lands in what is now southern and western Minnesota to the United States. By 1863, following treaties with the Ojibwa, Minnesota’s native people had surrendered most of their lands. The approval of the Dakota treaties in 1853 set off a rush of settlers into the valleys of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. In the four years leading up to 1857, the population increased almost fourfold. Most of the pioneers were farmers attracted by the fertile soil of southern Minnesota.
The population increase encouraged a statehood movement. After a lengthy debate in the U.S. Congress and strenuous opposition from slave-state representatives and senators who did not wish to see another free state, Minnesota was admitted as the 32nd state on May 11, 1858. During its first seven years of statehood, Minnesota experienced three great crises: a depression, the American Civil War (1861-1865), and a war with the Dakota.
Beginning in 1857, the depression lifted only when the civil war created demand for crops, meat, and timber. Minnesotans took part in all of the war’s main campaigns. Meanwhile in 1862, some of the Dakota assigned to reservations on the upper Minnesota River attacked nearby white settlements. Although initially successful, the Dakota were mostly driven west into Dakota Territory and Canada.
After these wars, Minnesota flourished. Agriculture was dominant in the southern, central, and western sections, and spring wheat was the main crop. Wheat farming reached its height in 1878. Later, wheat production moved to more sparsely populated western Minnesota. Farmers in southeastern areas shifted to more intensive and diversified farming, with the emphasis on dairy products, which produced greater profits. Rapid expansion of the agricultural frontier was stimulated by the land policies of the federal government, the state government, and railroads, all of which made it easy to acquire land. Except for some northern areas, Minnesota was settled by 1900.
At that time most lumbering occurred in northeastern Minnesota. Timber industries peaked in 1899. Iron ore deposits were discovered in the Vermilion Range in 1884 and in the Mesabi Range in 1890. State taxes on mining paid for excellent schools and other community services.
Throughout the 20th century, Minnesota’s history has been dominated by relations among farmers, businesses, and political parties. The state has seen several third-party movements as voters sought alternatives to Democratic and Republican candidates. In recent years Minnesota’s liveliest political debates have been concerned with the issues of taxation, business climate, welfare programs, crime, and education. Property-tax relief, which often reflects clashes between rural and urban areas, is a persistent legislative issue.
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