Nebraska often gets overshadowed by its neighboring states, but it has its own place in history. It also made momentous and impressive contributions to the USA it is part of, which everyone should know about. Learn more with these 50 Nebraska facts.
- Nebraska covers an estimated 77,000 km² of area.
- Water makes up an estimated 1,200 km² or 1% of the state’s area.
- At its lowest point on the Missouri River, Nebraska has an elevation of 256 meters above sea level.
- An estimated 1.96 million people live in the state today.
- This gives Nebraska a population density of 10 people for every km².
- Europeans first arrived in what would become Nebraska in the late 17th century.
- The French explorer Etienne de Bourgmont first used the name Nebraska in its French form, Nebraskier, in 1714.
- France later surrendered all its claims to Nebraska to Spain after the Seven Years War.
- Permanent European settlement of the region began in the 1790s.
- Native American resistance prevented the British from attacking the USA through Nebraska in the War of 1812.
- American explorers charted the region in the early 19th century.
- The Nebraska Territory stayed loyal to the Union during the Civil War.
- Nebraska gained statehood in the aftermath of the Civil War.
- Democrats dominated Nebraskan politics through the late 19th century.
- Republicans gained control of the state from the 20th century onward.
- Omaha makes up the largest city in Nebraska.
- The state instead counts Lincoln as its capital city.
- Most of the state belongs to the USA’s Central Time Zone, or GMT-6.
- Panhandle makes up the exception, belonging instead to the Mountain Time Zone, or GMT-7.
- Nebraska comes from the Native American words Ñíbrahge and Ní Btháska, both meaning “flat water” and both referencing the Platte River.
Nebraska has distinct geography.
Other US states surround it, with South Dakota to the north, Iowa to the east, Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado to the south, and finally Wyoming to the west. The state also has three major rivers, with the Platte River as the most important, running west to east across Central Nebraska. Similarly, the Niobrara River flows through Northern Nebraska, while the Republican River flows through Southern Nebraska.
Landscape-wise, the Dissected Till Plains dominate Eastern Nebraska, featuring gently-rolling hills, a legacy of the Ice Ages which crushed the land under glaciers. Most of Nebraska, however, forms part of the Great Plains of North America.
The state also has a varied climate.
Most of Nebraska enjoys a humid continental climate featuring warm and humid summers with cold winters. Western Nebraska, however, has a humid subtropical climate featuring hot and humid summers with mild winters. The part of Southern Nebraska bordering Colorado also has a semi-arid climate instead. This gives that area hot and dry summers with surprisingly cool winters.
On average, the state as a whole enjoys an estimated 800 mm of rainfall per year. Temperatures range from 48 degrees Celsius at maximum in summer, which drops to as low as 44 degrees below zero Celsius in winter. The state also falls in the USA’s tornado alley, with most tornadoes striking in spring or summer, but they may also sometimes occur in autumn.
It also has various state parks and forests.
These include the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, located near the village of Harrison in Nebraska’s Sioux County. Covering an area of 12 km², the national monument makes up part of the Niobrara River’s valley. It takes its name from its rich fossil deposits, which go back to the Miocene Epoch between 20 and 16 million years ago. The US government established the national monument in 1997, with authorization for its existence going back to 1965.
Other protected areas in Nebraska include the Nebraska National Forest, which covers an area of 574 km². Established in 1908, the US Forest Service deliberately cultivated three smaller and former national forests, the Dismal River, Niobrara, and North Platte National Forests, into the modern Nebraska National Forest.
Water once covered most of what would become Nebraska.
This took place back during the Cretaceous Period, between 99 and 66 million years ago. At the time, the Western Interior Seaway covered not just Nebraska, but a third of what would later become the USA. The waters only finished receding during the Pliocene Epoch, between 5 and 2 million years ago. The millions of years in which Nebraska lay underwater left rich fossil remnants behind.
These include those of prehistoric sharks like Squalicorax and other fishes like Enchodus. Scientists have also found the fossils of invertebrates, such as ammonites, mollusks, and even plankton. Aquatic dinosaurs like ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs also left fossils of their own behind in Nebraska.
Past Ice Ages also entombed Nebraska under ice.
They first began this pattern during the Pleistocene Epoch, around 3 million years ago. The glaciers left their mark on the landscape, particularly across Eastern Nebraska, primarily in the form of low hills with thick, clayey soils. They also left behind random boulders, carried by glacial ice far from the mountains, and left behind in the lowlands when the ice melted.
That said, the glaciers receded with the end of every Ice Age, with Nebraska enjoying widespread growth by plant and animal life between each Ice Age. Animals in Nebraska at this time included prehistoric camels, monkeys, rhinos, and even tigers.
Native Americans responded with hostility to Spanish explorers in the 17th century.
Pedro de Villasur left Santa Fe in 1720, following a Native American trail deeper into North America. He reached Nebraska later that year and found himself forced into battle with the Pawnees. De Villasur and most of his men died in the battle, with only a single monk surviving to escape and bring news of the disaster back to the Spanish colonies to the south. Ironically, even in defeat, de Villasur still managed to achieve the high point for Spanish exploration of the North American interior.
That said, the Spanish colonial authorities spent the next seven years investigating and assigning blame for the disaster. It also marked the end of Spanish expansion into the North American interior, with the French taking advantage of the situation for their own colonial ambitions.
Nebraska once formed just a part of even bigger US Territories.
For one thing, the state actually forms part of the vast Louisiana Territory, which the USA bought from Spain in 1803. Louisiana later broke off as a state in its own right, leaving the rest of the territory as an “unorganized” territory. The US Congress changed this in 1854 when they split it into the Kansas and Nebraska Territories. The latter remained bigger than the modern state and continued to shrink over the following years.
This resulted from additional territorial losses as the US Congress continued with the territorial land reorganization. New territories that resulted from this included Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
The first US military base west of the Missouri River once stood in Nebraska.
Specifically, Fort Atkinson, named after Colonel Henry Atkinson, who led an expedition to chart the course and surrounding lands of the Yellowstone River. The US Army established Fort Atkinson in 1819 to support that expedition, with the fort ironically suffering from a lack of support in its early years. So much so, that the garrison nearly starved to death during the winter of 1819 to 1820 from a food shortage. Things improved afterward, and surprisingly, the fort saw battle only once.
This took place in 1823 when the garrisons attacked Arikara villages in response to Native American attacks on supply convoys. Until its closure in 1827, the fort’s most notable achievement involved meteorological studies on behalf of the US government. The fort then lay abandoned until the 1960s, when the state government moved to preserve the site. Although designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961, financial limitations meant restoration would wait until the 1980s to begin.
The 1850s saw the beginning of large-scale American settlement in the region.
Farmers slowly trickled into the region over the decade, but immigration and settlement did not really boom until 1859. Ironically, the reason for that took place in Wyoming, where settlers discovered gold. This led people to believe they could find gold across the Central USA, leading settlers to flood into Nebraska and its neighbors.
The US government further encouraged this in the early 1860s, following the mass expulsion of Native Americans before, during, and after the Civil War. They then auctioned off the lands seized from the Native Americans to prospective settlers. The large US Army presence across various forts in the region also provided incentive, as they gave a perception of safety and protection.
Nebraska made various contributions to the Union during the Civil War.
Originally, Nebraska only raised one regiment, and even then the territorial government didn’t plan to send them to fight in the war. Instead, said regiment would protect the territory from Native American attacks, with US Army regulars having gone to fight in the war. Later on, however, the territory formed other regiments, with the original first regiment also joining the war once the territory found itself secure. All in all, an estimated 3,000 Nebraskans fought in the war, organized into one infantry regiment and three cavalry regiments.
Nebraska also organized several militia battalions, which largely took over the task of home defense. No battles actually took place in Nebraska itself, as the Confederacy saw no point in attacking it. Out of all the Nebraskans who fought in the war, only 35 actually died in battle, while another 204 died from accidents or diseases.
Controversy surrounded Nebraska’s statehood after the Civil War.
This came from the fact that Nebraska’s original constitution deliberately limited electoral rights to whites. This, in turn, led to a delay in Nebraska’s statehood, as the US Congress refused to ratify the said constitution in the aftermath of the Civil War. It wasn’t until a year later in 1867, that Nebraska finally gained statehood. And even then, they had to rewrite the constitution to allow non-whites to also enjoy electoral rights.
US President Andrew Johnson actually vetoed Nebraska’s new state constitution, out of his pro-white supremacy sympathies. This led the Republican-dominated supermajority in the US Congress to overrule his veto. This would go down in history as one of the many confrontations between the Democratic President and the Republican Congress at the time. It also made Nebraska the only US state to gain statehood despite a Presidential veto.
The Great Depression hit Nebraska hard.
Grain and livestock prices fell by half at the start of the crisis, causing massive losses for the agricultural sector that served as the mainstay of the state economy. The trend continued over the following years, with prices reaching their lowest in history in 1932. The state government also made things worse by refusing to ask for help from the federal government.
Their refusal became a moot point by 1933, however, when the US Congress passed the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA). This allowed federal aid to pour into Nebraska, helped by a new state administration taking office in 1935. That year also saw the introduction of a new state social security law that further stimulated recovery.
Nebraska also made various contributions to the American war effort in WWII.
Ironically, few Nebraskans actually joined the US military in WWII, instead of staying at home to contribute in other ways. Nebraska supplied much of the food needed to feed US troops and those of their allies overseas. They also worked in new factories built in the state producing weapons and ammunition for the military. Grand Husker’s Cornhusker Ordnance Plant (COP) proved among the biggest, and in another irony, operated by the Quaker Oats Company.
The COP also allowed women to work in the factory, with its parent company introducing a childcare program to entice more women to join the workforce. At the height of its operations, women made up to 40% of the COP’s workforce.
Major changes took place in Nebraska after the war.
These included a new tax system, with sales and income taxes replacing older state property taxes. Infrastructure also boomed across the state, including highways, mental hospitals, state housing, and waste treatment plants. All these meant that when the farm crisis of the 1980s took place, Nebraska handled it better than other states.
The new highways, in particular, drew investors to the state, with the small industry booming in place of various bankrupted farms. As the economy diversified, telecommunications surpassed food processing as Nebraska’s biggest employer. By the start of the 21st century, this also allowed Nebraska to compete with overseas telecom giants like India.
A mass shooting took place in Nebraska in 2007.
On December 5 of that year, Robert Hawkins walked into a Von Maur Department Store carrying a semi-automatic rifle. He opened fire on the third floor, killing eight people and injuring another six people before committing suicide. The following investigation revealed Hawkins suffered from ADHD and PTSD, the latter resulting from problems at home. The investigators also discovered that Hawkins had sent a suicide letter to the local police station.
Other background issues include a failed relationship with a girlfriend and the loss of his job over workplace theft. In response to the shooting, Von Maur ceased its operations for a while, while Hawkins’ family issued condolences and even a public apology to all his victims.
Nebraska has a diverse population.
Whites make up the majority of Nebraska’s population, at an estimated 88%. German-Americans make up the plurality among white, at an estimated 36%, followed by Irish-Americans at an estimated 13%. Nebraska also has the largest Czech-American and Danish-American populations out of all US states. African-Americans make up the second-largest ethnicity in Nebraska, making up an estimated 5% of the population.
Asian-Americans follow at third place, making up an estimated 3% of the population, followed by Native Americans at an estimated 1%. Members of other ethnicities cumulatively make up an estimated 5% of the population. And in a separate category, biracial and multiracial individuals make up an estimated 7% of the population.
The same goes for the state’s religions.
The majority of Nebraskans follow various Protestant denominations, at 51% of the population. Roman Catholics follow in second place at 23%, while Mormons, Hindus, and Buddhists each make up 1% of the population. Followers of other religions like Islam cumulatively make up another 2% of the population between them. These also include other Christian denominations like Eastern Orthodoxy.
Nebraska also has another 1% of its population actually admitting they don’t know what religion they follow. Finally, we have those individuals who don’t affiliate themselves with one religion or another and who make up an estimated 20% of the state’s population.
Nebraska’s largest city of Omaha goes back to the 17th century.
At the time, Native Americans lived on the land where the city would eventually stand. Specifically, the Omaha and the Ponca. The former would later share its name with the city. The name Omaha itself comes as a corruption of the Native American Umoho or Umaha, meaning “Dwellers on the Bluff”.
Americans first arrived at the site in 1804, when Lewis and Clark passed through it during their expedition to reach the Pacific Ocean. They also met with local Native American leaders, including chiefs of the Missouria and Oto tribes. Over the following decades, trading ports and army forts sprang up across the surrounding landscape.
Modern Omaha arose in the mid-19th century.
The Mormons first tried to settle the site in 1846 and established an encampment named Cutler’s Park in August of that year. However, they later abandoned the encampment by December of that same year. The permanent settlement only truly began in 1854, after the establishment of the Nebraska Territory by the US Congress.
William Brown of the Lone Tree Ferry went down in history, as his ferry company brought most of the city’s first settlers. He also provided the vision that united the settlers into founding a city in the area, which took place on July 4, 1854, at Capital Hill. Today, the Omaha Central High School stands on the site where the city itself began.
Omaha boomed over the mid and late 19th centuries.
This resulted from its location on the Missouri River, which gave the city easy access to long-distance transport. Omaha also invested in railroads early on, which together with the stockyards used to store goods along the waterfront provided plenty of jobs that drew people to the city. As the city’s population and the economy grew, demand also grew for various services and expanded infrastructure.
By the 1880s, the rich upper class had established exclusive neighborhoods to the north and south, such as the Gold Coast. The masses themselves enjoyed large-scale public transport, with trams completely traversing the city by the 1890s.
A flood devastated the city in 1881.
Specifically, the Great Flood of 1881, which took place across the entire Missouri River Valley. The flood started in South Dakota, gaining strength as it swept down the valley through Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska. In Omaha, up to 8 km of the city found itself underwater during the worst of the flooding.
Even then, Downtown Omaha still found itself underwater for weeks before the river returned to its normal depth. Thankfully, only two people died, when they jumped off a boat that the flood had carried away. However, the damage inflicted to the city amounted to millions of dollars. Even the exact amount remains unclear today, thanks to the chaotic records in the flood’s aftermath.
Racial and class violence also erupted in the city through the late 19th century.
The 1882 Camp Dump Strike particularly stands out, after the state government sent in militia to help the Burlington Yards company put striking railroad workers down. The enraged lower classes responded with indiscriminate retaliation against anyone known to have helped put the strike down. This, in turn, forced the US Army to intervene, but the class violence proved so dangerous they had to bring machine guns and even a cannon with them.
Racial violence proved no less dangerous either, such as the case of Joe Coe in 1891. Accused of raping a white girl, he found himself at the mercy of the mob after it stormed the courthouse where he stood trial. With the racist police sympathetic to the mob, they stood by and they did nothing as the mob dragged Joe Coe out to lynch him.
Racial tensions worsened in the city in the early 20th century.
Ironically, this partly resulted from companies hiring African-Americans to provide security, in particular, to put down striking workers. This led lower-class whites to see African-Americans in general as thugs all too ready to take money from the rich to do their dirty work. The racial issues also extended to other ethnicities, as shown by the 1909 Greek Town Riot. The riot would see a 3,000-strong mob burning down Greek Town and a Greek neighborhood in Southern Omaha.
Another lynching also later took place in 1919, against Willy Brown, who again stood accused of raping a white woman. This again forced the US Army to intervene and crush the riot, as well as to protect the African-American community in the city from a wave of lynchings.
A tornado also devastated the city in 1913.
Specifically, the Omaha Easter Sunday Tornado, which was a part of a greater tornado surge that took place across the USA that year. Taking place between March 21 and 23, the tornado that struck Omaha did so on the last day, which also doubled as Easter Sunday. In addition to wind speeds of over 370 kph, the tornado carved a path of destruction through the city around 800 meters wide.
Ninety-four people died, while another 400 people suffered various injuries. The tornado also destroyed an estimated 2,000 homes and caused an estimated $6 million in damages. Many more people died in the aftermath of the tornado as a result of a cold front that followed in its wake.
The city’s economy weakened in the late 20th century.
Omaha greatly benefited from WWII, as airplane companies built factories in the city to build warplanes for the US military. After the war, food processing similarly boomed, as the rising postwar US population caused an increased demand for food. By the 1960s, however, racial issues in the city caused major companies to leave. In particular, race riots repeatedly caused major damage to the city’s industrial areas.
This, in turn, led industrial companies to see working in the city as a long-term liability. The general decline of the US railroad industry also contributed to Omaha’s economic troubles. Competition in other states over food processing also caused the city’s food processing industry to decline.
The 21st century has seen an infrastructural boom in Omaha.
These included new skyscrapers in Downtown Omaha, such as the One First National Center, built in 2002 with a height of 193 meters. There’s also the CenturyLink Center, built in 2008, as well as the nearby TD Ameritrade Park, a baseball park built in 2011. The latter later renamed itself the Charles Swab Field Omaha, and while limited to 24,000 seats, actually has an audience capacity of 35,000.
Omaha has also launched new housing projects, such as the RiverFront Place Condos built between 2006 and 2011. The city has also invested in public infrastructures, such as the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge opening in 2008 for foot and bicycle traffic.
Various industries continue to operate in Nebraska today.
Kool-Aid continues to keep its headquarters in the city of Hastings, where Edwin Perkins founded the company in 1927. The city naturally takes great pride in this, with annual Kool-Aid Days taking place every second week of August. The rest of Nebraska also shares this pride, with Kool-Aid as the state’s official drink.
Other major Nebraskan companies include Hornady, a major producer of ammunition not just for the US military, but also for the general arms market. Union Pacific also operates the Bailey Yard in North Platte City, which remains the world’s largest train yard today. Kawasaki also has factories in Nebraska, where they produce ATVs, jet skis, and the MULE series of utility vehicles.
The state has a particularly diverse energy industry.
Aside from being the USA’s second-largest producer of ethanol-based biofuels, Nebraska also has a small oil industry of its own, producing oil from the Niobrara Formation in Western Nebraska. The state also operates a uranium mine near its border with Wyoming to the northwest. Nebraska also has the distinction of the only US state where the state owns all electrical production.
Half of the state’s electricity comes from burning coal, but the state has recognized the need to move forward. These include investments in various green energy sources, but agricultural concerns have made wind the most favored green energy source in Nebraska.
It also has a solid infrastructural network.
For one thing, no less than 18 US Routes pass through the state as they traverse the continent. Similarly, the state also operates another six interstate highways for road travel across the state. Various rail companies offer transport services in the state, such as Amtrak, Canadian National Railway, and even Iowa Interstate Railroad. Nebraska also has several airports, with Eppley Airfield near Omaha as the largest.
There’s also Lincoln Airport, located near the city of the same name, and the second-largest in the state. Lincoln Airport also has the distinction of serving not just the private sector, but also the military. Specifically, the Nebraska Air National Guard, which operates the 155th Air Refueling Wing from Lincoln Airport.
The state participates in various sports.
These include the Nebraska Bugeaters FC, which represents the state in the United Premier Soccer League. Omaha City FC does similarly, although they only play indoor soccer, at the Premier Arena Soccer League. Other teams include Omaha Heart, which competes at the Legends Football League, and Omaha Beef, which competes at the Champions Indoor Football.
There’s also Union Omaha, which competes at USL League One, and the Lincoln Saltdogs, which compete in basketball as part of the independent American Association. Finally, for baseball, the Omaha Storm Chasers represent Nebraska at the Pacific Coast League of AAA minor league baseball.