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Nebraska State History

History | Symbols | Interesting Facts | Famous People


1541—Spain claims land of Nebraska

1682—France claims land of Nebraska

1803—The U.S. acquires Nebraska in the Louisiana Purchase

1804—Lewis and Clark reach the eastern edge of Nebraska

1806—Explorer Zebulon Pike visits southern Nebraska

1823—First permanent settlement is built at Bellevue

1842-44—John Fremont explores the Platte Valley and names Nebraska

1848—Fort Kearny is established along the Oregon Trail

1854—Congress creates the Nebraska Territory

1862—The Homestead Act encourages settlers to Nebraska

1867—Nebraska becomes the 37th state

1939—Petroleum discovered in southeastern Nebraska

1948—Strategic Air Command establishes headquarters near Omaha

1974—Gerald Ford of Omaha becomes President of the United States

1982—Nebraska prohibits corporations from buying farms

In 1541, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado explored the American Southwest, claiming all for Spain.  In 1682, French explorer Robert Cavelier followed the Mississippi River south, claiming the same land for France.  Unlike the Spanish, French traders began settling the land they had named Louisiana.

In 1762, France gave Louisiana to Spain, although French exploration and trade continued.  In 1800, France reclaimed the area only to sell it to the United States in 1803.  Nebraska was part of this famous Louisiana Purchase. 

One year later, Lewis and Clark were sent to chart the West and explored the eastern edge of Nebraska.  Zebulon Pike explored southern Nebraska in 1806.  By 1807 fur-trading posts began to be established along the Missouri River.  Fort Lisa, established by Manuel Lisa, was only 10 miles from present-day Omaha.

Robert Stuart set out from Oregon in 1812, in search for New York City.  He traveled into Nebraska from Wyoming, then along the North Platte and Platte Rivers to the Missouri River.  For over 40 years, many settlers moving west followed the Oregon Trail through Indian Territory.

In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska and opened the area to settlement.  The Homestead Act of 1862 provided free land in the West to settlers if they would agree to stay for five years.

Many homesteaders moved to Nebraska.  Railroads opened in Kansas and advertised to people in eastern states and even Europe.  On March 1, 1867, with a great increase in population, Nebraska became the 37th state of the union with Lincoln as its capital.

Farmers struggled during the late 1800s.  Grasshoppers invaded the their lands eating wheat, barley and corn crops.  Drought dried up the land and many were forced to leave Nebraska and return to the East.  In 1902, the Reclamation Act provided federal aid for irrigation development. Dams were built along the Platte River that provided water to western Nebraska.  Ranchers bought much of the land in northern Nebraska for grazing cattle.

In 1929, the Great Depression brought a drop in farm prices.  Drought also returned and strong winds carried off topsoil.  Nebraska became part of the Dust Bowl.  Many lost their farms and were forced to leave the state.  To help farmers, the federal government provided long-term, low-interest loans.

Oil was discovered in southeastern Nebraska in 1939.  During World War II (1939-1945), Nebraska provided great numbers of wheat, corn, and potatoes for the soldiers.  Cattle ranching also increased greatly.  Farm income reached a record of $1 billion in 1947.

In the 1950s, agricultural companies bought most of the small family farms.  Farm equipment replaced many of the workers, who then moved to the cities in search of work.  State leaders became aware of the need to attract new industries and expand those it already had.  In 1960, the state constitution was amended to allow cities and counties to purchase and develop land for lease to private companies.

Today, Nebraska still depends heavily on agriculture.  Production has increased through use of machinery, but profit is steadily falling.  In 1982, a law was passed to protect family farms by prohibiting corporations from buying farm or ranch land in the state.  However, much debate is still underway as to whether this is helping or prices down and slowing development.