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History

The history of Des Moines, Iowa is lengthy and diverse. Archeological evidence show humans living in this area 7,000 years ago. Historic Native American sites were also discovered in what is now downtown Des Moines that date back to around 1300 AD.

The settlement of Des Moines started in 1843 when US Army Captain James Allen planned the construction of a fort where the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers merge. Captain Allen had plans to name the fort Fort Raccoon, but he was over-ruled by the US War Department to name it Fort Des Moines.

The purpose of the fort was to control the Meskwaki and Sauk Indians, whom were moved to the area by the government from their lands in Eastern Iowa. But the Indians did not adapt well in their new surroundings and due to the illegal whisky trade, and breakdown of their traditional ways of life, they were moved back to Indian Territory in 1846 and the fort was abandoned. Evidence shows that the Meskwaki returned to Des Moines until around 1857.

In 1846, Fort Des Moines was named as the county seat. But it was far from becoming a city, boasting a court house made of brick a church, and some other small businesses. In May of 1851, a historic flood devastated the area and the town had to rebuild from scratch.

Just a few months after the flood, Des Moines was incorporated as a city in September. The name was shorted from Fort Des Moines to Des Moines and was designated as the state capitol. The city saw dramatic growth after the railroad link was completed in 1866 and by 1880 it was Iowa’s largest city with a population of 22,408.

Just as any other developing city, Des Moines has had its good times and bad times. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, the city underwent a city beautification project to attract workers and their families to the area. Growth of this mainly blue-collar population was steady up until the 1950s when the city started a post-industrial decline that lasted until the 1980s. In the 1960s, the city began losing residents to the suburbs. The transition of Des Moines from a blue-collar based city to a white-collar based city began in the 1980s with the construction of several skyscrapers in downtown. The city was attractive to insurance and finance companies who have largely contributed to what Des Moines is today. In 2010 and 2013, Forbes named Des Moines as the “Best Place for Business” and is known as the “number one spot for US Insurance companies”.