Cox named his village Joplin City after the spring and creek nearby. The namesake comes from the Reverend Harris G. Joplin who founded the first Methodist congregation in the area in mid-century. Carthage resident Patrick Murphy filed a plan for a city on the opposite side of the valley and named it Murphysburg. While the nearest sheriff was in Carthage a sense of lawlessness was abound in the town. This time is referred to as the "Reign of Terror". The cities eventually merged into Union City, but this merger was found illegal and the two cities split. Patrick Murphy then suggested that the town become Joplin. They merged again on March 23, 1873, this time permanently, a short time later as the City of Joplin.
While Joplin was first put on the map by lead, it was zinc, often referred to as "Jack", that built the town; and for a time, Joplin was the lead and zinc capital of the world. With the railroads coming through Joplin was on the verge of major growth. What was once a simple mining town became a more complete mining town that built smelters, dynamite, and all sorts of mining necessities.
By the turn of the century Joplin was quickly becoming a regional metropolis. Construction centered around Main Street, with many bars, hotels, and fine homes nearby. Joplin's House of Lords was its most famous saloon, with a bar and restaurant on the first floor, gambling on the second, and female companionship on the third. Trolley and rail lines made Joplin the hub of Southwest Missouri and it soon became the lead and zinc capital of the world.
As a result of extensive surface and deep mining, Joplin is dotted with open pit strip mines and mine shafts. This left many tailing piles (small hills of ground rock) considered unsightly locally. The open pit mines themselves pose both hazards and sources of beauty. The main part of Joplin itself is nearly 75% undermined, with some mine shafts well over 100 feet deep. These mine shafts have occasionally caved in, creating large sink holes. The mining history and geology are well documented in the mineral museum in town.
In the 1930s, Bonnie and Clyde spent several weeks in Joplin and robbed several area businesses. Tipped off by a neighbor, Joplin police attempted to apprehend Bonnie and Clyde. Bonnie and Clyde escaped (killing two Joplin police officers in the process); however, they were forced to leave most of their possessions behind, including a camera. The film in this camera was developed by the Joplin Globe. These are possibly the most famous photos of Bonnie and Clyde.
After World War II, most of the mines were closed, population growth leveled off, and in the sixties and seventies nearly 40 acres (160,000 m²) of the city's downtown were razed in the name of urban renewal.
Notable places in Joplin included the House of Lords, the Connor Hotel (demolished), the Keystone Hotel, the Newman Mercantile Store, the Frisco Depot, Christman's Department Store, the Union Depot, the Scottish Rite Cathedral, the Liberty Building, the Fox Theatre, and the Crystal Cave.
Numerous buildings still exist in Joplin that are on the National Register of Historic Places. Recently, the city has undertaken a project to revitalize its Main Street downtown district. It has refurbished its sidewalks and added new lamp posts. Numerous trucking lines such as CFI (now Con-Way Truckload) are headquartered in town, as the city is situated near the geographic and population centers of the nation. Eagle-Picher Industries and F.A.G. Bearings are noted employers in Joplin, and Leggett & Platt (Fortune 500) is located in nearby Carthage. The city is served by the Joplin Regional Airport located in the north of town near Webb City, in a small village known as Airport Drive.
In the nineties the city continued to expand eastward towards U.S. 71 (future I-49), and largescale development occurred along Range Line Road, particularly around Northpark Mall. Growth has also occurred in many of the "bedroom communities" surrounding Joplin. Webb City, Neosho, Pittsburg, and Carthage all have populations of at least 10,000. There are numerous other suburbs that touch the city itself including Carl Junction, Duquesne, Airport Drive, Oronogo, Carterville, Redings Mill, Shoal Creek Drive, Leawood, and Saginaw.
Due to its location near two major highways and its many event and sports facilities, Joplin is a stopping place for travellers and a destination point for groups. With nearly 2,500 hotel rooms, the majority located within a 1/4 mile area of Range Line and I-44, Joplin offers many lodging choices. In addition, Joplin is home to the 30,000 square foot John Q. Hammons Convention and Trade Center which serves as the primary event facility for conventions, associations, and large events.
For the past two years, ice storms have destroyed local surroundings, and it will take years for the landscape to grow back to its beautiful condition.
Joplin is located just to the north of Highway I-44, its passage to the west into Oklahoma. In recent years the settlements of Joplin have spread north to about Webb City. U.S. Route 66 passes through Joplin. Joplin is also mentioned in the song Route 66 when sung by Chuck Berry.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 31.5 square miles (81.6 km²), of which, 31.4 square miles (81.4 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.2 km²) of it (0.25%) is water.
Joplin is home to thirteen public elementary schools in the Joplin R-VIII School District: Cecil Floyd, Columbia, Duenweg, Duqeusne, Eastmorland, Emerson, Irving, Jefferson, Kelsey Norman, McKinley, Royal Heights, Stapleton, and West Central. It has three public middle schools--Memorial, North, and South--and one high school, Joplin High School. A school bond issue for $57.3 million was passed in April 2007, allowing the district to build two new middle schools to replace Memorial and South Middle Schools, and to renovate North. Joplin also has many private schools, such as College Heights Christian School, St. Mary's Catholic School, Martin Luther School, and more. There is also one Independent School, Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School, which has been running since 1993.
There were 19,101 households out of which 27.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.4% were married couples living together, 12.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.7% were non-families. 32.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.28 and the average family size was 2.89.
In the city the population was spread out with 23.2% under the age of 18, 13.5% from 18 to 24, 27.3% from 25 to 44, 20.3% from 45 to 64, and 15.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 90.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.0 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $30,555, and the median income for a family was $38,888. Males had a median income of $28,569 versus $20,665 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,738. About 10.5% of families and 14.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18.8% of those under age 18 and 9.4% of those age 65 or over.
Interstate 44 connects Joplin with Springfield and St. Louis to the east and Tulsa and Oklahoma City to the west. U.S. Route 71 runs east of the city, connecting Joplin to Kansas City on the north and Shreveport, LA to the south. It has been proposed to convert 71 into Interstate 49 in the future; the highway is already built to four-lane freeway and expressway standards from Kansas City, south through Joplin to Ft. Smith, AR.
A trolley opened on July 25, 2007, with a fee of one dollar.