Area, 77,227 sq mi (200,018 sq km). Pop. (2000) 1,711,263, an 8.4% increase since the 1990 census. Capital, Lincoln. Largest city, Omaha. Statehood, Mar. 1, 1867 (37th state). Highest pt., 5,426 ft (1,655 m), Kimball Co.; lowest pt., 840 ft (256 m), SE corner of state. Nickname, Cornhusker State. Motto, Equality before the Law. State bird, Western meadowlark. State flower, goldenrod. State tree, cottonwood. Abbr., Nebr.; NE
Nebraska is roughly rectangular, except in the northeast and the east where the border is formed by the irregular course of the Missouri River and in the southwest where the state of Colorado cuts out a squared corner. The land rises more or less gradually from 840 ft (256 m) in the east to 5,300 ft (1,615 m) in the west. The great but shallow Platte River, formed in W Nebraska by the junction of the North Platte and the South Platte, flows across the state from west to east to join the Missouri S of Omaha. The Platte and the Missouri, together with their tributaries, give Nebraska all-important water sources that are essential to farming in this agrarian state. Underground water sources are also widely used for irrigation. The river valleys have long provided routes westward, and today the transcontinental railroads and highways follow the valleys.
From the Missouri westward over about half the state stretch undulating farm lands, where the fertile silt is underlaid by deep loess soil. Nebraska's population is concentrated there; many are farmers who produce grains for the consumer market or for feeding hogs and dairy cattle. In this region also lie Nebraska's two major cities—Lincoln, the capital and an important insurance center, and Omaha, the state's largest city and an important meat and grain distribution center—as well as many of the state's larger towns.
To the west and northwest the Sand Hills of Nebraska fan out, their wind-eroded contours now more or less stabilized by grass coverage. Cattle graze on the slopes and tablelands, protected in the severe winters by the sand bluffs and the valleys. The climate is severely continental throughout Nebraska; a low of -40°F; (-40°C;) in the winter is not unusual, and during the short intense summers temperatures may easily reach 110°F; (43°C;). Rainfall is almost twice as heavy in the east as in the west. Yet in the west along the river valleys the mixture of silt and sand is watered enough to yield abundantly to cultivation, even under semiarid conditions. In the far west the land rises to the foothills of the Rocky Mts. and displays spectacular bedrock foundations.
Hundreds of fresh and alkali lakes in the state attract sportsmen and campers. The pioneers' migration west over the Oregon Trail is commemorated by the Scotts Bluff National Monument and the Chimney Rock National Historic Site. Other points of interest to the traveler include Father Flanagan's Boys Town, near Omaha; the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, near Valentine; and the Homestead National Monument, near Beatrice.
Agriculture is Nebraska's dominant occupational pursuit. The state's chief farm products are cattle, corn, hogs, soybeans, and wheat. Nebraska ranked second among the states in cattle production in 1997. Wheat farming flourishes on the southwest plateaus, while irrigation along the Platte and its tributaries has increased the sugar-beet crop. The Univ. of Nebraska maintains agricultural experiment stations throughout the state. A program of soil conservation includes a shelter belt running across the state to check the effect of wind erosion, and dryland-farming techniques have been encouraged. Forest conservation is stressed, and the state (the birthplace of Arbor Day) has been very active in planting forests.
Nebraska's largest industry is food processing, notably including beef production. The state has diversified its industries since World War II, and the manufacture of electrical machinery, primary metals, and transportation equipment is also important. Deposits of oil (discovered in Cheyenne co. in 1949-50) contribute to the state's economy. Omaha and Lincoln are centers for insurance and telecommunications industries, and Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha, was the cold-war center of the Strategic Air Command.
Nebraska's constitution was adopted in 1875. It was amended in 1982 to ensure that rangeland and farmland could be sold only to a Nebraska family-farm corporation. The executive branch is headed by a governor elected for a four-year term. By constitutional amendment in 1934 the legislature was made unicameral (it is unique in the United States), with 49 members elected on a nonpartisan basis for terms of four years. The state elects three representatives and two senators to the U.S. Congress and has five electoral votes in presidential elections. In 1986, Nebraska's Kay A. Orr became the first Republican woman to be elected governor of a state. E. Benjamin Nelson, a Democrat elected governor in 1990 and 1994, was succeeded by Mike Johanns, a Republican elected in 1998 and 2002. Johanns resigned in 2005 to become U.S. secretary of education, and was succeeded by fellow Republican Dave Heineman, who won election to the governorship in 2006.
The state's leading institution of higher education is the Univ. of Nebraska, at Lincoln, Omaha, and Kearney. Creighton Univ. is at Omaha.
Nebraska's soil has been farmed since prehistoric times, but the Native Americans of the plains—notably the Pawnee—devoted themselves more to hunting the buffalo than to farming, since buffalo, as well as the pronghorn antelope and smaller animals, were then abundant in the area. The Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and his men were the first Europeans to visit the region. They probably passed through Nebraska in 1541.
The French also came and in the 18th cent. engaged in fur trading, but development began only after the area passed from France to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The Lewis and Clark expedition (1804) and the explorations of Zebulon M. Pike (1806) increased knowledge of the country, but the activities of the fur traders were more immediately valuable in terms of settlement. Manuel Lisa, a fur trader, probably established the first trading post in the Nebraska area in 1813. Bellevue, the first permanent settlement in Nebraska, first developed as a trading post.Steamboats and Wagon Trains
Steamboating on the Missouri River, initiated in 1819, brought business to the river ports of Omaha and Brownville. The natural highway formed by the Platte valley was used extensively by pioneers going west over the Oregon Trail and also the California Trail and the Mormon Trail. Nebraska settlers made money supplying the wagon trains with fresh mounts and pack animals as well as food.
Nebraska became a territory after passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. The territory, which initially extended from lat. 40°N to the Canadian border, was firmly Northern and Republican in sympathy during the Civil War. In 1863 the territory was reduced to its present-day size by the creation of the territories of Dakota and Colorado. Congress passed an enabling act for statehood in 1864, but the original provision in the state constitution limiting the franchise to whites delayed statehood until 1867.Railroads, Ranches, and the Growth of Populism
In 1867 the Union Pacific RR was built across the state, and the land boom, already vigorous, became a rush. Farmers settled on free land obtained under the Homestead Act of 1862, and E Nebraska took on a settled look. The population rose from 28,841 in 1860 to 122,993 in 1870. The Pawnee were defeated in 1859, and by 1880 war with the Sioux and other Native American resistance was over. With the coming of the railroads, cow towns, such as Ogallala and Schuyler, were built up as shipping points on overland cattle trails. Buffalo Bill's Wild West Shows opened in Nebraska in 1882.
Farmers had long been staking out homestead claims across the Sand Hills to the high plains, but ranches also prospered in the state. The ranchers, trying to preserve the open range, ruthlessly opposed the encroachment of the farmers, but the persistent farmers won. Many conservationists believe that much of the land that was plowed under should have been left with grass cover to prevent erosion in later dust storms.
Nature was seldom kind to the people of Nebraska. Ranching was especially hard hit by the ruinous cold of the winter of 1880-81, and farmers were plagued by insect hordes from 1856 to 1875, by prairie fires, and by the recurrent droughts of the 1890s. Many farmers joined the Granger movement in the lean 1870s and the Farmers' Alliances of the 1880s. In the 1890s many beleaguered farmers, faced with ruin and angry at the monopolistic practices of the railroads and the financiers, formed marketing and stock cooperatives and showed their discontent by joining the Populist party. The first national convention of the Populist party was held at Omaha in 1892, and Nebraska's most famous son, William Jennings Bryan, headed the Populist and Democratic tickets in the presidential election of 1896. Populists held the governorship of the state from 1895 to 1901.Twentieth-Century Changes
Improved conditions in the early 1900s caused Populism to decline in the state, and the return of prosperous days was marked by progressive legislation, the building of highways, and conservation measures. The flush of prosperity, largely caused by the demand for foodstuffs during World War I, was almost feverish. Overexpansion of credits and overconfidence made the depression of the 1920s and 30s all the more disastrous (see Great Depression). Many farmers were left destitute, and many others were able to survive only because of the moratorium on farm debts in 1932. They received federal aid in the desperate years of drought in the 1930s.
Better weather and the huge food demands of World War II renewed prosperity in Nebraska. After the war, efforts continued to make the best use of the water supply, notably in such federal plans as the Missouri River basin project, a vast dam and water-diversion scheme.
Recent attempts to diversify Nebraska's economic base to reduce dependence on meat processing and agriculture have made Lincoln, where state government and the Univ. of Nebraska generate many jobs, a business center, along with Omaha. Among noted Nebraskans have been the pioneer and historian Julius Sterling Morton, who originated Arbor Day, and authors Willa Cather, Mari Sandoz, John G. Neihardt, Loren Eisley, and Wright Morris, all of whom have vividly described the state.
See J. C. Olson, History of Nebraska (2d ed. 1966, repr. 1974); M. P. Lawson and R. E. Lonsdale, Economic Atlas of Nebraska (1977); D. W. Creigh, Nebraska: A History (1977); Nebraska (1985), "Geographies of the United States" series.
In the 1860s, the first great wave of homesteaders poured into Nebraska to claim free land granted by the federal government. Many of the first farm settlers built their homes out of sod because they found so few trees on the grassy land.
Nebraska became the 37th state in 1867, shortly after the American Civil War. At that time, the capital was moved from Omaha to Lancaster, later renamed Lincoln after the recently assassinated President of the United States Abraham Lincoln.
Nebraska has a long history of civil rights activism, starting in 1912 with the foundation of Omaha's National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter.
Nebraska is split into two time zones. The Central Time zone comprises the eastern half of the state, while the western half observes Mountain Time.
Nebraska is bordered by South Dakota to the north; Iowa to the east and Missouri to the southeast, across the Missouri River; Kansas to the south; Colorado to the southwest; and Wyoming to the west. The state has 93 counties; it occupies the central portion of the Frontier Strip.
Three rivers cross the state from west to east. The Platte River runs through the heart, the Niobrara River flows through the northern part of the state's region, and the Republican River traverses through the southern part of the state.
Nebraska is composed of two major land regions: the Dissected Till Plains and the Great Plains. The easternmost portion of the state was scoured by Ice Age glaciers; the Dissected Till Plains were left behind after the glaciers retreated. The Dissected Till Plains is a region of gently rolling hills; Omaha and Lincoln are located within this region.
The Great Plains occupy the majority of western Nebraska. The Great Plains itself consists of several smaller, diverse land regions, including the Sandhills, the Pine Ridge, the Rainwater Basin, the High Plains and the Wildcat Hills. Panorama Point, at 5,424 feet (1,653 m), is the highest point in Nebraska; despite its name and elevation, it is merely a low rise near the Colorado and Wyoming borders.
A past Nebraska tourism slogan was "Where the West Begins"; locations given for the beginning of the "West" include the Missouri River, the intersection of 13th and O Streets in Lincoln (where it is marked by a red brick star), the 100th meridian, and Chimney Rock.
Nebraska, a doubly landlocked state, claims to have more miles of river than any other state.
Areas under the management of the National Park Service include:
Areas under the management of the National Forest Service include:
Nebraska is located in Tornado Alley; thunderstorms are common in the spring and summer months. The chinook winds from the Rocky Mountains provide a temporary moderating effect on temperatures in western Nebraska during the winter months. ,
As of 2007, Nebraska has an estimated population of 1,774,571, which is an increase of 10,806, or 0.6%, from the prior year and an increase of 63,306, or 3.7%, since the year 2000. This includes a natural increase since the last census of 77,995 people (that is 187,564 births minus 109,569 deaths) and a decrease due to net migration of 9,319 people out of the state. Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 27,398 people, and migration within the country produced a net loss of 36,717 people.
As of 2004, the population of Nebraska included about 84,000 foreign-born residents (4.8% of the population). The five largest ancestry groups in Nebraska are German (38.6%), Irish (12.4%), English (9.6%), Swedish (4.9%), and Czech (4.9%).
Nebraska has the largest Czech-American population (as a percentage of the total population) in the nation. German-Americans are the largest ancestry group in most of the state, particularly in the eastern counties. Thurston County (made up entirely of the Omaha and Winnebago reservations) has a Native American majority, and Butler County is one of only two counties in the nation with a Czech-American plurality.
Eighty-nine percent of the cities in Nebraska have fewer than 3,000 people. Nebraska shares this characteristic with five other Midwest states (Kansas, Oklahoma, North and South Dakota, and Iowa). Hundreds of towns have a population of fewer than 1,000.
Fifty-three of Nebraska's 93 counties reported declining populations between 1990 and 2000, ranging from a 0.06% loss (Frontier County) to a 17.04% loss (Hitchcock County). While many areas of the state continue to suffer, others have experienced substantial growth. In 2000, the city of Omaha had a population of 390,007; in 2005, the city's estimated population was 414,521,(427,872 including the recently annexed city of Elkhorn) a 6.3% increase over five years. The city of Lincoln had a 2000 population of 225,581 and a 2005 estimated population of 239,213, a 6.0% change.
This rural flight has also had an impact on schools with many schools needing to consolidate in order to survive.
The largest single denominations by number of adherents in 2000 were the Catholic Church 372,791, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 128,570, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod 117,419 and the United Methodist Church 117,277.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates of Nebraska's gross state product in 2004 was $68 billion. Per capita personal income in 2004 was $31,339, 25th in the nation.
Nebraska has a large agriculture sector, and is an important producer of beef, pork, corn (maize), and soybeans. Other important economic sectors include freight transport (by rail and truck), manufacturing, telecommunications, information technology, and insurance.
Nebraska has four personal income tax brackets, ranging from 2.56% to 6.84%. Nebraska has a state sales tax of 5.5%. In addition to the state tax, some Nebraska cities assess a city sales and use tax, up to a maximum of 1.5%. One county in Nebraska, Dakota County, levies a sales tax. All real property located within the state of Nebraska is taxable unless specifically exempted by statute. Since 1992, only depreciable personal property is subject to tax and all other personal property is exempt from tax. Inheritance tax is collected at the county level.
Omaha is home to Berkshire Hathaway, whose CEO Warren Buffett was ranked in March 2008 by Forbes magazine as the richest person in the world. This city is also home to InfoUSA, TD Ameritrade, West Corporation, Valmont Industries, Woodmen of the World, Kiewit Corporation, and Union Pacific Railroad. UNIFI Companies, Sandhills Publishing Company and Duncan Aviation reside in Lincoln while The Buckle is based out of Kearney. Sidney is the national headquarters for Cabela's, a specialty retailer of outdoor goods.
The world's largest train yard, Union Pacific's Bailey Yard, is located in North Platte. The Vise-Grip was invented and is still manufactured in De Witt. Memorial Stadium on the University of Nebraska campus in Lincoln holds 85,157 people. During football games, it holds almost twice the population of Bellevue (47,954) the third-most populous city in the state. The second-largest Powerball payout was on February 18, 2006. It was $365 million and was split 8 ways by workers from a Lincoln food plant operated by ConAgra.
Nebraska has a rich railroad history. The Union Pacific Railroad, headquartered in Omaha, was incorporated on July 1, 1862, in the wake of the Pacific Railway Act of 1862. The route of the original transcontinental railroad runs through the state. Other major railroads with operations in the state are: Amtrak; BNSF Railway; Canadian Pacific Railway; and Iowa Interstate Railroad.
The head of the executive branch is the Governor Dave Heineman. Other elected officials in the executive branch are the Lieutenant Governor Rick Sheehy (elected on the same ticket as the Governor), Attorney General Jon Bruning, Secretary of State John A. Gale, State Treasurer Shane Osborn, and State Auditor Mike Foley. All elected officials in the executive branch serve four-year terms.
Nebraska is the only state in the United States with a unicameral legislature; that is, a legislature with only one house. Although this house is officially known simply as the "Legislature", and more commonly called the "Unicameral", its members still call themselves "senators". Nebraska's Legislature is also the only state legislature in the United States that is nonpartisan. The senators are elected with no party affiliation next to their names on the ballot, and the speaker and committee chairs are chosen at large, so that members of any party can be chosen for these positions. The Nebraska Legislature can also override a governor's veto with a three-fifths majority, in contrast to the two-thirds majority required in some other states.
The constitutions of our various states are built upon the idea that there is but one class. If this be true, there is no sense or reason in having the same thing done twice, especially if it is to be done by two bodies of men elected in the same way and having the same jurisdiction.
Unicameral supporters also argued that a bicameral legislature had a significant undemocratic feature in the committees that reconciled Assembly and Senate legislation. Votes in these committees were secretive, and would sometimes add provisions to bills that neither house had approved. Nebraska's unicameral legislature today has rules that bills can contain only one subject, and must be given at least five days of consideration.
Finally, in 1934, due in part to the budgetary pressure of the Great Depression, Nebraska's unicameral legislature was put in place by a state initiative. In effect, the Assembly (the house) was abolished; as noted, today's Nebraska state legislators are commonly referred to as "Senators."
The judicial system in Nebraska is unified, with the Nebraska Supreme Court having administrative authority over all Nebraska courts. Nebraska uses the Missouri Plan for the selection of judges at all levels. The lowest courts in Nebraska are the county courts, above that are twelve district courts (containing one or more counties). The Court of Appeals hears appeals from the district courts, juvenile courts, and workers' compensation courts. The Nebraska Supreme Court is the final court of appeal.
Nebraska currently has no active death-penalty law, due to a 2008 Nebraska Supreme Court ruling that declared the use of electrocution to be in conflict with the state constitution. (Prior to this ruling, Nebraska was the only place in the world that used electrocution as the sole method of execution.) However, executions in Nebraska had been infrequent; none had been carried out in the 21st century, and in the last few decades the state had strongly flirted with the idea of a moratorium on, or complete abolition of, capital punishment.
Nebraska's U.S. senators are Chuck Hagel (R) and Ben Nelson (D). Nebraska has three representatives in the House. They are: Jeff Fortenberry (R, NE-1); Lee Terry (R, NE-2); and Adrian Smith (R, NE-3).
Nebraska is one of two states (the other being Maine) that allow for a split in the electoral vote. Since 1991, two of Nebraska's five electoral votes are awarded based on the winner of the statewide election while the other three go to the highest vote-getter in each of the state's three congressional districts. Although possible, a split in the electoral vote has not occurred in any election.
Despite the current Republican domination of Nebraska politics, the state has a long tradition of electing centrist members of both parties to state and federal office; examples include George Norris (who served his last few years in the Senate as an independent), J. James Exon, and Bob Kerrey. This tradition is illustrated by Nebraska's current senators: Chuck Hagel is considered a maverick within his party, while Ben Nelson is arguably one of the most conservative members of his party in the Senate.
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Nebraska Huskers football influences many of Nebraska's residents. On sell out Saturday football game days, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln with a capacity of 85,500 becomes Nebraska's 3rd Largest city.