Iowa Emigration and Immigration

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Portal:United States Emigration and Immigration >Iowa

Iowa has no ports; consequently, many Iowa residents immigrated through ports in New York, New Orleans, or Canada. Passenger lists since 1820 may contain a person’s age, the state or country of birth, immigration date, occupation, names of children. After 29 July 1906, the passenger lists also contain a physical description.

The principal groups that came to Iowa from the early 1800s to the early 1900s were:

1788-1810:  The first European settlers in Iowa were French-Canadians, who worked in the lead mines near present-day Dubuque.

1833–50:  The Black Hawk Treaty of 1833 opened most of Iowa to white settlement. Southern Iowa immigration began as the American government negotiated treaties extinguishing the remaining Indian claims. Settlers came from other states, particularly Kentucky and Tennessee. Northern Iowa immigration came primarily from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and the Middle Atlantic and New England states.

1850–60:  The population of Iowa nearly tripled. Ohio and Indiana contributed more settlers than all other states and immigration from Europe increased. Among the many German immigrants were the Amana colonists, who settled in Iowa in 1855 after having first lived near Buffalo, New York. Many immigrants arrived from Britain and Ireland.

Late 1800s:  Many Scandinavians immigrated.

Early 1900s:  Small groups of Austro-Hungarians and Italians arrived.

Routes to Iowa

Many early settlers of Iowa came by way of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The main steamboat route from the Middle Atlantic states and the Southern states followed the Ohio River and the Mississippi River to Keokuk.

The westward migration of Latter-day Saints opened an overland trail from the Mississippi River to Council Bluffs which was still used by covered wagons long after the railroad first reached the Mississippi in 1854.

Until 1850 most overseas immigrants came through the ports of New Orleans or New York. After 1850 most European settlers came through ports in New York or Canada.

For detailed information about federal immigration sources, including Canadian border-crossing records, see the United States Research Outline.


  • History of Iowa, Dorothy Schwieder, professor of history, Iowa State University