When the first human beings inhabited Indiana is not known. Hundreds of sites used by primitive hunters, fishermen, and food gatherers before 1000 BC have been found in Indiana. Burial mounds of the Woodland culture (1000 BC to AD 900), when the bow and arrow appeared, have been located across the state. The next culture, called Mississippian and dating about AD 900 to 1500, is marked by gardens, ceramics, tools, weapons, trade, and social organization. It is well illustrated by remains of an extensive village on the north side of the Ohio River near Newburgh. The unidentified inhabitants are believed to have come up from the south about 1300, for reasons not known, and to have migrated back before 1500, again for unknown reasons.
The next Indian invaders, and the first to be seen by white men, were the Miami and Potawatomi tribes that drifted down the west side of Lake Michigan and turned across the northern sector of what is now Indiana after the middle of the 17th century. The Kickapoo and Wea tribes pushed into upper Indiana from northern Illinois. The southern two-thirds of the present state was a vast hunting ground, without villages.
The first European penetration was made in the 1670s by the French explorers Father Jacques Marquette and René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. After the founding of Detroit in 1701, the Maumee-Wabash river route to the lower Ohio was discovered. At the portage between the two rivers, Jean Baptiste Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes, lived at Kekionga, the principal village of the Miami and the present site of Fort Wayne. The first French fort was built farther down the Wabash among the Wea, near modern Lafayette, in 1717. Three years later, Fort Miami was erected. Vincennes's son constructed another fort on the Wabash in 1732, at the site of the town later named for him.
English traders venturing down the Ohio River disputed the French trade monopoly, and as a result of the French and Indian War, French Canada was given up to the British in 1760. Indians under Chief Pontiac captured the two forts in northern Indiana, and the area was not securely in English hands until 1765. The pre-Revolutionary turbulence in the Atlantic seaboard colonies was hardly felt in Indiana, although the region did not escape the Revolutionary War itself. Colonel George Rogers Clark, acting for Virginia, captured Vincennes from a British garrison early in 1779 after a heroic march. Two years later, a detachment of 108 Pennsylvanians, passing down the Ohio to reinforce Clark, was surprised by a force of French Canadians and Indians under Mohawk Captain Joseph Brant; most of the Pennsylvanians were killed during the battle or after capture.
Following the Revolutionary War, the area northwest of the Ohio River was granted to the new nation; known as the Northwest Territory, it included present-day Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. The first US settlement in Indiana was made in 1784 on land opposite Louisville, Ky., granted to Clark's veterans by Virginia. (The new town, called Clarksville, still exists.) Americans also moved into Vincennes. Government was established by the Continental Congress under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Again, Indiana unrest endangered all settlements north of the Ohio, and the small US army, with headquarters at Cincinnati, met defeat at what is now Fort Wayne in 1790 and disaster in neighboring Ohio in 1791. General Anthony Wayne was put in command of an enlarged army and defeated the Indians in 1794 at Fallen Timbers (near Toledo, Ohio). British meddling was ended by Jay's treaty later the same year. Wayne then built a new fort—named for him—among the Miami.
In 1800, as Ohio prepared to enter the Union, the rest of the Northwest Territory was set off and called Indiana Territory, with its capital at Vincennes. There Elihu Stout established a newspaper, the Indiana Gazette, in 1804. After Michigan Territory was detached in 1805, and Illinois Territory in 1809, Indiana assumed its present boundaries. The federal census counted 24,520 people in Indiana in 1810, including a new Swiss colony on the Ohio, where settlers planted vineyards and made wine.
William Henry Harrison was appointed first governor and, with a secretary and three appointed judges, constituted the government of Indiana Territory. Under the Northwest Ordinance, when the population reached 5,000 adult males, it was allowed to elect an assembly and nominate candidates for an upper house. When the population totaled 60,000—as it did in 1815—the voters were allowed to write a state constitution and to apply for admission to the Union. A short constitution excluding slavery and recommending public schools was adopted and Indiana became the 19th state on 11 December 1816.
Meanwhile, Indiana had seen Governor Harrison lead US troops up the Wabash in 1811 and beat off an Indian attack at Tippecanoe. The War of 1812 took Harrison away from Indiana, and battles were fought in other theaters. Hoosiers suffered Indian raids, and two forts were besieged for a few days. After the war, new settlers began pouring into the state from the upper South and in fewer numbers from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and New England. A group of German Pietists under George Rapp settled Harmonie on the lower Wabash in 1815 and stayed 10 years before selling out to Robert Owen, a visionary with utopian dreams that failed at the village he renamed New Harmony. In 1816, Tom Lincoln brought his family from Kentucky, and his son Abe grew up in southern Indiana from age 7 to 21.
Unlike most other states, Indiana was settled from south to north. The inhabitants were called Hoosiers; the origin of the word is obscure, but the term may have come from an Anglo-Saxon word for hill dwellers. Central and northern Indiana were opened up as land was purchased from the Indians. The Potawatomi were forced to go west in 1838, and the Miami left in 1846. Commerce flowed south to the Ohio River in the form of corn, hogs, whiskey, and timber. Indianapolis was laid out as a planned city and centrally located capital in 1820, but 30 years passed before its population caught up to the size of Madison and New Albany on the Ohio.
An overambitious program of internal improvements (canals and roads) in the 1830s plunged the state into debts it could not pay. Railroads, privately financed, began to tie Indiana commercially with the East. The Irish came to dig canals and lay the rails, and Germans, many of them Catholics, came to do woodworking and farming. Levi Coffin, a Quaker who moved to Fountain City in 1826, opened a different kind of road, the Underground Railroad, to help escaping slaves from the South.
A new constitution in 1851 showed Jacksonian preferences for more elective offices, shorter terms, a one-term governorship, limited biennial legislative sessions, county government, obligatory common schools, and severe limits on state debt. But this constitution also prohibited blacks from entering the state.
Hoosiers showed considerable sympathy with the South in the 1850s, and there was considerable "copperhead" activity in the early 1860s. Nevertheless, Indiana remained staunchly in the Union under Governor Oliver P. Morton, sending some 200,000 soldiers to the Civil War. The state suffered no battles, but General John Hunt Morgan's Confederate cavalry raided the southeastern sector of Indiana in July 1863.
After the Civil War, small local industries expanded rapidly. The first nonfarm enterprises were gristmills, sawmills, meat-packing plants, distilleries and breweries, leatherworking shops, furniture factories, and steamboat and carriage makers. Wagons made by Studebaker in South Bend won fame during the war, as did Van Camp's canned pork and beans from Indianapolis. Discovery of natural gas in several northeastern counties in 1886, and the resultant low fuel prices, spurred the growth of glass factories. Elwood Haynes of Kokomo designed a one-cylinder horseless carriage in 1894 and drove it. As America became infatuated with the new autos, 375 Indiana factories started turning them out. A racetrack for testing cars was built outside Indianapolis in 1908, and the famous 500-mi (805-km) race on Memorial Day weekend began in 1911. Five years earlier, US Steel had constructed a steel plant at the south end of Lake Michigan. The town built by the company to house the workers was called Gary, and it grew rapidly with the help of the company and the onset of World War I. Oil refineries were developed in the same area, known as the Calumet region.
Of the millions of immigrants who flocked to the US from 1870 to 1914, very few settled in Indiana. The percentage of foreign-born residents declined from 9% in 1860 to 7% in 1880, all of them from northern Europe and over half from Germany. By 1920, the percentage was down to 5%, although some workers from southern and eastern Europe had gravitated to the industries of the Calumet.
Although many Hoosiers of German and Irish descent favored neutrality when World War I began, Indiana industries eventually boomed with war orders, and public sympathy swung heavily toward the Allies. Indiana furnished 118,000 men and women to the armed forces and suffered the loss of 3,370—a much smaller participation than in the Civil War, from a population more than twice the size.
After 1920, only about a dozen makes of cars were still being manufactured in Indiana, and those factories steadily lost out to the Big Three car makers in Detroit. The exception was Studebaker in South Bend, which grew to more than 23,000 employees during World War II. The company finally closed its doors in 1965. Auto parts continued to be a big business, however, along with steelmaking and oil refining in the Calumet region. Elsewhere there was manufacturing of machinery, farm implements, railway cars, furniture, and pharmaceuticals. Meat-packing, coal mining, and limestone quarrying continued to be important. With increasing industrialization, cities grew, particularly in the northern half of the state, and the number of farms diminished. The balance of rural and urban population, about even in 1920, tilted in favor of urban dwellers.
World War II had a greater impact on Indiana than did World War I. Most factories converted to production of war materials; 300 held defense orders in 1942. Du Pont built a huge powder plant near Charlestown. The slack in employment was taken up, women went into factories, more rural families moved to cities, and military training facilities were created. The enormous Jefferson Proving Ground tested ammunition and parachutes.
After the war, many locally small industries were taken over by national corporations, and their plants were expanded. By 1984, the largest employer in Indiana was General Motors, with 47,800 employees in six cities. Inland Steel, with 18,500 workers, was 2nd, followed by US Steel with 13,800 workers. Although the state's population in the mid-1980s was about two-thirds urban and one-third rural, agriculture retained much of its importance.
Nostalgia for an older, simpler, rural way of life pervades much Hoosier thinking. The shoreline area of industrial Gary notwithstanding (although it, too, was the subject of cleanups during the 1990s), Indiana stands high in conservation, owing to the vision of Richard Lieber, a state official who from 1933 to 1944 promoted the preservation of land for state parks and recreational areas as well as for state and federal forests.
The percentage of registered voters in Indiana who participate in elections generally exceeded the national average by a wide margin. The evenness of strength between the two major political parties during much of its history has frequently made Indiana a swing state, eagerly courted by Democrats and Republicans alike. In 1967, Democrat Richard Hatcher became one of the nation's first blacks to serve as head of a major city when he was elected mayor of Gary. In 1988 Indiana native son J. Danforth Quayle, then a US senator, was elected vice president of the United States on the Republican ticket with George Bush.
The state legislature was dominated by rural interests until reapportionment in 1966 gave urban counties more representation. Biennial sessions were then changed to annual, although they are still limited in duration. The direct primary for nomination of governor, lieutenant governor, and US senator was mandated in 1975.
In the early 1980s, Indiana, along with the other manufacturing-intensive states, suffered a recession, which was compounded by declining farm prices and high operating costs for farmers. Later in the decade the state's economy improved with the expansion of service industries, which continued through the 1990s. While the state's unemployment rate of 3% in 1999 was below the national average, median income and per capita income levels ranked in the mid-ranges nationally, owing in part to the state's agricultural and manufacturing character. Indiana's business leaders remained concerned in 2000 that Indiana had not attracted enough high-tech companies and that the state's economy was too reliant on the "old economy" manufacturing sector, causing many to worry about the consequences of a downturn. At the same time the Indianapolis area lost several high-profile corporate headquarters.
Educational reform based on increased funding played a prominent role in Indiana public policy in the 1990s. In early 2000 the state was the first in the nation to pass a so-called Ten Commandments law; the legislation allowed the Ten Commandments to be displayed in classrooms, where it would be taught as a historical document.
In October 1999, for the first time in its 183-year history, the state named a black man, Justice Robert D. Rucker, to the Indiana Supreme Court. Governor Frank O'Bannon's appointment won praises from the legal community.
As of January 2003, Indiana had a $300 million budget deficit—like more than half of the 50 states that year that had budget shortfalls. In the struggle to come up with a two-year budget, Republican legislators squared off against Democratic Governor O'Bannon on issues such as funding Medicaid and education.