Nebraska, state in central United States in the Great Plains region; bordered by South Dakota to the north, the Missouri River and Iowa and Missouri to the east, Kansas to the south, Colorado to the south and west, and Wyoming to the west.
Land and climate
Nebraska, which slopes gradually from northwest to southeast, has 2 main land regions. The eastern fifth of the state lies in the Dissected Till Plains. Once covered by glaciers, this region has a fertile, yellowish soil called loess that was built up by winds. The Great Plains region covers the rest of the state. It includes the Sand Hills section, the largest area of sand dunes in North America, whose streams and grasses make it good for cattle grazing; the Loess Plain section, a farming area; and the High Plains and Badlands sections, used mainly for cattle grazing. The state's rivers, which drain into the Missouri, include the Platte (the state's major river), Loup, Elkhorn, Niobrara, Republican, Big and Little Blue, and Big and Little Nemaha. Nebraska's unpredictable climate is marked by extremes of heat and cold. Principal cities are Omaha and Lincoln.
Service industries—wholesale trade, finance, and insurance—are important to Nebraska's economy, as is agriculture. Beef cattle are the chief livestock product; others are hogs and milk. Chief crops are corn, hay, soybeans, wheat, beans, sorghum, sugar beets, and oats. Manufactured goods include processed foods, machinery, chemicals, primary and fabricated metals, and transportation equipment. Nebraska has few minerals.
Nebraska's present constitution was adopted in 1875. The governor serves a 4-year term. Nebraska is the only state with a unicameral (one-house) legislature; it consists of 49 senators serving 4-year terms. In the U.S. Congress, Nebraska is represented by 2 senators and 3 representatives.
Prehistoric people probably lived in the area 10,000 to 25,000 years ago. When European explorers arrived in the 1500s, several Indian tribes lived in the area. In 1682, the French explorer La Salle claimed all lands in the Mississippi Valley—including Nebraska—for France. France ceded the area to Spain for a time, then sold it to the U.S. in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. Soon after, traders established posts there. Until 1854, the U.S. government classified Nebraska as Indian territory, forbidding further white settlement there. However, thousands of white settlers traveled through on the Oregon Trail during the 1830s and 1840s. The slavery debate led to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which established the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. (The Nebraska Territory included present-day Nebraska and parts of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado.) Railroads and the Homestead Act of 1862 opened Nebraska to expanding white settlement; clashes erupted between ranchers and farmers. The territory supported the Union during the Civil War. Nebraska became a state in 1867. The farm-based economy suffered during the Great Depression of the 1930s but improved during World War II, when the state's food output increased and new industries were developed. The farm crisis of the 1970s and 1980s hit Nebraska hard. Today, it is working to preserve family farms and attract new industries.