Midwest History

This year’s Rose Bowl between Iowa and Stanford resurrects a traditional rivalry: the Midwestern Big-10 and the West Coast’s Pac-12. It will be an evenly matched game. The Big-10 is one of the best athletic conferences in America, and the Pac-12 is also an athletic conference. The Midwest is arguably the most important region on earth, filled with good-looking and industrious people capable of super-human accomplishments, and the West Coast borders the Pacific Ocean.

These 2 regions met at the very first Tournament of Roses in Pasadena way back in 1901. The University of Michigan played Stanford and won 49-0 after Stanford quit in the 3rd quarter. Ouch. The game was such a disaster that for the next 13 years, the Tournament of Roses wasn't even a football game, but events like ostrich or chariot races. 

Since being taken out to the woodshed in that football game over 100 years ago, the West Coast has risen to put its mark on the American landscape: Silicon Valley, Hollywood, 80s Glam Metal, 90s Grunge, Disneyland, and overuse of breast implants and Prozac

Unfortunately for the West Coast, none of those hallmark accomplishments would have been possible without their smarter, better looking cousin to the East. As Midwesterners, we're not saying we need a "Thank You" card every year or anything. Just a little recognition would be nice. Recognition of the fact that we have pretty much single-handedly built the West Coast from an empty, arid wasteland to a now populated wasteland. 


About 70 years before that first Rose Bowl game, in 1836, the first wagon train left Independence, Missouri bound for the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The Show Me State outfitted those early Westerners with wagons that could slowly roll, could be caulked and floated across rivers that were too deep to ford, and even could be put on a raft and deftly steered around river boulders on the way to final leg before eventual settlement in Oregon. And all back in time when there were only 2 colors and 8-bits of animation!

There is also a chance that not everything in the video game Oregon Trail is 100% accurate. 


As the Midwest helped to fill up Oregon, settlement in California lagged behind, primarily because it was part of Mexico. Woops! But those were olden times, when America had a strong moral compass that allowed it to enslave a part of the population and "liberate" lands it wanted from countries that were too weak to adequately fight back. 

We conquered California in The Mexican-American War from 1846-1848. A trio of Ohio-born officers, William Tecumseh Sherman, William Rosecrans, and Ulysses S Grant were together for the first time in action, years before they would help win the Civil War. 

Looking back on the war, Grant cheerily recalled that he regarded the war as, "one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger nation against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies." 

Well, we could talk about who invaded who till the cows come home. The most important thing is that we kicked Mexico's ass and a whole bunch of land was ours.

WT Sherman became California's first administrator following the war in 1848 and oversaw a few pretty big changes. He changed the name of San Francisco from Yerba Buena to San Francisco. Without that, Puck would have been a bit character in Real World Yerba Buena. Then in 1849, Sherman officially confirmed the discovery of gold, kicking off the California Gold Rush, which was prrrrreeettttty important to California's development.I mean, no one was going to rush out to California for the great public schools and abundance of therapists.  


In 1891, Iowa-native Herbert Hoover enrolled in Stanford University's inaugural class. One of only 555 students, Stanford was founded in Palo Alto by Leland Stanford, a wealthy railroad magnate who originally arrived in Michigan City, California from Wisconsin in 1852 to found a general store with his brothers during the Gold Rush. 

Leland Stanford recruited Indiana University's 40-year-old president, David Starr Jordan to head his university. And it was Jordan who delivered the first convocation to Hoover's class, saying "[Stanford] is hallowed by no traditions; it is hampered by none."

It was also short on cash. 

In 1905, the school was in a shaky spot when Leland Stanford's wife Jane, died while vacationing in Oahu. The local coroners chalked it up to strychnine poisoning, but Jordan traveled out himself with a doctor and reported that it was not poisoning but heart failure. 

Just a little mix-up! Suspicious death that looks like poisoning turns out to be heart failure, something which looks nothing like poisoning! Oh well, better head back for the fundraiser!

Jordan's motives for this are unknown, but Stanford University plodded along until 1925, when another Midwesterner arrived to really knock it out of the park for Palo Alto: English, Indiana-native Frederick Terman

Known as "The Father of Silicon Valley," Terman had studied electrical engineering at Stanford and as a member of the faculty developed coursework and publications on electronics. He also helped a student, Bill Hewlett (from Ann Arbor), get his company, Hewlett-Packard, off the ground in 1937.

That experience led Terman to set up the Stanford Industrial Park in 1951, whose purpose was to kick-start technology companies in California instead of New York. HP was an early tenant, alongside General Electric and Lockheed. 

17 years later, in 1968, Silicon Valley became Silicon Valley when Roberty Noyce of Burlington, Iowa founded Intel -- whose silicon-based computer chips would later lend the region its name.  

Since then, the tech world in central California has been a hit parade of Midwesterners: Google's Larry Page (Lansing, Michigan); Twitter's Jack Dorsey (St Louis) and Evan Williams (Clarks, Nebraska); Square's Jim McKelvey (St Louis); Zynga's Mark Pincus (Chicago); Netscape's Marc Andreesen (Cedar Falls, Iowa); and Pinterest's Ben Silberman (Des Moines). 

You jelly our big brains, rest of the world?


In 1902, HJ Whitley became the "Father of Hollywood" when he moved out west from Chicago and opened the Hollywood Hotel. Seven years later, Chicago really kicked Southern California's march toward den of iniquity when Chicago-guy William Selig and his film company, Selig Polyscope followed Whitely 1909 to set up LA's firs motion picture company. Selig's 1910 film, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz gained them national attention and helped to attract other filmmakers. 

One of those attracted to California was Carl Laemmle, a German immigrant who opened a Chicago nickelodeon in 1906. He showed short films that he made but in 1909 got crossways of Ohio-native Thomas Edison, who's New Jersey-based Motion Picture Patents Company (known as "The Edison Trust") claimed to have a patent on all movies made in America. 

Laemmle started the Independent Moving Pictures Company and started showing films without paying royalties to The Edison Trust. 

Edison was not going to put up with that shit. The acclaimed inventor and "Wizard of Menlo Park" had become hard-as-hell after he moved to New Jersey. He dispatched thugs to intimidate Laemmle as well as those people seeing or making his movies. And Edison sued Laemmle a whopping 249 times! Yowzers. The East Coast had also made Edison pretty f-ing litigious. 

But Laemmel was living in the City of Big Shoulders. He was no slouch. He and IMP survived the onslaught and in 1912 moved out to California with other independent filmmakers Adolph Zukor and William Fox. From these three men came Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox.   

But we Midwesterners are a forgiving people. The Supreme Court ruled against Edison's motion picture monopoly, and when Laemmle finished his new studio, Universal City, in 1915, Thomas Edison dedicated the state-of-the-art electric studio.

Awww. It just warms your heart. 

In 1917, the Warner Brothers moved to LA from Youngstown, Ohio to set up their studio. In 1923, Walt Disney moved from Kansas City to join his brother Roy and found Disney Brothers. With the addition of other animators from Kansas City, Disney was the final arrival of the big 5 "Hollywood Studios": Universal, Paramount, Fox, Warner, and Disney. 

In 1955, Walt Disney opened Disneyworld, complete with rides, castles, and a glorified recreation of his "hometown," Marceline, Missouri. Nothing like a group of wholesome, down-to-earth Midwesterners to erect a temple of fantasy! 


As if helping with San Fran's name marketing wasn't enough, we also took care of some major landmarks: Cincinnati's Joseph Strauss designed the Golden Gate Bridge, which opened in 1937, and North Bend, Nebraskas's Charles Purcell designed the Bay Bridge.

A University of Nebraska grad, Purcell had already designed several Western bridges when he was appointed to the Bay Bridge team in 1928 -- like the Eagle Creek Bridge in Oregon and the Center Street Bridge spanning the Columbia River in Oregon. 

Despite a strike in 1934, Purcell delivered the Bay Bridge a few months early, and at the time it was the widest bridge in the world. 

After that, people could get around easily and there has never been traffic again.


For anyone who has looked at the Oregon mascot and thought, "Man, that looks a lot like Donald Duck." You're right! That is Donald Duck. In the 1930s, student drawings of the Oregon mascot looked more and more like Disney's Donald Duck, but Missouri-native Walt Disney agreed to license Donald to Oregon in 1947. 


Midland, Michigan company Dow Corning develops silicone breast implants. California rejoices! 


Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Edition aims to capture a growing trend, "The California Look" with model Cheryl Rae Tiegs. The only problem: Tiegs was from Breckenridge, Minnesota. As Soundgarden would later say, "I'm looking California, but feeling Minnesota." 


Corning, Iowa-native Johnny Carson moves The Tonight Show to from New York City to Burbank. 


For the Californians who bottom-out because their breast implants don't make them feel like Cheryl Rae Tiegs, the Midwest has an answer: Prozac! Indianapolis' Eli Lilly developed this staple of the California diet and bought them a little more time. 


Tampico, Illinois-native Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 and gave your grandparents something to talk about at Thanksgiving from 1994-ish until today. Though a Midwesterner, Reagan had been an actor and then governor of California. The only true California-native to ever win the Presidency was Richard Nixon. So hey, California, you've still got Tricky Dick to fall back on. 


Around 1983, a young man named Axl Rose arrived in LA from his hometown of Lafayette, Indiana. He got off the bus wearing a backwards trucker hat, flannel shirt, and still chewing a piece of Midwestern-straw. He set his suitcase down and someone told him, "You know where you are?! You're in the jungle, baby!" Probably not. The bus part may be true. Maybe even that hat. It would be hard to keep that straw in tact for a 2,102.5 mile bus trip.

When Rose arrived, LA's Whiskey-A-Go-Go was featuring up-and-coming "Glam Metal" bands like Night Ranger, Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, Ratt, and Motley Crue. These bands were following in the foot-steps of another Indiana dude, David Lee Roth (Bloomington, Indiana), whose over-the-top showmanship while fronting Van Halen led a whole bunch of dudes to suddenly get cool with hair spray, make-up, and tight pants. 

For 2 years, Rose played in several metal bands in LA like Rapidfire and LA Guns. But on June 6, 1985, Rose finalized a line-up for Guns N Roses with fellow Lafayette-native Izzy Stradlin. As Fargo Rock City author (and Wyndmere, North Dakota-native) Chuck Klosterman writes: "The date [June 6] might not be accurate ... but I suspect the June 6 designation is more akin to the way early Christians decided December 25 was the day Jesus was born." 

In 1987, that June 6 line-up of GNR band released Appetite for Destruction which slowly built a sales-base before hitting Number 1 on the Billboard charts in 1988 and eventually went on to sell 30 million copies (10% of the current American population!).

It has also been been in rural Midwestern high school weight rooms continuously since 1989.

Klosterman thinks Rose's Midwestern roots were what may have helped GNR to have such a monster appeal nation-wide. "Izzy Stradlin ... once said, 'Nobody goes to Los Angeles. LA is where you end up.' So that was how we came to view Axl: He was the guy who took our small-town paradigm and applied it to the real world ... [I thought] he was the coolest motherfucker on the planet. One of my best friends is a gay rock writer named Ross Raihala, and Ross once told me he always suspected straight midwestern teens looked at Axl Rose the same way closeted gay teens looked at Morrissey ... Rose did mean something more than his glam peers, especially for people who lived in the middle of nowhere ... He was an iconoclast." 

Rose took Glam Metal and blew it wide open. He ruled from his West Coast throne, but he didn't know 2 things: 1) his future plastic surgery would not turn out so hot, and 2) that at the time GNR was rising, another Midwesterner in Seattle was laying the groundwork for Glam Metal's destruction.   


In 1986, Chicago-native Bruce Pavitt founded Sup-Pop Records in Seattle -- the label that would epitomize Grunge. Having grown up in the Midwest, Pavitt spent the 60s listening to records out of Detroit's Motown Records. In the late 1970s, Pavitt discovered Akron's Devo as well as the fanzine CLE, which focused on independent Ohio bands. By the early 80s, he was listening to Chicago punk band Naked Raygun and hanging out at Wax Trax! Records, where he met Kim Thayil -- future Soundgarden guitarist.

Arriving in Seattle, Pavitt built Sub-Pop on 2 premises: 1) that it would focus on smaller bands, and 2) that it would cultivate at "Seattle Sound" -- like Motown Records had done for Detroit. 

In 1986, Pavitt released Green River's first EP, and followed that with Soundgarden's first EP in 1987. Mudhoney followed shortly after that, and in 1988 Pavitt signed Nirvana and released Bleach

In early 1990, for Nirvana's follow-up album, Nevermind, Pavitt recommended they get out of Seattle.

He sent them to Wisconsin to meet with Butch Vig at his Smart Studios in Madison. Vig grew up in Viroqua, Wisconsin, studied film at UW Madison, but set up Smart Studios in 1984. He recorded the early albums for Killdozer, a Wisconsin-band now recognized as helping develop the seminal Grunge sound. That work caught Pavitt and Cobain's attention, and with Vig, the first 8 tracks to Nevermind were recorded. Remaining recording was done in LA. 

Released in 1991, Nevermind slowly built until it reached the top of the Billboard charts in early 1992, selling over 300,000 copies per week. 

Like GNR with Glam Metal, Vig and Pavitt helped break grunge wide open. Seattle bands like like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots went mainstream. Hair spray and tight pants for dudes was out. Flannel shirts and loose jeans were everywhere.

It was like American high schools had been invaded by miniature Brawny men. 

Dark, depressing lyrics replaced the swagger of Glam Metal. "Take Me Down to the Paradise City" lost to "Rape Me." 

The 90s were great and no one was happy. Thanks, Midwest. 


Just when it looked like the West Coast was lost to Glam Metal and Grunge, the Midwest swooped into the rescue in 1998 when Minnesota filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen released their follow up to Fargo, The Big Lebowski

Restoring the West Coast's relaxed demeanor, the film gained a cult following, and even spawned a religion, The Church of the Latter-Day Dude, founded in 2005. 


So rest easy, West Coast. No matter what happens in the Rose Bowl this year, the Midwest is there for you, just like always, to let you take credit for our people's accomplishments while they live in your states.