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13 Things You Should Know About Indiana History

May 9, 2014

Fourth grade was a long time ago, so here’s a refresher course in our state’s history including some things your teacher wouldn’t have taught you.

1. The Indiana Territory, which contained present-day Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota, was formed in 1800 from the Northwest Territory. Indiana means “Land of the Indians.”

2. We moved our capital twice. Vincennes was the first capital of the Indiana Territory. It was moved to Corydon in 1813. Indianapolis became the state capital in 1825 nine years after Indiana was admitted as the 19th state.


3. Abraham Lincoln spent his younger days in Indiana – 14 years of it from the time he was 7 until 21. Abe called Indiana as unpoetical as any spot of the earth,? but we forgive him for that.


4. Nearly 210,000 Hoosiers 15 percent of the state’s population and much above its quota fought for the Union in the Civil War. In fact, so many volunteered in the first call that thousands were turned away.


5. Play ball! The first game between two professional baseball teams was in Fort Wayne in 1871. And the first night baseball game under artificial lights took place in Fort Wayne in 1883.


6. We’ve had some notorious citizens. “Public Enemy No. 1” John Dillinger allegedly escaped Crown Point Prison with a wooden “gun” blackened with shoe polish. The first train robbery in the U.S. was in Indiana in 1866 when the Reno Brothers stopped an Ohio and Mississippi train in Jackson County. Their take was $13,000.


7. Union Gen. Lew Wallace, born in Brookville, was not only the governor of the New Mexico Territory, he wrote one of the best-selling books of all time, Ben-Hur.


8. Hoosiers Levi and Catherine Coffin helped more than 2,000 runaway slaves travel north to freedom.


9. Indiana is both backward and forward: Indiana passed statewide prohibition three years before the federal government ban on alcohol, but segregation was outlawed in Indiana schools in 1949 five years before Brown v. Board of Education.


10. The first running of the Indianapolis 500 was in 1911 and won by Ray Harroun in 6 hours and 42 minutes with an average speed of 75 miles per hour. Since then, the Indianapolis 500 has been held every year except during World Wars I and II.


11. Madame C.J. Walker, who built her beauty and hair care business in Indianapolis, was the first female self-made millionaire in the U.S.


12. Indianapolis was the site of both Carole Lombard’s last public appearance and Elvis’s last performance.

elvis ticket.jpg

13. And our favorite: The Colts left Baltimore for Indianapolis in the dead of night in 1984 in a fleet of Mayflower moving trucks.



Kim Easton is communications director at IHS. She enjoys great books, good wine and bad television.

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