The Mound Builders were Indiana's earliest known inhabitants, and the remains of their culture have been found along Indiana's rivers and bottomlands. The region was first explored by Europeans, notably the French, in the late 17th cent. The leading French explorer was Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, who came to the area in 1679. At the time of exploration, the area was occupied mainly by Native American groups of the Miami, Delaware, and Potawatamie descents. Vincennes, the first permanent settlement, was fortified in 1732, but for the first half of the 1700s, most of the settlers in the area were Jesuit missionaries or fur traders.
By the Treaty of Paris of 1763 ending the French and Indian Wars, Indiana, then part of the area known as the Old Northwest, passed from French to British control. Along with the rest of the Old Northwest, Indiana was united with Canada under the Quebec Act of 1774 (see Intolerable Acts). During the American Revolution an expedition led by George Rogers Clark captured, lost, and then recaptured Vincennes from the British. By the Treaty of Paris of 1783 ending the Revolutionary War, Great Britain ceded the Old Northwest to the United States.
Indiana was still largely unsettled when the Northwest Territory, of which it formed a part, was established in 1787. Native Americans in the territory resisted settlement, but Gen. Anthony Wayne's victory at Fallen Timbers in 1794 effectively ended Native American resistance in the Old Northwest. U.S. forces led by Gen. William Henry Harrison also defeated the Native American forces in the battle of Tippecanoe (1811) in the Wabash country.
In 1800, Indiana Territory was formed and included the states of Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and parts of Michigan and Minnesota. Vincennes was made the capital, which in 1813 was moved to Corydon. A constitutional convention met in 1816, and Indiana achieved statehood. Jonathan Jennings, an opponent of slavery, was elected governor. Indianapolis was laid out as the state capital, and the executive moved there in 1824–25.
Indiana was the site of several experimental communities in the early 19th cent., notably the Rappite (1815) and Owenite (1825) settlements at New Harmony. In the 1840s the Wabash and Erie Canal opened between Lafayette and Toledo, Ohio, giving Indiana a water route via Lake Erie to eastern markets. Also in the 1840s the state's first railroad line was completed between Indianapolis and Madison. The Hoosier spirit of simplicity and forthrightness that developed during Indiana's early years of statehood figured in the writings of Edward Eggleston in The Hoosier Schoolmaster and was represented in much later days by James Whitcomb Riley, George Ade, Gene Stratton Porter, and also in the nostalgic lyric by Paul Dresser (brother of Indiana-born novelist Theodore Dreiser) for the song "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away."
The Civil War brought great changes in the state. In the elections of 1860, Indiana voted for Lincoln, who had spent his boyhood in the Hoosier state. Although there was some proslavery sentiment in Indiana, represented by the Knights of the Golden Circle, Oliver P. Morton, governor during the war, held the state unswervingly to the Union cause even after constitutional government broke down in 1862. General John Hunt Morgan led a Confederate raid into Indiana in 1863, but otherwise little action occurred in the state.
Manufacturing, which had been stimulated in Indiana by the needs of the war, developed rapidly after the war. Factories sprang up, and the old rustic pattern was broken. However, Indiana's farmers continued to be an important force in the state, and in the hard times following the Panic of 1873 indebted farmers expressed their discontent by supporting the Granger movement and later the Greenback party in 1876 and the Populist party in the 1890s.
Industrial development came to the Calumet region along Indiana's Lake Michigan shoreline in the late 19th cent. Marshy wastelands were drained and transformed into an area supporting a complex of factories and oil refineries. As the 19th cent. drew to a close, industry continued to expand and the growing numbers of industrial workers in the state sought to organize through labor unions. Eugene V. Debs, one of the great early labor leaders, was from Indiana, and the labor movement at Gary in the Calumet area figured prominently in the nationwide steel strike just after World War I. Indiana was an early leader in the production of automobiles. Before Detroit took control of the industry in the 1920s, Indiana boasted over 300 automobile companies.
Indiana society in the first half of the 20th cent. has been described in a number of studies and books. The classic sociological study by Robert S. Lynd and Helen M. Lynd of an American manufacturing town, Middletown (1929), was based on data from Muncie, Ind. Midwestern life and American boyhood were portrayed realistically, and often with humor and optimism, in the novels of Booth Tarkington. Another Indiana author, Theodore Dreiser, wrote more generally of American society in a changing age. In the 1930s and 1940s, Wendell Willkie and Ernie Pyle, both natives of Indiana, became nationally prominent figures in politics and journalism, respectively.
Although Indiana in the latter half of the 19th cent. was regarded as a "swing state" electorally, it has generally been conservative throughout the 1900s. Republican J. Danforth "Dan"Quayle, elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980 and 1986, was elected vice president of the United States in 1988. From the 1980s through the mid-1990s, the northern industrial portion of the state experienced a period of significant decline, along with the rest of the midwestern "rust belt." However, the area around Indianapolis experienced significant growth with a diversified economy.