In prehistoric times Ohio was inhabited by the Mound Builders, many of whose mounds are preserved in state parks and in the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (see National Parks and Monuments, table). Before the arrival of Europeans, E Ohio was the scene of warfare between the Iroquois and the Erie, which resulted in the extermination of the Erie. In addition to the Iroquois, other Native American tribes soon prominent in the region were the Miami, the Shawnee, and the Ottawa.
La Salle began his explorations of the Ohio valley in 1669 and claimed the entire area for France. The Ohio River became a magnet for fur traders and landseekers, and the British, attempting to move in (see Ohio Company), hotly contested the French claims. Rivalry for control of the forks of the Ohio River led to the outbreak (1754) of the last of the French and Indian Wars. The defeat of the French gave the land to the British, but British possession was disturbed by Pontiac's Rebellion. The British government issued a proclamation in 1763 forbidding settlement W of the Appalachian Mts. Then in 1774, with the Quebec Act, the British placed the region between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes within the boundaries of Canada. The colonists' resentment over these acts contributed to the discontent that led to the American Revolution, during which military operations were conducted in the Ohio country.
Ohio was part of the vast area ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris (1783; see Paris, Treaty of). Conflicting claims to land in that area made by Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia were settled by relinquishment of almost all of the claims (see Western Reserve) and the organization of the Old Northwest by the Ordinance of 1787. Ohio was the first region developed under the provisions of that ordinance, with the activities of the Ohio Company of Associates promoted by Rufus Putnam and Manasseh Cutler. Marietta, founded in 1788, was the first permanent American settlement in the Old Northwest.
In the years that followed, various land companies were formed, and settlers poured in from the East, either down the Ohio on flatboats and barges, or across the mountains by wagon—their numbers varying with conditions but steadily expanding the area's population. The Native Americans, supported by the British, resisted American settlement. They successfully opposed campaigns led by Josiah Harmar and Arthur St. Clair but were decisively defeated by Anthony Wayne in the battle of Fallen Timbers (1794). The British thereafter (1796) withdrew their outposts from the Northwest under the terms of Jay's Treaty, and the area was pacified. Ohio became a territory in 1799. General St. Clair, as the first governor, ruled in an arbitrary fashion that made Ohioans for many years afterward distrustful of all government. In 1802 a state convention drafted a constitution, and in 1803 Ohio entered the Union, with Chillicothe as its capital. Columbus became the permanent capital in 1816.
In the War of 1812 the Americans lost many of the early battles of the war that took place in the Old Northwest, and their military frontier was pushed back to the Ohio River. Two British attacks on Ohio soil were successfully resisted: one against Fort Meigs at the mouth of the Maumee River and the other against Fort Stephenson on the Sandusky. The area was further secured by Oliver Hazard Perry's naval victory on Lake Erie near Put-in-Bay, Ohio, and William Henry Harrison's victory in the battle of the Thames on Canadian soil.
After the war Ohio's growth was spurred by the building of the Erie Canal, other canals, and toll roads. The National Road was a vital settlement and commercial artery. Settlement of the Western Reserve by New Englanders (especially those from Connecticut) gives NE Ohio a decidedly New England cultural landscape. Ohio's society of small farmers exported their produce down the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers to St. Louis and New Orleans. In 1837 Ohio won a territorial struggle with Michigan usually called the Toledo War. The Loan Law, adopted in the Panic of 1837, encouraged railroad and industrial development. Railroads gradually succeeded canals, preparing the way for the industrial expansion that followed the Civil War.
Most Ohioans were sympathetic with the Union in the Civil War, and many Ohioans served in the Union army. Native sons such as Joshua R. Giddings, Salmon P. Chase, and Edwin M. Stanton had long been prominent opponents of slavery. Nevertheless, the Peace Democrats, the Knights of the Golden Circle, and the Copperheads were very active; Clement L. Vallandigham drew many votes in the gubernatorial election of 1863. Ohio was the scene of the northernmost penetration of Confederate forces in the war—the famous raid (1863) of John Hunt Morgan, which terrorized the people of the countryside until Morgan and most of his men were finally captured in the southeast corner of the state.
After the Civil War industrial development grew rapidly when shipments of ore from the upper Great Lakes region increased and the development of the petroleum industry in NE Ohio shifted the center of economic activity from the banks of the Ohio River to the shores of Lake Erie, particularly around Cleveland. Immigrants began to swell the population, and huge fortunes were made.
Ohio became very important politically. The state contributed seven American presidents: Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Warren G. Harding. Big business and politics became entwined as in the relations of Marcus A. Hanna and McKinley. City bosses such as Cincinnati's George B. Cox also followed this pattern. The state as a whole was for many years steadily Republican, despite the rise of organized labor in the late 19th cent. and considerable labor strife. In the 1890s the reform-minded mayor of Toledo, Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones, won national fame for his espousal of city ownership of municipal utilities.
Floods in the many rivers flowing to the Ohio and in the Ohio River itself have long been a problem; a devastating flood in 1913 led to the establishment of the Miami valley conservation project. Continuing long-term state and federal projects have improved locks and dams along the entire length of the Ohio and its major tributaries, for navigation as well as flood control purposes.
Both farms and industries in Ohio were hard hit by the Great Depression that began in 1929. In the 1930s the state was wracked by major strikes such as the sit-down strikes in Akron (1935–36) and the so-called Little Steel strike (1937). World War II brought great prosperity to Ohio, but labor strife later resumed, as in the steel strikes of 1949 and 1959. Political unrest also affected the state in the protests of the 1960s and most violently in 1970 when four students were killed by national guardsmen who fired on a group of Vietnam War protesters at Kent State Univ.
Ohio's economy went into massive decline in the 1970s and 80s as the automobile, steel, and coal industries virtually collapsed, causing unemployment to soar. Akron, once world famous as a rubber center, stopped manufacturing rubber products altogether by the mid-1980s. During this period, the state's northern industrial centers were especially hard hit and lost much of their population. Since then, Ohio has concentrated on diversifying its economy, largely through expansion of the service sector. The state became an important center for the health-care industry with the opening of the Cleveland Clinic. Industrial research is also important, with Nela Park near Cleveland and Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus among the more notable research centers; there are also still important rubber research laboratories in Akron.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.