‘The Crossroads of America’ has long been just that. Three rivers gave the area special strategic value to early settlers: the Ohio, the Wabash and the Kankakee. During the time of French ownership, Indiana was the link between Canada and Louisiana. Later, the British took control in 1763 as part of the settlement of the French and Indian War. After the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, American settlers utilized Indiana’s waterways on their way to points west. It was in this way that Indiana (meaning 'Land of Indians') became a state on December 11, 1816, with a population of just over 60,000. Indiana continued in its role as a crossroads in the years before the Civil War as many in the state provided safe haven for slaves seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad. Physically, Southern Indiana is a hilly blend of farmland and forests which stretches north to a vast flat plain that comprises most of the state. Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana is one of the largest national forests east of the Mississippi River. In the extreme northwestern corner, Indiana has a small strip of shoreline on Lake Michigan which provides access to other Great Lake ports in the U.S. and Canada.
Indiana is thought to have one of the most business-friendly economies in the union. Low taxes, conservative labor laws, and the presence of a large skilled workforce have helped it to weather the tide of de-industrialization better than many of the neighboring Rust Belt states. Manufacturing makes up much of the state’s economy, with modern industrial parks intermingling with farmland in much of the northern regions of the state. Agriculture, in particular corn, soy, and tobacco, is a significant sector of the economy. Indianapolis is by far the largest city in the state and the capital. It is the economic and cultural hub of Indiana, and is one of the most populated state capitals in the U.S. Other major cities include industrious Fort Wayne in the northeast; Evansville in the southwestern corner on the Ohio River; major university cities of South Bend and Bloomington; and Gary, effectively a suburb of Chicago, which has the highest crime rate and some of the lowest average household incomes in Indiana. Demographically, the largest ancestral group in Indiana is German, at about 22.7% of the total population. There are also large Polish and Belgian communities in the state. The African-American population stands at 8.4%, with communities concentrated in the urban areas of Gary and Indianapolis. Indiana is a conservative state that has a long tradition of Republican control. This can be compared to its neighbors Illinois, Ohio and Michigan, which are all considered swing states with considerable Democratic influence. Despite this, fully half of the governors of Indiana have been Democrats, though right-leaning. On the national level, Indiana has not voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 and that was only by a margin of 2 percent. In 2004 its 11 electoral votes went to George W. Bush by a relatively wide margin.