Downtown Des Moines
The City of Des Moines traces its origins to May 1843, when Captain James Allen supervised the construction of a fort on the site where the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers merge. Allen wanted to use the name Fort Raccoon; however, the U.S. War Department told him to name it Fort Des Moines. The fort was built to control the Sauk and Meskwaki Indians, who had been transplanted to the area from their traditional lands in eastern Iowa. The fort was abandoned in 1846 after the Sauk and Meskwaki were removed from the state. Soldiers stationed at Fort Des Moines eventually opened the first coal mines in the area, mining coal from the riverbank for the fort’s blacksmith.
Settlers later occupied the abandoned fort and nearby areas. On May 25, 1846, Fort Des Moines became the seat of Polk County. In May 1851, much of the town was destroyed during the Flood of 1851. “The Des Moines and Raccoon rivers rose to an unprecedented height, inundating the entire country east of the Des Moines river. Crops were utterly destroyed, houses and fences swept away.” This flood provided a clean slate for the city to grow on.
On September 22, 1851, Des Moines was incorporated as a city, the charter was approved by voters on October 18. In 1857, the name “Fort Des Moines” was shortened to “Des Moines” and the state capital was moved here from Iowa City. Growth was slow during the Civil War period, but the city exploded in size and importance after a railroad link was completed in 1866.
In 1864, the Des Moines Coal Company was organized to begin the first systematic mining in the region. Its first mine, north of town on the west side of the river, was exhausted by 1873. The Black Diamond mine, near the south end of the West Seventh Street Bridge, sunk a 150-foot mine shaft to reach a 5-foot-thick coal bed. By 1885, there were numerous mine shafts within the city limits, and mining began to spread into the surrounding countryside. By 1893, there were 23 mines in the region. By 1908, the coal resources of Des Moines were largely exhausted. By 1900, Des Moines was Iowa’s largest city with a population of 62,139.
The Des Moines-West Des Moines Metropolitan Statistical Area consists of five central Iowa counties: Polk, Dallas, Warren, Madison, and Guthrie. The area had a 2000 census population of 481,394 and an estimated 2009 population of 562,906. Des Moines’ suburban communities include Altoona, Ankeny, Bondurant, Carlisle, Clive, Grimes, Johnston, Norwalk, Pleasant Hill, Urbandale, Waukee, West Des Moines, and Windsor Heights.
Des Moines is a major center of the U.S. insurance industry and also has a sizable financial services and publishing business base. In fact, Des Moines was credited as the “number one spot for U.S. insurance companies” in a Business Wire article and named the third largest “insurance capital” of the world. The city is the headquarters for several large corporations and many others have large operations in or near the metro area. In recent years Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and Facebook have established data processing and logistical facilities in the Des Moines metro. Forbes magazine ranked Des Moines as the “Best Place for Business” in both 2010 and 2013. In 2014, NBC ranked Des Moines as the “Wealthiest City in America” according to its criteria.