René Daubenfeld
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Illinois Farmland covers nearly 80 percent of the state, and Illinois is a major exporter of farm products. Chicago is home to nearly one-quarter of all Illinoisans. No other U.S. city moves more freight by train and truck. Linked to the Atlantic by the St. Lawrence Seaway, Chicago sends cargo into the U.S. interior; canals and the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers extend its reach to the Gulf of Mexico.

Iowa Bracketed by the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, the territory that became Iowa was part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Today 92 percent of this heartland state, blessed with fine prairie soil, is under cultivation. Farm income suffered during most of the 1980s, forcing many Iowa farmers out of business. Yet in 2002 the state still led the nation in corn and soybean production and hogs.

Minnesota Northernmost of the lower 48 states, Minnesota holds a pivotal position. The Great Lakes waterway system gives access to the Atlantic Ocean; the Mississippi River, which rises here, provides a link to the Gulf of Mexico. Duluth is one of the world's largest inland ports, transshipping low-grade iron ore, much of it from the nearby Mesabi Range, source of more than three-quarters of U.S. output. Agriculture dominates the state's south; agribusiness clusters in metropolitan Minneapolis-St. Paul, also a magnet for high-tech growth and the cultural center of the upper Midwest. With 15,000 lakes, Minnesota attracts many summer visitors.

Nebraska During the mid-1800s one visitor called Nebraska's prairies "fat indeed compared to your New England pine plains." Today nearly 95 percent of the land is in farms and ranches. In the Sand Hills many spreads are so large that herds are tracked from the air. Corn and soybeans cover rolling eastern prairies; wheat grows on the drier central and western plains. The Ogallala aquifer irrigates corn, sugar beets, and alfalfa. More than a third of Nebraskans live in Omaha and Lincoln. ECONOMY Industry: food processing, machinery, electrical equipment, printing and publishing. Agriculture: cattle, corn, hogs, soybeans, wheat, sorghum. Text source: National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition, 2004

Wisconsin Once home to more than a dozen Indian tribes, Wisconsin received an influx of Scandinavians, Germans, and other northern Europeans in the late 1800s. Today Wisconsin farmers rank second in the nation in the production of milk and butter, and first in cheese. More than 15,000 lakes, 47 state parks, and 13 forests stimulate tourism. In 1854 the Republican Party was born here.