Omaha, Nebraska, thriving urban center of a major beef and corn producing state where cattle outnumber people by more than three to one, is ranked among the best places to live in the country.
Perhaps the city’s most famous resident is Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men, who maintains a relatively modest home there. Stock in his Berkshire Hathaway holding company, managing a wide array of companies, also has made many Americans wealthy over 50 years.
This state of 1.9 million people is 80 percent white, 5 percent black and 2 percent of Asian descent – with 11 percent identifying as Hispanic.
Omaha, the commercial center, is the largest city, with about 447,000 people. Lincoln, the capital, has more than 280,000 residents. Bellevue has about 53,500 and Grand Island 51,500, but the rest of the state’s cities have fewer than 35,000.
With agriculture ranking as Nebraska’s leading industry, farms and ranches have been handed down through generations. The state’s landscape ranges from rolling hills and fertile valleys to far-reaching plains and the unique Sandhills. Traveling from Panorama Point in the west to the Kansas border in the southeast, the state’s elevation gradually drops 4,584 feet. Nebraska also borders the Missouri River, and its Lake McConaughy covers 35,700 acres. The state also borders South Dakota in the north, Colorado and Kansas to the south, Wyoming west and Iowa and Missouri to the east.
The state’s biggest farm product is beef, with about 19,000 cattle ranches starting cows off on grass-feeding before delivering them to feed lots for the state’s trademark corn-fed beef. The cattle industry generates more than $7 billion a year in revenue. The state also counts 3 million pigs among its farms, the pork industry generating $1 billion a year in revenue.
The Cornhusker State counts corn production as its leading crop and ranks third among the nation’s corn-producing states. Its “Golden Triangle” of corn, livestock and ethanol production drives an industry that also ranks high in grains delivered to distilleries. Nebraska is the nation’s second-largest producer of ethanol, with 25 plants delivering more than two billion gallons of renewable fuel annually.
Nebraska sits at the center of a vast ecological system that has been stressed by decades of agricultural and industrial development. The Ogallala Aquifer, which spans 174,000 square miles beneath eight states, provides almost all the water for residential and commercial use in the High Plains. Two-thirds of the supply comes from Nebraska.
Before its admission to the union as the 37th state in 1867, the Nebraska Territory had been sparsely settled. As railroads pushed west, waves of homesteaders started arriving in 1860. Omaha had been the territorial capital, but the seat of government was moved to Lancaster, later renamed Lincoln following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865.
The state’s name is derived from Oto Indian words translated as “flat water,” referring to the Platte River which flows through the state. The Oto had immigrated to the Central Plains from the East just ahead of the first European settlers. The principal Siouan people in the territory during the first half of the 1700s were the Omaha and Ponca in the northeast and Oto in the lower Platte Valley. The Sioux were nomadic, the Oto settling in permanent villages.
As Europeans arrived, they forged trading alliances, exchanging beaver and other skins – and bison robes as well – for merchandise. Eventually, though, the Oto, dwelling in earthen lodges along the Platte, were forced along with Missouria tribe members to accept a reservation in Gage County, in 1854. By 1881, settlers acquired that land too and moved the Indians to Oklahoma.
In 1872, J. Sterling Morton proposed a holiday to promote the planting of trees. The first Arbor Day, on which more than one million trees were planted, was held April 10, 1872. Eventually, most of the other states adopted the holiday. The fossil of a mammoth skeleton dated to the Late Pleistocene Era was found by a rancher on a farm in Lincoln County in 1922. It’s on display at the University of Nebraska State Museum, where visitors know the exhibit as “Archie.”
The state also is a central crossroads for the nation. Bailey Yard in North Platte bills itself as the world’s largest train yard, managing as many as 10,000 rail cars a day.
Nebraska is the only state operating a unicameral, nonpartisan legislature, adopted in 1937 as a means of promoting cost-efficiency and transparency in government. The state has given its five electoral votes to Republican presidents since 1968, breaking its modern spree of GOP votes only for Lyndon Johnson of Texas in 1964 and Franklin Roosevelt, twice, during the 1930s.
Religiously, the state's adults are mostly Protestant, with Catholics accounting for about a quarter of all. Most view religion as extremely important in their lives.