Color Landform Map of Ohio, Copyright Ray Sterner, from his Color Landform Atlas of the United States
The State of Ohio contains the edge of the Appalachian Mountains in the east and plains
in the west. It is bordered by Indiana on the west, Michigan and Lake Erie on the north,
and Pennsylvania and West Virginia on the east. The Ohio River follows the state's
southern border with West Virginia and Kentucky. Almost equidistant in its north-south and
east-west dimensions, Ohio has an area of 44,828 sq mi.
Because of its advantageous alignment with Lake Erie and the Ohio River and its general
accessibility, Ohio early in its history assumed its corridor function, channeling people
and goods west or east and north or south. The Ohio Country became the first destination
for settlers and pioneers on their way farther into the interior. In 1803, Ohio became the
17th state to join the Union and the first to be admitted from the Northwest Territory--a
reflection of the area's rapid population growth in what became the first territory of the
United States. Its name is derived from an Iroquois word meaning "beautiful."
LAND AND RESOURCES
Ohio shares parts of two major physical provinces of the continental United States--the Appalachian Plateau and the Central Lowland. The boundary between these regions cuts the state in two along a northeast-southwest line extending from southwest of Cleveland to the Ohio River in Adams County. The two regions are distinguished by their relief and elevation, with higher, more rugged land in the plateau areas and less elevated, level terrain in the lowland province.
Continental glaciation and stream erosion were the primary agents in the formation of
the state's topography. The effects of glaciation further divided the two major regions
into five physiographic regions: the northern lake plain, the western till plain, the
glaciated plateau, the unglaciated plateau, and the Lexington plain.
The lake plain encompasses the northernmost part of Ohio. It is as narrow as 5 miles in
the east, but widens to ten times that distance toward the Indiana border. In the eastern
plateau section, the land becomes increasingly hilly. The glaciated plateau occupies the
northeastern part of the state, while relatively high relief adjacent to the Ohio River
characterizes the unglaciated plateau to the southeast. In this southern plateau region,
local relief may be as high as 700 ft. The western till plain corresponds with the Central
Lowland and is essentially of low relief and elevation except for Mount Campbell, an
erosional remnant that has undergone slow uplift. The latter's elevation of 1,550 ft is
the highest in Ohio. The Lexington plain is a small northward extension into southwest
Ohio of residual limestone soils of Kentucky's Bluegrass Basin.
Ohio's geology is relatively simple. Bedrock consists of basically undisturbed
Paleozoic sediments. Because the rock layers dip slightly toward the east, the older
Paleozoic formations are nearer the surface in western Ohio, while younger strata are
found in the east. In western Ohio limestone and dolomite are widespread. Toward the east
sandstones and shales are more prevalent.
Soils in Ohio have developed largely on transported glacial materials. Only in the unglaciated portion of southeastern Ohio can old, residual soils developed from bedrock be found. Soil thicknesses vary considerably but are greater in the glaciated areas. The residual soils of southeastern Ohio are thin, leached, and acidic, with low productivity.
An important physical boundary is the drainage divide separating those rivers flowing into Lake Erie from those running toward the Ohio River. The divide extends northeast from Darke County along the Indiana border to Ashtabula near the Pennsylvania border.
Only 29 percent of Ohio's waterways drain into Lake Erie. Except for the
Maumee-Auglaize system in northwestern Ohio, streams are short, lack well-developed
tributaries, are spaced closely, and run parallel to each other. Among them are the
Portage, Sandusky, Huron, Vermillion, Black, Cuyahoga, and Grand rivers. The southern--or
Ohio River--drainage region contains major streams and their drainage basins. The largest
is the Muskingum River watershed, followed by the Scioto and the Miami. Other streams
draining into the Ohio include the Little Miami, Raccoon, Hocking, and Mahoning rivers. In
total, Ohio has 3,300 named streams with a combined length of 70,800 km (44,000 mi).
Because there is little structural control on drainage, most stream systems form a
dendritic pattern. While surface water provides the primary water source, groundwater
conditions are ideal because of underground preglacial stream valleys. These aquifers
constitute a perennial water reservoir.
Except for a small area along the Ohio River, a humid continental climate dominates the state. Large seasonal temperature changes are common, with January temperatures averaging below 32 degrees F and July temperature averages exceeding 75 degrees F. Precipitation occurs year-round and averages between 30 in and 40 in. Slightly higher precipitation falls during the summer, and autumns are relatively dry.
Ohio's climate reflects its mid-latitude and eastern location. Cyclonic systems in the
westerly wind belt create variability in weather. More localized factors affecting climate
are Lake Erie and the eastern hill and valley topography. In spring proximity to the lake
prevents late freeze-outs, thereby benefiting the area's vegetable and fruit production.
In winter it results in heavier snowfall over northeastern Ohio. The Appalachian foothills
have an important local climatic effect, creating frequent temperature inversions. This
condition results in frosts in late spring and early fall and an overall shorter growing
season. A more serious effect is the trapping of pollutants in highly industrialized
portions of the upper Ohio River valley.
Vegetation and Animal Life
Pre-Columbian vegetation in Ohio was composed of mixed deciduous forests that virtually covered the state. Unique vegetational areas included the swamp forest (Black Swamp) of the northwestern lake plain, and scattered prairie grasslands in the west central part. Settlement and intensive land use have totally altered these vegetational habitats. Today approximately 24 percent of Ohio is forestland, in varying stages of regrowth. The unglaciated plateau portion of the state remains the most important forest region.
Ohio's well-watered, temperate environment supports a highly varied fauna so that
recreational hunting and fishing are significant. The division of wildlife of the
department of natural resources oversees some 250 public fishing and hunting areas. Ohio's
principal game fish is black bass followed by walleyed pike, Ohio muskellunge, white bass,
perch, saugers, bluegills, rock bass, and channel catfish. Indigenous animals include the
cottontail rabbit, white-tailed deer, quail, ruffed grouse, gray squirrel, and wild
turkey. A few black bears can still be found. In western Ohio the ring-necked pheasant and
Hungarian partridge have been introduced. Wild ducks inhabit the marshes along Lake Erie.
The wide distribution of raccoon, muskrat, mink, opossums, and weasels allows continued
trapping in rural areas.
Ohio's importance in natural resources is derived from its longtime production of coal. Coal resources are restricted to the east, ranging from Geauga County in the north to Lawrence County in the south. Other nonmetallic minerals and mineral fuels include limestone, sand and gravel, clay, salt, sandstone, natural gas and petroleum, shale, gypsum, and peat.
Among other natural resources water ranks high in Ohio. The state is one of the
nation's largest users of water. Ohio's lakes and streams are critical, for 95 percent of
the water consumed comes from surface supplies. Included in this resource are Lake Erie,
11 sq mi of natural lakes, 161 sq mi of impounded water, and about 44,000 mi of streams.
Ohio's heterogeneous population includes the descendants of settlers from the colonial period as well as more recent European immigrants, chiefly German and Irish. Industrialization and urbanization encouraged the immigration of eastern and southern Europeans and increasingly large numbers of rural southern blacks. Population growth in Ohio has slowed dramatically as the combined result of lower birthrates and out -migration. From 1980 to 1990 nearly half of Ohio's counties lost population. Although about 80 percent of the population reside in the metropolitan areas, many of the metropolitan residents live outside the central cities. The largest urban centers in the state, all with populations exceeding 95,000, are Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus (the capital), Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown. Because most of Ohio's major cities have relatively fixed political boundaries, rapid suburbanization has produced consistent declines in city populations. All seven large cities, with the exception of Columbus, lost population after 1970.
As an urban industrial state, Ohio has a racially and ethnically diverse population.
Its black population is about 10 percent of the state total. The percentage of blacks
increased with the industrial development of the state. Similarly, eastern and southern
Europeans were attracted to Ohio's industrial cities and still form large contingents in
the northern urban areas of Canton, Akron, Cleveland, and Youngstown. Asians are a tiny
but fast-increasing group.
Education and Cultural Activity
In frontier Ohio, distant from the eastern communities, education and cultural development were slow. Implementation of the Land Ordinance of 1785 reserved a section of each township for school development, but formal education was generally limited to private academies and "subscription" schools. Impetus for free education culminated in an 1825 law requiring counties to fund education. Not until 1921 did schooling become mandatory for everyone between the ages of 6 and 18. Among Ohio's early educators, William Holmes McGuffey and Horace Mann are famous, the former for his readers and the latter for his progressive educational methods.
The public schools are administered and financed by the individual school districts
with assistance from state and local governments. Final authority over public school
operation is vested in the state legislature, a state board of education, and the
superintendent of public instruction.
Higher education in Ohio began in 1804 with the establishment of Ohio University in
Athens (see Ohio, state universities of). Since then many other institutions of higher
education, public and private, have developed. Outstanding private institutions include
Antioch College, Case Western Reserve University, Denison University, Kenyon College,
Oberlin College, and the College of Wooster.
Supporting the educational process are about 250 public libraries with vast numbers of
bound volumes and other holdings and the academic libraries with their millions of
volumes. The Cincinnati Public Library and the Ohio State University library each contain
well over 3 million volumes.
The Ohio Arts Council, supported by federal, state, and private funds, assists cultural
endeavors in the state. Among Ohio's major cultural institutions are art museums including
the Cleveland Museum of Art, theater organizations, and symphony orchestras. The
Cincinnati Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra are world famous. The Ohio Historical
Society, along with various county and municipal historical organizations, seeks to
preserve prehistoric and historic sites, administering historical, archaeological, and
natural history memorials.
The recreational traveler in Ohio is well rewarded. The state's division of parks and
recreation administers many areas for outdoor recreation. The Cuyahoga Valley National
Recreation Area between Cleveland and Akron preserves the rural character of the Cuyahoga
River Valley and the century-old Ohio and Erie Canal system. Major amusement parks include
Cedar Point on Lake Erie and Kings Island near Cincinnati. Zoos, gardens, fairs, and
festivals are numerous. Professional sports facilities can be found in Cincinnati and
Ten years before Ohio became a state, its first newspaper was published in Cincinnati. Today, influential newspapers in the state are the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Cincinnati Enquirer. There are also many television and radio stations. The first educational radio station in the nation was begun by Ohio State University in 1922.
Ohio's economic function has historically been that of an outfitter, supplying food and materials to those farther west. Isolated from the older, more established parts of the East, Ohio began to develop its human, agricultural, and industrial resources. The state's ability cheaply to assemble needed raw materials accelerated the industrial-urban process, making Ohio a principal manufacturing state with the attendant problems created by urbanization, dwindling energy supplies, and pollution of air and water.
Agriculture best reflects Ohio's transitional location. The northwest's field crops of corn and soybeans are typical of the agricultural economy in the Corn Belt, while southeastern Ohio has the general mixed-farming economy consisting of cattle grazing and minimal crop production more common in the East. The combination of urban markets, terrain, and tradition led Ohio agriculture toward animal husbandry. As recently as the early 1970s, more than half of all farm income came from livestock. Soon thereafter, however, Ohio farmers were deriving more money from crops. Corn and soybeans now bring the highest profits, followed by dairy products and cattle. Other important farm commodities are hogs, wheat, oats, popcorn, barley, hay, red clover, and rye. Vegetable growing is also important. Changes in Ohio agriculture are typical of those occurring throughout the nation. The number of farms has declined, whereas the average unit size has increased. The leading farm counties are found in the western part of the state.
Forestry and Fishing
As agricultural land in Ohio has declined, forestland has increased. In recent decades, land in forests has about doubled. Most of the forestland is privately owned, while the remainder is within a number of state forests and Wayne National Forest. Valuable tree species include white oak, red oak, white ash, hard maple, tulip poplar, hickory, and beech. Because forests are often second or third regrowth, trees often are not of sawtimber size but are an important pulpwood source for the paper industry in the southwest. Building materials and furniture are also products of the forest-based industries.
When fishing was a significant economic activity, it took place almost exclusively
along Lake Erie. Those waters were famous for large-and small-mouthed bass, white bass,
yellow perch, bluegills, rock bass, and walleyed pike. Because of ecological changes
resulting in the introduction of the sea lamprey and the alewife and from industrial and
agricultural pollution, commercial fishing declined drastically. Recreational fishing,
however, continues in the streams and lakes, including Lake Erie.
Coal is the most valuable mineral produced in Ohio, and Ohio's total reserves of coal have been estimated to be able to meet demand for about 500 years. Coal production is concentrated in the southeast, particularly in Hocking, Athens, Perry, Belmont, and Harrison counties. Most of the coal produced is taken by surface mining. Limestone, which also ranks high in production value, is quarried throughout the state, but major deposits are located in northwestern Ohio. Ohio limestone is used for road- building material, concrete, agricultural lime, and steel flux. Sand and gravel, a legacy of glaciation, are abundant on Ohio's western till plain and in the southern valleys that received generous outwash. Salt, the single most important mineral during Ohio's early settlement, continues to be produced along Lake Erie from rock salt and in the east from brine. The deepest salt mine in the nation is near Fairport Harbor. Petroleum and natural-gas deposits in various parts of Ohio are important revenue producers.
Ohio sandstone, exploited since earliest settlement, constitutes the majority of the
nation's supply. Production is scattered in the eastern half of the state. The best known
type of sandstone is Berea, or grit. Clay resources are more widespread than sandstone.
The principal resource area is in the east central part of Ohio, where fire or refractory
clays are quarried for the area's brick and tile industry.
Ohio's favorable location and abundant natural resources, combined with a large labor supply, assured it early industrial prominence. Cincinnati, the state's first manufacturing city, had among its early industries barrel making and meat packing. From its industrial beginnings dominated by the processing of agricultural raw materials, Ohio has become industrially diversified. Its leading industries manufacture transportation equipment, rubber products, machine tools, soap, matches, cooking ranges, foundry and machine-shop products, pottery and porcelain ware, electrical machinery, chemical products, and pumps and steam shovels. Printing and publishing are also important in several of Ohio's larger cities.
Manufacturing accounts for about one-third of Ohio's gross state product and provides
employment for about one-quarter of the workers of the state. Ohio ranks high among U.S.
states in the value added by manufacture. Many layoffs in Ohio's steel and auto facilities
occurred in the 1980s, but offsetting this trend, new factories opened, including
Japanese-owned auto assembly plants.
Tourism is a major business in Ohio, adding substantially each year to the economy. State recreation areas and local parks cover many areas of the state. Ohio's presidential memorials and homes are leading attractions. The state's recreational sites, while not necessarily unique, are diverse and offer both summer and winter activities.
Known historically as the "Gateway to the West," Ohio continues to benefit from its transportation advantages. Toledo and Cleveland are important Lake Erie ports. Toledo functions principally as an exporter of coal and coke. Cincinnati, the state's principal Ohio River port, also handles cargo.
Highways and railroads have replaced the earlier canal links. Ohio's early roads
included Zane's Trace, built by Ebenezer Zane for the U.S. government and opened in 1797,
and the National (Cumberland) Road, important during the early 1800s. The state's major
roads today include the Ohio Turnpike, which crosses the northern part of the state in an
east-west direction; Interstate 71, which travels in a northeastern- southwestern
direction from Cleveland to Columbus and Cincinnati; and I-70, which travels east and west
through central Ohio. Railroad construction was underway in Ohio by the mid-19th century,
and by 1860 Ohio had more miles of track than any other state. Railroad trackage has since
declined, although freight service and some passenger service have been maintained. Ohio's
many airports reflect an objective during the 1960s to establish an airport in every
Tied to national supply lines of petroleum and natural gas, Ohio's industry has relied on these energy fuels. Overdependence on distant and uncertain energy sources has created a renewed emphasis on developing in-state supplies of coal. Most electrical power already is derived from coal.
Ohio's statehood in 1803 was preceded by a constitutional convention held in Chillicothe during November 1802. The resulting constitution favored the legislature and gave to it the power to appoint all state officials except the governor. Another constitutional convention was held in Columbus in 1850- 51, and a second constitution became effective in 1851.
Ohio's legislative power is vested in the general assembly, composed of a senate and a
house of representatives. The 33 state senators are elected to 4-year terms. Each
senatorial district has 3 representatives who are elected to 2-year terms. Although the
number of senators and representatives is fixed, reapportionment takes place after each
The executive branch of the state government is headed by the governor, elected to a
4-year term. The governor is, however, limited to a maximum of 2 consecutive terms.
Although both Democrats and Republicans frequently have held the governor's post, Ohio
voters usually favor Republicans at the ballot box.
The state's judicial powers are vested in the supreme court, composed of a chief
justice and 6 judges elected for 6-year terms. Lower courts consist of courts of appeals,
courts of common pleas in each of Ohio's 88 counties, a division of domestic relations in
several counties, and probate, municipal, county, juvenile, and police courts.
Counties, cities, villages, and townships constitute Ohio's smaller political units.
Municipal governments conduct the affairs of cities and villages. City status is achieved
when the population reaches 5,000, and a village may be formed through petition by 30
voters (a majority of them property owners) to the township trustees and a subsequent vote
on the petition by the township residents.
Ohio's earliest occupants probably followed retreating glaciers into the area while hunting mastadon and giant beaver. The earliest inhabitants were followed by the more advanced Mound Builders who ranged over Ohio between 1000 BC and 800 AD. They were noted for their burial practices, evidence of which remains in some 6,000 burial and ceremonial mounds.
Probably the first European to set foot in the Ohio Country was either Robert Cavelier,
Sieur de La Salle, or Louis Jolliet. Between 1669 and 1670, La Salle explored the Ohio
River area and Jolliet journeyed along Lake Erie. Based on La Salle's exploration and
resulting map, the French later laid claim to the entire Ohio Valley. Both French and
English hotly contested their control of the Ohio territory before permanent American
Among the historic Indian groups in Ohio were the Erie, Huron (Wyandot), Ottawa, and
Tuscarora in the north; the Mingo (or Iroquois League) in the east; the Delaware and
Shawnee in the south; and the Miami in the west. Remnants of these tribes, led by the
Shawnee chief Blue Jacket, were defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. This
U.S. Army victory led to the establishment of the Greenville Treaty Line in 1795, which
separated the Indian land to the northwest from the settlers' land to the east and south.
The Ohio Country became part of the Northwest Territory in 1787. With the passage of
the Ordinances of 1785 and 1787, providing for stable government as well as land survey
and sales in the territory, settlement by Anglo-Americans accelerated. Connecticut and
Virginia retained title to Ohio land, forming the Connecticut Western Reserve in the
northeast and the Virginia Military District between the Little Miami and Scioto rivers in
the southwest. The Ohio Company of Associates acquired 1,875 sq miles in southeastern Ohio
and in 1788 founded Ohio's first town, Marietta, at the confluence of the Muskingum and
Ohio statehood was guaranteed when more than 5,000 adult white males were counted
during the area's census of 1797. In 1803, Ohio entered the Union with Edward Tiffin as
its first governor. Chillicothe was the state capital from 1803 to 1810, when it was
replaced by Zanesville. Chillicothe again was capital from 1812 to 1816, when Columbus
assumed the honor.
The state's early years were characterized by dramatic population increases and
political and military turmoil. Political intrigue was fomented by the supposedly
treasonous activities of Aaron Burr on an Ohio River island owned by Harman
Blennerhassett. Military problems resulted from Indian agitation and the campaigns of the
War of 1812. Two names forever to be connected with Ohio and its early struggles are
Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison. The first was the great Shawnee chief who almost
succeeded in rallying the Indians for a last stand against the white man. The latter was
the victor in the fight to bring peace to the New West and was the first of several U.S.
presidents with strong ties to Ohio.
Transportation opened Ohio to internal development. Favored by navigable waters north
and south, overland transportation surged with completion of the National Road through the
state in 1838, and of the Ohio-Erie and Miami-Erie canals in 1832 and 1847, respectively.
Ohio's railroad network was begun in 1836 but didn't really take off until about 1850.
Efficient transportation gave impetus to the coal industry and boosted farm income and
land values in the western and northern agricultural areas. By the Civil War period, Ohio
had achieved national status as an agricultural and industrial state.
Preceding the Civil War, Ohio was strongly identified with abolitionist causes. The
Underground Railroad was active along the Ohio River and on Lake Erie. The abolitionist
movement received wide support, and in 1848, Ohio repealed its Black Laws, which had been
restrictive of Blacks' civil rights. The Civil War was carried into Ohio during a cavalry
foray led by Gen. John Hunt Morgan. The "invasion" lasted from July 13 to July
26, 1863, ending with the surrender of Morgan and his men and their imprisonment as horse
thieves rather than combatants.
After the Civil War, Ohio became a political power on the national level. Seven U.S.
presidents were born in Ohio: Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield,
Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Warren G. Harding.
As an industrial state, Ohio was in the forefront of the union- organizing movement.
The American Federation of Labor was formed in Columbus in 1886, followed by the United
Mine Workers in 1888. Violence connected with labor unrest became commonplace in the
mining areas of southeastern Ohio. During a strike in 1884 several mine shafts in Perry
County were set afire and have been burning ever since. Many millions of tons of coal have
been consumed, and despite a system of barricades and packing mud into the tunnels, some
smoke from the fire is still visible.
During the 20th century Ohio moved to the forefront of the industrial states under the
business leadership of such men as Benjamin F. Goodrich, Charles Franklin Kettering, and
John D. Rockefeller. Two world wars and conflicts in Korea and Vietnam triggered massive
industrialization, rapid in-migration, and subsequent urbanization. Ohio's fortunes can,
however, be rapidly reversed by economic relocation such as a shift from coal to natural
gas or by recession. These trends have had devastating results in the central cities and
the traditional coal mining districts in Appalachia, where unemployment and poverty are
chronic ills. Beset by overcapitalization and outdated facilities, Ohio struggles to
remain an industrial giant. Steel plants with excess capacity have shut down, as have
outmoded automobile plants. New Japanese-owned factories have opened in Ohio, however,
offsetting gloomy economic developments at least in part.
text written by Hubert G. H. Wilhelm
GENERAL: Collins, William R., Ohio: The Buckeye State, 5th ed. (1974); Federal Writers' Project, The Ohio Guide (1940; repr. 1973); Reichert, W. O., and Ludd, S. O., eds., Outlook on Ohio (1983).
ARCHAEOLOGY AND GEOGRAPHY: DeLorme Mapping Company Staff, Ohio Atlas and Gazetteer (1987); Prufer, Olaf, The Archaic in Northeastern Ohio (1986); Prufer, Olaf H., and McKenzie, Douglas H., eds., Studies in Ohio Archaeology, rev. ed. (1975); Raup, H., and Smith, C., Ohio Geography (1973); Wright, A. J., Economic Geography of Ohio, 2d ed. (1957).
HISTORY: Havighurst, Walter, Ohio: A Bicentennial History (1976); Maizlish, Stephen E., The Triumph of Sectionalism (1983); Roseboom, E. H., and Weisenburger, F. P., A History of Ohio, 2d ed. (1977); Smith, Thomas H., ed., An Ohio Reader, 2 vols. (1975).
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT: Michels, Greg, ed., Governments of Ohio, 1986 (1985); Winkle, Kenneth J., The Politics of Community: Migration and Politics in Antebellum Ohio (1988).
(c) 1996 Grolier, Inc.
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