Iowa Geography and Famous Natives

Geography of Iowa

During the new large parts of the Ice Age, central and northern Iowa were covered by glaciers. When those masses of ice receded (or melted), they left their mark across this land.

In north central Iowa, a large expanse of fertile land known as Des Moines Petal was once covered by the expansion of the Wisconsin Glacier. This is a very flat area that is punctuated by a scattering of gently rolling countryside. This area is known for being the most productive grain-producing land in the entire United States, and possibly the world. In addition to the south, the southern Drift Plains (prairie land to the west – forest to the east) cover about one third of Iowa.

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In the far northeast, an uplifted, deeply spiky base that overlooks the Mississippi River is called the Paleozoic Plateau. In the far west, the Loess Hills (or low mountains) stretch along much of the western border with Nebraska, then giving way to a 250-foot-high bluff that rises above the Missouri River. In addition to the north, in the hillscape of the Northwest Iowa Plains sits the state’s highest point.

The Mississippi and Missouri are Iowa’s most important rivers. The Mississippi rises northwest Minnesota, then flows south into the Gulf of Mexico, just below the city of New Orleans. It is a significant transportation artery, and when combined with its major tributaries ( the Missouri and Ohio Rivers) it becomes the third largest river system in the world at (2,339 miles) (3,765 km) in length.

The Missouri rises in southern Montana in the Rocky Mountains, first flowing north, then generally southeast through the heart of the United States, ending at the Mississippi River, just north of St. Louis, Missouri.

Many dozens of small lakes are scattered about the state, and additional rivers of note include the Cedar and Des Moines.

Iowa Famous Natives

People listed are almost always native to the state. We do (on occasion) include those who have either lived within the state for most of their adult lives or have made significant contributions to the state in their personal endeavors.


Actress Julie Adams

Written by Beth Streeter Aldrich

Actress Fran Allison

Adrian Constantine (Cap) Anson baseball player

Samuel Z. Arkoff film producer

Tom Arnold actor


Jack Bailey actor

Musician Bix Beiderbecke

Clifford Berry inventor

Earl Blackley Jr. screenwriter

Tommy Bolin singer

Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Ernest Borlog, agronomist

Actress Lara Flynn Boyle

Neville Brand actor

Illustrated by Norman Breifogle

Bill Bryson author

Ellis Parker Butler author


MacDonald Carey actor

Wallace Hume Carathas inventor

Johnny Carson artist

Walter Cassel opera singer

Actress Virginia Christine

Dallas Clark football player

Christian Clemenson actor

William (Buffalo Bill) Cody Buffalo Hunter, entertainer, pony express rider

Stephen Collins actor

Chester Conklin actor

Gardner Coles Jr. Publisher

Roger Craig footballer


Written by Janet Daly

Bill Daily Actor

Inventor Lee DeForest

James “Jim” Doran football player

Tim Dwight footballer

Mamie Dood Eisenhower First Lady of the United States


James Ellison actor

Michael Emerson actor

Simon Estes opera singer

Actress Sharon Farrell

Actress Terry Farrell

Bob Feller baseball player

William Frawley actor

John Froelich inventor


Dan Gable lover wrestler

George Gallup statistician, Gallup public opinion poll, inventor

Written by Susan Glaspell

Frank Gotch wrestler

Fred Grandy actor

Charles Ernest “Chuck” Grassley politician


  • James Norman Hall author
  • Roy Halston fashion designer
  • Rico Musician Hamma
  • Radio presenter van Hardin
  • Tom Harkin politician
  • Hill Harper actor
  • Ricky Hayward drummer, founding member of “A Little Feat”
  • Chad Hennings footballer
  • Dave Higgins actor
  • Jerry Hilgenberg football player, coach
  • Walter “Wally” Hiljenberg football player
  • Written by Marjorie Holmes
  • Herbert Hoover US President
  • Lou Henri Hoover First Lady of the United States
  • Actress Mary Beth Hurt


  • Zack Johnson golfer
  • Athlete Lori “Lolo” Jones
  • Nate Keading football player
  • McKinlay Cantor author, screenwriter
  • Frank Keenan actor
  • Corita Kent artist
  • Neil football player Kinnick
  • Ted Kooser poet
  • Ashton Kutcher actor


  • Columnist Ann Landers
  • Actress Priscilla Lane
  • Harry Langdon actor
  • Rustin Larson poet
  • Actress Cloris Leachman
  • Willy Leacocks drummer
  • Laura Leighton actress
  • Environmentalist Aldo Leopolda
  • Meridel LeSueur journalist
  • John L. Lewis labor leader
  • J. Lindquist educator
  • Written by Joanna Land

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