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Q: Why is the Midwest called the Midwest? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   6 Comments )
Subject: Why is the Midwest called the Midwest?
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: ceecee-ga
List Price: $4.00
Posted: 30 May 2002 08:26 PDT
Expires: 06 Jun 2002 08:26 PDT
Question ID: 18897
Why is the Midwest section of the United States called the Midwest? 
Why not the Mideast or Midsouth or Midnorth?  Thank you ---Celeste
Subject: Re: Why is the Midwest called the Midwest?
Answered By: adiloren-ga on 30 May 2002 09:55 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
The term "midwest" is a term that originated in earlier times and has
stuck. The middle of what we now know as the United States lay west of
the first European settlements along the east coast. At the time, the
far west portion of the country was largely unexplored and was not
calculated into the geographical terminology. As some of the land west
of the Mississippi was explored and annexed, the central area bacame
known as the "middle west", and is now referred to as the "midwest".

The designation made some sense at the time, as what is now known as
the "midwest" had more in common with the "uncivilized" west coast
than it did with the east coast. This is evident in some of the
frotier tales that occured near the Mississippi river. For example,
the James Gang robbed banks in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Minnesota.

Additional Links

Map of the United States from the University of Texas

History of Westward Expansion from America's Library

Resources on Westward Expansion from

Hope this helps

Clarification of Answer by adiloren-ga on 04 Jun 2002 10:51 PDT
Drdavid, you provided a better rebuttal than my own - thanks for the
post. Robertdk- I'll admit that I am not an expert on cartography, but
I do understand the point that you are trying to make.

Technically, direction is relative and these designations are merely
Eurocentric creations. However, I understand that your argument could
be valid if the midwest does fall in the midwest region globally, and
this caused the term to catch on. However, as david argues, the
midwest region globally includes many areas outside of what we
traditionally refer to as "the midwest", USA. It seems to me that the
term "midwest" arose domestically (likely before 1884), not as a
global indicator.

Read this from North Dakota State University:

"In fact, as the geographer James Shortridge explains, the term
"Middle West" arose to designate something between north and south. In
the 19th century there was the Southwest, and there was the Northwest
(Montana, the Dakotas and Minnesota), and then there was the Middle
West—basically Kansas and Nebraska. In the 20th century, though, the
labels "Middle West" and "Midwest" expanded to the east and north."
ceecee-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Thank you for a very thorough answer and a quick response.   Ceecee

Subject: Re: Why is the Midwest called the Midwest?
From: robertdk-ga on 30 May 2002 14:32 PDT
The Midwest answer given is not the true explaination.  

The term mid-west comes from the position of this part of the world on
the globe.  The Middle-East is called the Middle-East for the same
reason.  If one looks at a map, or better yet, a globe, look at
Greenwich or Zulu degrees(0). Go half way (or midway) around the world
and you are either in the Mid-West or the Middle-East.

The west ends at the International Date line and so does the east. 
China is in the far East and Alaska is in the far West.

South America has a Mid-West. The India Ocean is in the Middle-East.

I hope this helps to clear up an old misunderstanding
Subject: Re: Why is the Midwest called the Midwest?
From: adiloren-ga on 01 Jun 2002 11:51 PDT
I don't believe this geographical explanation to be correct. Direction
is relative- it varies depending on what location you are starting
from. There is no definitive "middle west" on a globe. The example of
the "middle east" displays this relativitiy. If we use the "middle
east" as a starting point, Western Europe or perhaps the east coast of
the U.S. would be known as the "midwest". The term "midwest" refers to
direction from a U.S. perspective - I believe my original explanation
makes the most sense.
Subject: Re: Why is the Midwest called the Midwest?
From: robertdk-ga on 03 Jun 2002 09:50 PDT
The geographical explanation is the correct one.  Direction is not
relative.  Direction is based on the Prime Meridian (Zero Longitude)
at Greenwich, London, England.  This has been so since October 1884.

90 degrees east of the Prime Meridian is the Middle East(GMT plus 6
hours).  90 degrees west of the Prime Meridian is the MidWest(GMT
minus 6 hours).  180 degrees east or west of this point is where east
and west meet at the International Date Line(GMT plus 12 hours AND GMT
minus 12 hours).

I can understand that alot of people may not be familar with maps or
Longitude.  If my explanation is reread, one will see that it
addressed adiloren-ga's concern of one's position "relitive" to
location.  Though adiloren-ga's explanation sounds good and a little
romantic, it can not stand up to the true fact of science or history. 
Please see this as not a contest but an exploration of the facts.

Go to to see the truth about how the regions
of the globe are defined.  It is also a good resource to learn the
history of navigation as well as time keeping.\faq\docs\world_tzones.html is another offical site
concerned with timezones and global positions.

One can also look at a globe to see this.

I hope this infomation provides a clearer understanding.
Subject: Re: Why is the Midwest called the Midwest?
From: jeremymiles-ga on 03 Jun 2002 15:28 PDT
The area referred to as the Middle East seems to be a bit variable, at
least according to these websites:,5753,-21468,00.html,5753,-7631,00.html
Subject: Re: Why is the Midwest called the Midwest?
From: drdavid-ga on 03 Jun 2002 19:17 PDT
According to robertdk-ga's fine mathematical geography, the following
places are midwest: Galapagos Islands, Guatamala, the Yucatan
peninsula of Mexico, New Orleans, Mississippi, St Louis, Illinois,
Wisconsin, Thunder Bay, Hudson Bay, the magnetic north pole... Perhaps
Illinois and Wisconsin are sometimes included in the US designation
"Midwest," but I don't think I've ever heard any of the others so
identified. Similarly, the middle east should include Bangladesh,
Bhutan, part of Tibet, and a lot of relatively barren central Asian
parts of Russia, again an identification not very common in the
newspapers I read.

On the other hand, depending on your point of view, there are a lot of
strange designations in the US:
"down east": Maine as viewed from Boston
"out west": anywhere west of the Hudson River as viewed from Manhattan
"back east": anywhere east of the Rockies as viewed from California
"down south": the lower peninsula of Michigan as viewed from the upper
"El Norte": California as viewed from Mexico and Central America
"The Northwest Territories": such eastern locations as Ohio and
Michigan back when no one much new what was west of the Appalachians

I've heard the term "Midwest" used to refer to places from Ohio to
Colorado at one time or another, but it's rarely used for places west
of the Mississippi River or south of the Ohio River.
Subject: Re: Why is the Midwest called the Midwest?
From: iso8601-ga on 03 Nov 2002 07:53 PST
One clarification regarding the use of "GMT" in the example.

The BASE Time Zone of the world is not GMT. This term was made
obsolete in 1971. This Time Zone is now known as UTC, one of a series
of UT-based time scales.

GMT is now only the Winter Time Zone of the UK [GMT = UTC+0000], not
the base reference point of all other time zones. UK clocks only use
GMT during the UK Winter. In Summer, UK clocks show BST which is
UTC+0100. This removes the problem whereby someone outside the UK asks
someone inside the UK during the UK Summer what the time is. The UK
person gives the time, and the recipient used to assume that this was
GMT as that person was in the UK. UK clocks do not use GMT during the
Summer months, they use BST which is one hour different. By defining
the Base Time Zone as UTC, and all other time zones (including those
of the UK) as being relative to UTC, this extra step often avoids
people assuming something that may be incorrect.  See the ISO 8601
standard for more.

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