Cedar Rapids History

Bever Park Station Streetcars around 1900

Growing from a tiny village of a few hundred people in the 1840's to the second largest city in Iowa, Cedar Rapids has a unique history full of innovation and special character that continues to define it as a wonderful place to live, visit and experience.

A focus and priority on quality of life and culture has been part of Cedar Rapids since its beginning. Early pioneer families designated large areas of land for the development of beautiful city parks and green spaces. In 1880, Cedar Rapids built Greene's Opera House, the largest theatre at that time between Chicago and Denver. The rich cultural heritage of Cedar Rapids is also demonstrated in the Czech Village and New Bohemia historic districts which are officially recognized as Arts and Cultural Areas.

In 1908, Cedar Rapids began development of its unique Municipal Island in the historic center of the city. The city is home to a lovely and varied collection of historic architecture including the Brucemore mansion, Iowa's only site administered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In addition, the People's Bank, designed in 1910 by famed American architect Louis Sullivan is a local architectural treasure. Cedar Rapids boasts more than 35 additional local landmarks which are on the National Register of Historic Places including a Methodist church also designed by Louis Sullivan, and the oldest mosque in North America.

The city's determination to obtain a railroad connection in the mid 1800's led to Cedar Rapids' role as a major Midwest industrial center. The T.M. Sinclair Company, started in 1871, was one of the five largest packing houses in the world within its first ten years of operation. Cedar Rapids is still home to the largest cereal mill in the world, Quaker Oats, begun in Cedar Rapids in 1873.

Industrial and technological innovation in Cedar Rapids continued into the 20th century. In the 1920's, Collins Radio Company was founded by local resident Arthur Collins at a time when radio was cutting edge technology. Expanding into avionics and other technologies, today Rockwell Collins remains a driving force in the local business community. In fact, Cedar Rapids currently has more engineers per capita than any other city in the United States.

Gasoline pump from 1914

Historically, Cedar Rapids has always had a higher percentage of exported products, per capita, than anywhere else in the United States. The recent addition of a wind power industry to Cedar Rapids demonstrates the ongoing commitment to innovation today.

In addition to beautiful landmarks and thriving industry, Cedar Rapids has been home to many familiar names in American history. Orville and Wilbur Wright were Cedar Rapids residents from 1878-1881. A little girl named Mamie Doud who lived in Cedar Rapids early in the 1900's, later became First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. Cedar Rapids was the longtime home of artist Grant Wood and his most famous work, "American Gothic", was painted here. Austin Palmer developed a nationally well known form of penmanship writing in Cedar Rapids. Recent local residents such as golfer Zach Johnson and actors Ashton Kutcher and Elijah Wood continue to attract attention to our community.