Where Missouri Made History


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Art and History , educational museum , Museums , museum exhibits , museums
Historic events, innovators and innovations helped shape Missouri
Author: Stephen Foutes
Lewis and Clark officially started the Corps of Discovery Expedition together in Missouri. Many significant Civil War battles were fought here. Some of the greatest innovations of all time have Missouri ties.

Yes, Missouri truly is a history-rich state. The next time you need a history fix, come to Missouri, where a variety of locales offer great information about the people and events that helped shape Missouri and the nation.

The Journeys Started Here

Missouri served as a natural jumping-off point for many trails leading to the west. Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery journey got started in earnest in St. Charles, when Lewis joined the group. In St. Charles, you find a 15-foot-tall statue of the explorers near the banks of the Missouri River and the Lewis & Clark Boat House, Museum and Nature Center. Other cities along the river also commemorate the journey, including Jefferson City, home to the Lewis and Clark Trailhead Plaza.
The western side of Missouri also was a popular starting point for westward journeys. At the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence, you find information and exhibits about five national historic trails, including the Santa Fe Trail and The Oregon Trail.

A little more than an hour north of Independence, in St. Joseph, journeys of another kind began. It was from the Pikes Peak Stables in St. Joseph that the first Pony Express riders began carrying mail to the west. Today, the Pony Express National Museum provides a wealth of information about the route, riders and the dangers they faced.

Civil War Sites

Missouri saw a significant number of Civil War battles from 1861-65. Some 1,000 battles and skirmishes are said to have taken place in Missouri, and the national Civil War Sites Advisory Commission reports that only Virginia and Tennessee saw more “principal battles” than Missouri during this chapter of American history.

In Republic, just south of Springfield, Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield marks the site of the war’s first major battle west of the Mississippi River. More than 2,500 soldiers died during fighting on Aug. 10, 1861. Among them was Nathaniel Lyon, the first Union general to be killed in action. A trip to the battlefield includes a five-mile driving tour (self-guided) and walking trails that access various sites, including an area dubbed “Bloody Hill.”

In Pilot Knob, the visitor center at Battle of Pilot Knob State Historic Site offers details on the Sept. 26-27, 1864, battle that claimed the lives of about 1,000 soldiers. The leading players were Confederate Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, who led 12,000 men in the attack against Union-held Fort Davidson, and Union Gen. Thomas Ewing, who commanded a force of about 1,500 men.

Other Civil War sites to visit in Missouri include the Battle of Westport Visitor Center and Museum in Kansas City, the Bloomfield Civil War Cemetery in Bloomfield, the Bushwhacker Museum and Jail in Nevada, and Lincoln University’s Soldiers Memorial Plaza in Jefferson City.

Innovators and Innovations

When the latest and great version of the iPhone is unveiled, it no doubt will be lauded as the greatest thing since sliced bread. But did you know that sliced bread – the invention against which all subsequent inventions are judged – got its start in Missouri?

As the story goes, the Chillicothe Baking Company was facing difficulties and needed something to entice customers. So, the folks there looked north, to an Iowa inventor named Otto Rohwedder, who created a bread-slicing machine.

It was purchased and put into use in 1928 by Frank Bench and the Chillicothe Baking Company, which sold the country’s first loaves of already-sliced bread! Chillicothe embraces its status as “The Home of Sliced Bread” at the Grand River Historical Society Museum, where you can see the legendary bread slicer (on loan from the Smithsonian). Also in Chillicothe, take time to enjoy a variety of murals, including one that toasts the city’s bread-slicing status.

Chillicothe is a short drive from two other cities that celebrate noted innovators. The J.C. Penney Museum has exhibits and information about the retail magnate and is just 30 minutes west of Chillicothe, while the Walt Disney Hometown Museum in Marceline – where Walt lived as a child – has an impressive collection of Disney family memorabilia about 40 minutes east of Chillicothe. Each is a designated stop along The Way of American Genius, Highway 36.

Several noted musicians also called Missouri home. Among them was Scott Joplin, widely credited for creating the ragtime genre, noted for its syncopated rhythms. Joplin was living in Sedalia when he composed what became his most famous work, the "Maple Leaf Rag." Sheet music for the work became somewhat of a national sensation and Joplin became a household name.

He moved to St. Louis in 1900 and continued to have success with works such as "The Entertainer" (which in 1973 was used as the musical score to the film “The Sting”). Today, you can visit Joplin’s home in St. Louis – now an official Missouri State Historic Site – where a player piano cranks out tunes of the ragtime era.

  Lewis & Clark Boat House and Museum
This educational facility has exhibits on the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Missouri River ecosystem. ...

  Lewis and Clark Trailhead Plaza
This Lewis and Clark monument sits next to the Capitol, at the corner of Jefferson Street and Capitol ...

  Pony Express National Museum
On April 3, 1860, a lone rider, the first of his kind, left Pikes Peak Stables in St. Joseph, marking ...

  Wilson's Creek National Battlefield
Fought on August 10, 1861, the Battle of Wilson’s Creek was a pivotal battle in Missouri and the ...

  Battle of Pilot Knob State Historic Site
The Civil War Battle of Pilot Knob was fought here when Confederate troops attacked the earthen fort ...

  Battle of Westport Visitor Center and Museum
The Battle of Westport Visitor Center tells the story of the stirring events of the Battle of Westport, ...

  Bloomfield Civil War Cemetery
This cemetery holds 150 markers of soldiers who died during the Civil War. Each marker includes a brief ...

  Bushwhacker Museum and Jail
The Bushwhacker Museum, housed in a renovated 1920s garage and Ford agency, is a regional history center ...

  Lincoln University and the Soldiers Memorial Plaza
Lincoln University, one of the first historically black colleges in the United States, was founded in ...

  Grand River Historical Society Museum
Come and experience our stories, including how Chillicothe became the Home of Sliced Bread. The museum ...

  Walt Disney Hometown Museum
Housing 3,000 artifacts received directly from Disney family members, the museum affords visitors a ...

  Missouri Highway 36 - The Way of American Genius (Northeast)
Discover some of America's great ideas, inventions and innovators along Missouri Highway 36. A trip ...

  Missouri Highway 36 - The Way of American Genius (Northwest)
Discover some of America's great ideas, inventions and innovators along Missouri Highway 36. A trip ...

  Scott Joplin House State Historic Site
Tour the modest flat where Scott Joplin wrote his famous ragtime classics The Entertainer, Easy Winners ...