The city lies at the junction of three states: Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin, a region locally known as the Tri-State Area. It serves as the main commercial, industrial, educational, and cultural center for the area. Geographically, it is part of the Driftless Area, a portion of North America that escaped all three phases of the Wisconsinian Glaciation.
One of the few large cities in Iowa with hills, it is a tourist destination featuring the city's unique architecture and river location. It is home to five institutions of higher education, making it a center for culture and learning.
While Dubuque has long been a center of manufacturing, the economy has recently had rapid growth and diversification in other areas. In 2005, the city led the state and the Midwest in job growth, ranking as the 22nd fastest-growing economy nationally. Today, alongside industry, the city has large health care, education, tourism, publishing, and financial service sectors.
Following the 1763 defeat of the French in the Seven Years' War, Spain gained control of the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River; the British took over all territory to the east, as well as Canada.
The first permanent settler in what is now Dubuque was a Quebecois pioneer, Julien Dubuque, who arrived in 1785. In 1788, he received permission from the Spanish government and the local Fox tribe of American Indians to mine the area's rich lead deposits.Control of Louisiana and Dubuque's mines shifted briefly back to France in 1800, then to the United States in 1803, following the Louisiana Purchase. Dubuque died in 1810, but the wealth of minerals drew a number of new pioneers and settlers, mostly French and other Europeans.
The current City of Dubuque, named after Julien Dubuque, was settled at the southern end of a large, flat plain adjacent to the Mississippi River. The city was officially chartered in 1833, located in then-unorganized territory of the United States. The region was designated as the Iowa Territory in 1838, and was included in the newly created State of Iowa in 1846. After the lead resources were exhausted, the city became home to numerous industries. Because of its proximity to forests in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Dubuque became a center for the timber industry, and was later dominated by various millworking businesses.
Between 1860 and 1880, Dubuque was one of the 100 largest urban areas in the United States. Also important were boat building, brewing, and later, the railroad industry. Iowa’s first church was built by Methodists in 1834. Since then, Iowans have followed a variety of religious traditions.
Beginning in the mid-19th century, and into the early 20th century, thousands of poor German and Irish Catholic immigrants came to the city to work in the manufacturing centers. The city's large Roman Catholic congregations led to its designation as the seat of the newly established Archdiocese of Dubuque. Numerous convents, abbeys, and other religious institutions were built. The ethnic German and Irish descendants maintain a strong Catholic presence in the city.
Early in the 20th century, Dubuque was one of several sites of a brass era automobile company, in this case Adams-Farwell; like most others, it folded. Subsequently, although Dubuque grew significantly, industrial activity remained the mainstay of the economy until the 1980s. During that time, a series of changes in manufacturing, and the onset of the "Farm Crisis" led to a large decline in the sector, and the city's economy as a whole. However, the economy diversified rapidly in the 1990s, shifting away from heavy industry.
Today, tourism, high technology, and publishing are among the largest and fastest-growing businesses. Dubuque attracts well over 1,500,000 tourists annually, and this number continues to increase. The city has encouraged development of the America's River Project's tourist attractions in the Port of Dubuque, the expansion of the city's colleges, and the continued growth of shopping centers, like Asbury Plaza.