Omaha is the largest city in the state of Nebraska, United States, and is the county seat of Douglas County. It is located in the Midwestern United States on the Missouri River, about 20 miles (30 km) north of the mouth of the Platte River. Omaha is the anchor of the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area, which includes Council Bluffs, Iowa, across the Missouri River from Omaha.
According to the 2010 Census, Omaha's population was 408,958, making it the nation's 42nd-largest city. According to the 2011 Population Estimates, Omaha's population was 415,068. Including its suburbs, Omaha formed the 60th-largest metropolitan area in the United States in 2010, with an estimated population of 877,110 residing in eight counties. There are more than 1.2 million residents within a 50-mile (80-km) radius of the city's center, forming the Greater Omaha area.
Omaha's pioneer period began in 1854 when the city was founded by speculators from neighboring Council Bluffs, Iowa. The city was founded along the Missouri River, and a crossing called Lone Tree Ferry earned the city its nickname, the "Gateway to the West." It introduced this new West to the world when in 1898 it played host to the World's Fair, dubbed the Trans-Mississippi Exposition. During the 19th century, Omaha's central location in the United States spurred the city to become an important national transportation hub. Throughout the rest of the 19th century, the transportation and jobbing sectors were important in the city, along with its railroads and breweries. In the 20th century, the Omaha Stockyards, once one the world's largest, and its meatpacking plants, gained international prominence.
Today, Omaha is the home to the headquarters of five Fortune 500 companies: packaged-food giant ConAgra Foods; the U.S.'s largest railroad operator, Union Pacific Corporation; insurance and financial firm Mutual of Omaha; one of the world's largest construction companies, Kiewit Corporation; and mega-conglomorate Berkshire Hathaway. Berkshire Hathaway is headed by local investor Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the world, according to a decade's worth of Forbes Magazine rankings, some of which have ranked him as high as No. 1. Omaha is also the home to four Fortune 1000 headquarters: TD Ameritrade, West Corporation, Valmont Industries, and Werner Enterprises. First National Bank of Omaha is the largest privately held bank in the United States. Headquarters for Leo A Daly, HDR, Inc. and DLR Group, three of the US's largest 10 architecture/engineering firms, are based in Omaha. The Gallup Organization, of Gallup Poll fame, also is based in Omaha, with its riverfront Gallup University. Enron began in Omaha as Northern Natural Gas in 1930 before taking over a smaller Houston company in 1985 to form Internorth, which was moved permanently to Houston in 1987 by the notorious Kenneth Lay.
The modern economy of Omaha is diverse and built on skilled knowledge jobs. In 2009, Forbes identified Omaha as the nation's number one "Best Bang-For-The Buck City" and number one on "America's Fastest-Recovering Cities" list. Tourism in Omaha benefits the city's economy greatly, with the annual College World Series providing important revenue and the city's Henry Doorly Zoo serving as the top attraction in Nebraska. Omaha hosted the Olympic swim trials in 2008 and in 2012.
Notable modern Omaha inventions include the TV dinner, developed by Omaha's then-Carl Swanson Co.; Raisin Bran, developed by Omaha's Skinner Macaroni Co.; cake mix, developed by Duncan Hines, then a division of Omaha's Nebraska Consolidated Mills, the forerunner to today's ConAgra Foods; Butter Brickel Ice Cream and the Reuben sandwich, conceived by a chef at the then-Blackstone Hotel on 33rd and Farnam Streets; center-pivot irrigation by Omaha's now-Valmont Corporation; the bobby pin and the "pink hair curler," at Omaha's Tip Top; the ski lift, in 1936, by Omaha's Union Pacific Corp; the "Top 40" radio format, pioneered by Todd Storz, scion of Omaha's Storz Brewing Co., and head of Storz Broadcasting, which was the first in the U.S. to use the "Top 40" format at Omaha's KOWH Radio.
A historic preservation movement in Omaha has led to a number of historic structures and districts being designated Omaha Landmarks or listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Much of the push toward preservation came after Omaha gained the notorious designation of having, in 1989, demolished the largest-ever National Register historic district in the United States, a record that still stands as of 2012. The Jobbers Canyon Historic District, along the Missouri River front, was felled for a new headquarters campus for ConAgra Foods.
Since its founding, ethnic groups in the city have clustered in enclaves in north, south and downtown Omaha. In its early days, the sometimes lawless nature of a new frontier city included crime, such as illicit gambling and riots. Today, the diverse culture of Omaha includes a variety of performance venues, museums, and musical heritage, including the historically significant jazz scene in North Omaha and the modern and influential "Omaha Sound". Sports have been important in Omaha for more than a century, and the city currently plays host to three minor-league professional sports teams. It is perhaps more known as the home of the College World Series, to which it has played host since 1950. The Kings, an NBA franchise, called Omaha and Kansas City home from 1972 to 1978. The Kansas City-Omaha Kings split their time between the two cities, playing at Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium and the Omaha Civic Auditorium, before decamping solely to Kansas City until 1985, when the team moved to its current home of Sacramento.
Various Native American tribes had lived in the land that became Omaha, including since the 17th century, the Omaha and Ponca, Dhegian-Siouan-language people who had originated in the lower Ohio River valley and migrated west by the early 17th century; Pawnee, Otoe, Missouri, and Ioway. The word Omaha (actually Umoⁿhoⁿ or Umaⁿhaⁿ) means "Dwellers on the bluff".
In 1804 the Lewis and Clark Expedition passed by the riverbanks where the city of Omaha would be built. Between July 30 and August 3, 1804, members of the expedition, including Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, met with Oto and Missouria tribal leaders at the Council Bluff at a point about 20 miles (30 km) north of present-day Omaha. Immediately south of that area, Americans built several fur trading outposts in succeeding years, including Fort Lisa in 1812; Fort Atkinson in 1819; Cabanné's Trading Post, built in 1822, and Fontenelle's Post in 1823, in what became Bellevue. There was fierce competition among fur traders until John Jacob Astor created the monopoly of the American Fur Company. The Mormons built a town called Cutler's Park in the area in 1846. While it was temporary, the settlement provided the basis for further development in the future.
Through 26 separate treaties with the United States federal government, Native American tribes in Nebraska gradually ceded the lands currently comprising the state. The treaty and cession involving the Omaha area occurred in 1854 when the Omaha Tribe ceded most of east-central Nebraska. Logan Fontenelle, an interpreter for the Omaha and signatory to the 1854 treaty, played an essential role in those proceedings.
Before it was legal to claim land in Indian Country, William D. Brown was operating the Lone Tree Ferry to bring settlers from Council Bluffs, Iowa to the area that became Omaha. Brown is generally credited as having the first vision for a city where Omaha now sits. The passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act in 1854 was presaged by the staking out of claims around the area to become Omaha by residents from neighboring Council Bluffs. On July 4, 1854, the city was informally established at a picnic on Capital Hill, current site of Omaha Central High School. Soon after, the Omaha Claim Club was formed to provide vigilante justice for claim jumpers and others who infringed on the land of many of the city's founding fathers. Some of this land, which now wraps around Downtown Omaha, was later used to entice Nebraska Territorial legislators to an area called Scriptown. The Territorial capitol was located in Omaha, but when Nebraska became a state in 1867, the capital was relocated to Lincoln, south-west of Omaha. The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled against numerous landowners whose violent actions were condemned in Baker v. Morton.
Many of Omaha's founding figures stayed at the Douglas House or the Cozzens House Hotel. Dodge Street was important early in the city's early commercial history; North 24th Street and South 24th Street developed independently as business districts, as well. Early pioneers were buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery and Cedar Hill Cemetery. Cedar Hill closed in the 1860s and its graves were moved to Prospect Hill, where pioneers were later joined by soldiers from Fort Omaha, African Americans and early European immigrants. There are several other historical cemeteries in Omaha, historical Jewish synagogues and historical Christian churches dating from the pioneer era, as well.
The economy of Omaha boomed and busted through its early years. Omaha was a stopping point for settlers and prospectors heading west, either overland or via the Missouri River. The steamboat Bertrand sank north of Omaha on its way to the goldfields in 1865. Its massive collection of artifacts is on display at the nearby Desoto National Wildlife Refuge. The jobbing and wholesaling district brought new jobs, followed by the railroads and the stockyards. Groundbreaking for the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1863, provided an essential developmental boom for the city. The Union Pacific Railroad was authorized by the U.S. Congress to begin building westward railways in 1862; in January 1866 it commenced construction out of Omaha.
Equally as important, the Union Stockyards were founded in 1883. Within twenty years of the founding of the Union Stockyards in South Omaha, four of the five major meatpacking companies in the United States were located in Omaha. By the 1950s, half the city's workforce was employed in meatpacking and processing. Meatpacking, jobbing and railroads were responsible for most of the growth in the city from the late 19th century through the early decades of the 20th century.
Immigrants soon created ethnic enclaves throughout the city, including Irish in Sheelytown in South Omaha; Germans in the Near North Side, joined by Eastern European Jews and black migrants from the South; Little Italy and Little Bohemia in South Omaha. Beginning in the late 19th century, Omaha's upper class lived in posh enclaves throughout the city, including the south and north Gold Coast neighborhoods, Bemis Park, Kountze Place, Field Club and throughout Midtown Omaha. They traveled the city's sprawling park system on boulevards designed by renowned landscape architect Horace Cleveland. The Omaha Horse Railway first carried passengers throughout the city, as did the later Omaha Cable Tramway Company and several similar companies. In 1888, the Omaha and Council Bluffs Railway and Bridge Company built the Douglas Street Bridge, the first pedestrian and wagon bridge between Omaha and Council Bluffs. Gambling, drinking and prostitution were widespread in the 19th century, first rampant in the city's Burnt District and later in the Sporting District. Controlled by Omaha's political boss Tom Dennison by 1890, criminal elements enjoyed support from Omaha's "perpetual" mayor, "Cowboy Jim" Dahlman, nicknamed for his eight terms as mayor. Calamities such as the Great Flood of 1881 did not slow down the city's violence. In 1882, the Camp Dump Strike pitted state militia against unionized strikers, drawing national attention to Omaha's labor troubles. The Governor of Nebraska had to call in U.S. Army troops from nearby Fort Omaha to protect strikebreakers for the Burlington Railroad, bringing along Gatling guns and a cannon for defense. When the event ended, there was one man dead and several wounded. In 1891, a mob hanged Joe Coe, an African-American porter after he was accused of raping a white girl. There were several other riots and civil unrest events in Omaha during this period, as well.
In 1898, Omaha's leaders, under the guidance of Gurdon Wattles, held the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, touted as a celebration of agricultural and industrial growth throughout the Midwest. The Indian Congress, which drew more than 500 American Indians from across the country, was held simultaneously. More than 2 million visitors attended these events, located at Kountze Park and the Omaha Driving Park in the Kountze Place neighborhood.
With dramatically increasing population in the 20th century, there was major civil unrest in Omaha, resulting from competition and fierce labor struggles. In 1900, Omaha was the center of a national uproar over the kidnapping of Edward Cudahy, Jr., the son of a local meatpacking magnate.
The city's labor and management clashed in bitter strikes, racial tension escalated as blacks were hired as strikebreakers, and ethnic strife broke out. A major riot by ethnic whites in South Omaha destroyed the city's Greek Town in 1909, completely driving out the Greek population.
The civil rights movement in Omaha has roots that extend back to 1912, when the first chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People west of the Mississippi River was founded in the city.
Six years later, in 1919, the city was caught up in the Red Summer riots when thousands of ethnic whites marched from South Omaha to the courthouse to lynch a black worker, Willy Brown, a suspect in an alleged rape of a white woman. The mob burned the Douglas County Courthouse to get the prisoner, causing more than $1,000,000 damage. They hung and shot Will Brown, then burned his body. Troops were called in from Fort Omaha to quell the riot, prevent more crowds gathering in South Omaha, and to protect the black community in North Omaha.
The culture of North Omaha thrived throughout the 1920s through 1950s, with several creative figures, including Tillie Olsen, Wallace Thurman, Lloyd Hunter, and Anna Mae Winburn emerging from the vibrant Near North Side.
Musicians created their own world in Omaha, and also joined national bands and groups that toured and appeared in the city.
After the tumultuous Great Depression of the 1930s, Omaha rebounded with the development of Offutt Air Force Base just south of the city. The Glenn L. Martin Company operated a factory there in the 1940s that produced 521 B-29 Superfortresses, including the Enola Gay and Bockscar used in the atomic bombing of Japan in World War II.
The construction of Interstates 80, 480 and 680, along with the North Omaha Freeway, spurred development. There was also controversy, particularly in North Omaha, where several neighborhoods were bisected by new routes. Creighton University hosted the DePorres Club, an early civil rights group whose sit-in strategies for integration of public facilities predated the national movement, starting in 1947.
Following the development of the Glenn L. Martin Company bomber manufacturing plant in Bellevue at the beginning of World War II, the relocation of the Strategic Air Command to the Omaha suburb in 1948 provided a major economic boost to the area.
From the 1950s through the 1960s, more than 40 insurance companies were headquartered in Omaha, including Woodmen of the World and Mutual of Omaha. By the late 1960s, the city rivaled, but never surpassed, the United States insurance centers of Hartford, Connecticut, New York City and Boston, Massachusetts.
After surpassing Chicago in meat processing by the late 1950s, Omaha suffered the loss of 10,000 jobs as both the railroad and meatpacking industries restructured. The city struggled for decades to shift its economy as workers suffered. Poverty became more entrenched among families who remained in North Omaha.
In the 1960s, three major race riots along North 24th Street destroyed the Near North Side's economic base, with recovery slow for decades. In 1969, Woodmen Tower was completed and became Omaha's tallest building and first major skyscraper at , a sign of renewal.
Since the 1970s, Omaha has continued expanding and growing, mostly to available land to the west. West Omaha has become home to the majority of the city's population. North and South Omaha's populations continue to be centers of new immigrants, with economic and racial diversity. In 1975 a major tornado, along with a major blizzard, caused more than $100 million in damages in 1975 dollars.
Downtown Omaha has since been rejuvenated in numerous ways, starting with the development of Gene Leahy Mall and W. Dale Clark Library in the late 1970s. In the 1980s, Omaha's fruit warehouses were converted into a shopping area called the Old Market.
The demolition of Jobber's Canyon in 1989 led to the creation of the ConAgra Foods campus. Several nearby buildings, including the Nash Block, have been converted into condominiums. The stockyards were taken down; the only surviving building is the Livestock Exchange Building, which was converted to multi-use and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Omaha also saw major company headquarters leave the city, including Enron, founded in the city in 1930 and taken to Houston in 1987 by the now-notorious Kenneth Lay. First Data Corporation, a large credit-card processor, also was founded in Omaha in 1969; as of 2009, its headquarters are in Atlanta.
Bozell, once one of the largest advertising agencies in the United States, according to Advertising Age, was founded in 1921 as Bozell and Jacobs and is famous for campaigns including Pork: The Other White Meat and Got Milk? The firm left for New York in 1997 when it was acquired by True North. Inacom, founded in Omaha in 1991, was a technology company that customized computer systems for large businesses, and was on the Fortune 500 list from 1997 until 2000, when it filed for bankruptcy. Northwestern Bell, the Bell System affiliate for Northwestern states, had its headquarters in Omaha from its founding in 1896 until it moved to Denver in 1991 as US West. Level 3 Communications, a large Tier 1 network provider, was founded in Omaha in 1985 as Kiewit Diversified Group, a division of Kiewit Corporation, a Fortune 500 construction and mining company still headquartered in Omaha; Level 3 moved to Denver in 1998. World Com was founded by a merger with Omaha's MFS Communications, started as Metropolitan Fiber Systems in 1993. MFS, backed by Kiewit Corporation CEO Walter Scott and Warren Buffett, purchased UUNET, one of the largest Internet backbones in the world, for $2 billion in 1996. The now-infamous Bernie Ebbers purchased the much larger MFS for $14.3 billion in 1997 under his World Com. He moved headquarters of the merged company from Omaha to Mississippi.
Around the start of the 21st century, several new downtown skyscrapers and cultural institutions were built. One First National Center was completed in 2002, surpassing the Woodmen Tower as the tallest building in Omaha as well as in the state at . The creation of the city's new North Downtown included the construction of the CenturyLink Center and the Slowdown/Film Streams development at North 14th and Webster Streets. Construction of the new TD Ameritrade Park began in 2009 and was completed in 2011, also in the North Downtown area, near the CenturyLink Center.
New construction has occurred throughout the city since the start of the 21st century. Important retail and office developments have occurred in West Omaha such as the Village Pointe shopping center and several business parks including First National Business Park and parks for Bank of the West and C&A Industries, Inc and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and several others. Downtown and Midtown Omaha have both seen the development of a significant number of condominiums in recent years. In Midtown Omaha significant mixed-use projects are underway. The site of the former Ak-Sar-Ben arena has been redeveloped into a mixed use development Aksarben Village. In January 2009 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska announced plans to build a new 10 story, $98 million headquarters, in the Aksarben Village, completed in Spring 2011. The other major mixed-use development is Midtown Crossing at Turner Park. Developed by Mutual of Omaha, the development includes several condominium towers and retail businesses built around Omaha's Turner Park.
There have also been several developments along the Missouri River waterfront in downtown. The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge was opened to foot and bicycle traffic on September 28, 2008. Started in 2003, RiverFront Place Condos first phase was completed in 2006 and is fully occupied and construction of the second tower began in 2009. The development along Omaha's riverfront is attributed with prompting the City of Council Bluffs to move their own riverfront development time line forward.
In the summers of 2008 and 2012, the United States Olympic Team swimming trials were held in Omaha, at the Qwest/Century Link Center. The event was a highlight in the city's sports community, as well as a showcase for redevelopment in the downtown area.