Nebraska is a state in the Midwestern region of the United States. The name is derived from a Native American word meaning "flat water," according the Platte River that flows through the state. Originally a part of the Great American desert, Nebraska is now one of the biggest producers of agricultural products in the US, which explains the nickname the "Cornhusker State." With the help of modern agricultural means, the Nebraskan population turned the prairie lands into a state full of ranches and farms. Accordingly, the history of Nebraska is also a history of agriculture. Agriculture makes up appr. 11 percent of the annual GNP. More than 95 percent of the states total area is used for agricultural purposes. Apart from cattle, further important agricultural products are pork and poultry. In addition, the most important farming products are corn, sorghum, soy beans, oats, rye, barley, millet, sugar beets, beans and potatoes. Industry makes up for 13 percent of the GNP. The most important sector of industry is the food industry, especially the production of meat products. Apart from that, engineering and electrical engineering play an important role. The real GNP per capita was $36,441 in 2006, making Nebraska number 21 in the national ranking. Among the most important cities are the capital Lincoln, as well as Omaha, Grand Island and North Platte.
In 1541, the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez was the first European to come to the area that is today Nebraska. Back then, numerous Native American tribes lived in the area, among them the Omaha, Pawnee and Ute in the East and the center, and the Oglala Sioux, Araphoe, Comanche and Cheyenne in the West. Between 1700 and 1763 the French controlled the area, afterwards the territory was controlled by the Spanish. In the year of 1803 it fell to the US as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Between 1804 and 1806, members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition explored part of the area. In 1807 the Spaniard Manuel Lisa built a trading post and became the first white settler in present day Nebraska. In 1810 the American Fur Company set up a trading post in the present day Bellevue area. Fort Atkinson was built in 1819, same place where Fort Calhoun is located today.
The Oregon Trail and the California Trail brought more and more people into the region. Growing numbers of settlers started to make it their home, even though Nebraska had been declared Indian territory in 1834 and white settlers were not allowed to settle there. After belonging to the territories of Indiana, Louisiana and Missouri, it finally became an independent territory on May 30, 1854.
During the 1860s the Homestead Act brought the first real wave of settlers to Nebraska, claiming part of the land the government had granted. On May 1, 1867, Nebraska became the 37th state of the US, shortly after the War of Secession ended.