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Iowa Transportation Firsts

The following is just a sample of some of the "firsts" in Iowa transportation history. For more detailed information, view the online version of the booklet, "Discovering Historic Iowa Transportation Milestones".

Date Transportation First
1819 First steamboat to pass along an Iowa border (traveled on the Missouri River)
1823 The Virginia became the first steamboat to navigate the upper Mississippi River from St. Louis, Mo. to St. Paul, Minn. It did so twice that year. This was the first steamboat to pass along Iowa’s eastern border.
1838 First "official" road in Iowa territory (route from Keokuk to Iowa City).
1838 First regular stagecoach line (operated from Burlington, Iowa to St. Francisville.
1856 First "manned" balloon flight (Burlington).
1856 First railroad bridge over Mississippi River was completed near Rock Island, Ill.
1867 First railroad to traverse the state was completed (Union Pacific).
1888 First electric street car put into service (located in Des Moines, second electric railway in United States).
1899 First automobiles displayed in Iowa (at a fair in Linn County).
1904 First required the registration of motor vehicles.
1905 First person killed in an automobile accident.
1911 First regular passenger bus line (operated between Charles City and Waverly).
1917 First federal aid for highways received.
1917 First concrete pavement
1919 First official road map published.
1920 First commercial air freight flight to Iowa.
1920 First regular consignment of U.S. airmail reached Iowa.
1925 First state motor vehicle fuel tax.
1928 First scheduled airline in Iowa (Midwest Airways Corp.).
1928 First asphalt paved roadway.
1929 First Iowa woman to earn a pilot’s license (Ila Fox of Callender).
1930 Iowa woman becomes the first airline stewardess in the country (Cresco native Ellen Church).
1931 Locks and Dam 15 is located at Mississippi River mile 483 on the northwest tip of Arsenal Island in Rock Island, Ill. This is the first structure built as part of the 9-foot navigation channel. The locks were built first, with construction starting in April 1931 and ending in December 1932. Work on the dam began in March 1932 and was completed in May 1934.
1935 Lincoln Highway became first paved transcontinental highway.
1949 Iowa Road Use Tax Fund established.
1953 Salt first used experimentally on roadways for ice removal.
1958 First Iowa segment of interstate opened (I-35/80 on southwest edge of Des Moines).
1971 Iowa’s original AMTRAK system put into operation.
1986 Seatbelt law enacted.
2013 The Iowa Department of Transportation celebrates 100 years in transportation at its headquarters in Ames.


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