Unraveling the Debate: Are the Great Lakes Truly Midwest?

Ever pondered the exact geographical location of the Great Lakes? If you’ve ever found yourself tangled in debates and discussions about whether these vast bodies of water are nestled within the Midwest, you’re not alone. It’s a question that’s sparked curiosity for many.

In this article, we’ll dive into the heart of the matter, exploring the geographical boundaries, the history, and the cultural implications of this question. So, buckle up for an enlightening journey that’s sure to clear up any lingering doubts about the Great Lakes’ position in the grand scheme of the American landscape.

Key Takeaways

  • The Great Lakes, consisting of Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario, lie at the eastern border of North America and broadly stretch from far north near Canada to the southern U.S.
  • The Midwest as defined by the United States Census Bureau comprises 12 states, four of which are bordered by the Great Lakes, which implies a partial geographical overlap between the Great Lakes and the Midwest.
  • Historical perspectives affirm the Great Lakes as foundational to the Midwest’s development, providing paths for exploration, trade, and fostering settlements that evolved into major cities in the region.
  • Economically, the Great Lakes significantly contribute to the Midwest by supporting trade and transport, bolstering tourism, and fostering a fishing industry worth $7 billion.
  • The Great Lakes also contribute to shaping the Midwest’s cultural identity and have major environmental impact, including influencing regional weather patterns and providing essential fresh water.
  • The debate on whether the Great Lakes should be included in the Midwest is ongoing, with arguments for inclusion centered on geography, economic contributions, cultural and environmental impacts, and counterarguments focused on the unique characteristics of each region and the expansive geographical influence of the Great Lakes.

Unveiling the Great Lakes’ Location

As we continue to unravel the mystery surrounding the geographical placement of the Great Lakes, it’s essential to get familiar with the geography of the Great Lakes and the Midwestern region.

Geography of the Great Lakes

Concentrate first on the Great Lakes themselves. A collective name, it refers to five interconnected freshwater lakes that sprawl across North America’s eastern border. These lakes comprise Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario.

To provide specifics, they cover an expansive area of about 94,250 square miles, making them one of the largest freshwater systems in the world. Let’s examine some key coordinates to pin down their location precisely:

Superior47.7° N87.5° W
Michigan43.8° N87.0° W
Huron44.8° N82.4° W
Erie42.2° N81.2° W
Ontario43.7° N78.3° W

These coordinates clearly highlight that the Great Lakes stretch from the far north near Canada and extend to the south, towards the U.S.

The Midwest Defined

Shifting the focus, let’s take a closer look at the Midwest. According to the United States Census Bureau, the Midwest encompasses 12 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Let’s cross-map the states associated with the Great Lakes to those of the Midwest. You’ll find that four out of the five Great Lakes border at least one Midwestern state. Does that essentially place the Great Lakes in the Midwest?

By strict geographical definitions, a portion of the Great Lakes certainly does make its home within the states identified under the Midwest region. But bear in mind that geographical placement doesn’t always align with cultural and historical interpretations; the debates continue.

Historical Perspectives on Midwestern Boundaries

Contextualizing the Midwest’s historical boundaries provides key insights into the region’s relation to the Great Lakes. As a strictly geographical term, “Midwest” often harbors diverse interpretations, but the rich history of its development may provide a sturdy stance.

Development of the Midwest Region

The Midwest region, often referred to as America’s “heartland,” developed significantly throughout the 19th and early 20th century. It emerged from the Northwest Territory, established after the American Revolution, encapsulating present-day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. Pioneer migration, railway construction, and agricultural expansion played major roles in reinforcing the region’s borders. Undeniably, the five Great Lakes—Lake Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior—serve as geographical pillars in the Midwest’s formation.

Significance of the Great Lakes to the Midwest

The Great Lakes’ significance to the Midwest stems from its historical and environmental influence. These gigantic bodies of freshwater provided avenues for exploration, trade, and transport during the region’s early developmental years. Coupled with the fertile land surrounding them, they attracted settlements, leading to the development of major Midwestern cities, like Chicago, Detroit, and Milwaukee. Comparatively, they create microclimates that influence Midwest’s weather, making farming viable in the region. Additionally, they comprise a crucial part of the Midwest’s identity, providing recreational opportunities and a natural beauty that defines the region’s landscape.

As such, historical perspectives validate the Great Lakes’ place within the Midwest – bridging geography with a shared history has proven instrumental in unveiling this intricate relationship. While differing opinions may persist, historical patterns solidify the Great Lakes’ integral role for the Midwest, both geographically and culturally.

The Great Lakes as Part of the Midwest Identity

Building upon their geographical location and historical relevance, the Great Lakes further assert their significance within the Midwest through economic contributions, and cultural and environmental influences.

Economic Contributions

The Great Lakes bolster the Midwest’s economy. Offering access to the international waters of the Atlantic Ocean through the Saint Lawrence Seaway, the Lakes facilitate trade and transport. Shipping lanes on the Great Lakes carry over 100 million tons of cargo annually, including iron ore, grain, and steel. Additionally, the Lakes boost the Midwest’s tourism sector, drawing millions of visitors yearly who engage in leisure activities such as boating, fishing, and beachside relaxation. The Great Lakes fishery itself supports a $7 billion industry, underlining the financial impact of the Lakes in the Midwest.

Cultural and Environmental Influence

The Great Lakes play a pivotal role in shaping the Midwest’s culture and environment. They establish a shared identity for Midwesterners, framing a narrative of hardy residents enduring harsh winters and relishing summer retreats by the Lakes. This regional narrative inherently ties Midwesterners to an inescapable relationship with these bodies of water.

Environmentally, the Great Lakes define the Midwest’s unique biome. With a combined surface area of 94,250 square miles, these Lakes significantly affect the region’s weather patterns, enabling agricultural prosperity. The Lakes serve as vital habitats for numerous wildlife species and are an essential source of fresh water, supplying 84% of North America’s surface fresh water.

Thus, the Great Lakes’ economic, cultural and environmental connections demonstrate their integral role in the Midwest’s identity, further solidifying their place within the region.

Debating The Inclusion of the Great Lakes in the Midwest

Let’s further delve into the debate regarding the inclusion of the Great Lakes in the Midwest, by evaluating the arguments for and against it.

Arguments for Inclusion

In terms of geography, the five Great Lakes – Lake Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior, straddle the Midwest region. They offer undeniable economic benefits, amplifying trade through their navigable waters, supporting the local fishing industry, and boosting tourism. For instance, Michigan’s economy reaps significant benefits from lake tourism, showcasing the nexus between the Great Lakes and the Midwest.

Moreover, they hold cultural significance, shaping the character and way of life of Midwest inhabitants. Recreation activities like boating and fishing, synonymous with the Midwest, owe much to these natural water bodies. Similarly, their ecological importance cannot be overlooked, providing essential habitats for numerous species and unmatched freshwater supplies. Take Lake Superior, for example, it’s the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, a testament to the ecological value these Lakes offer.

Counterarguments and Alternative Views

However, there exist viewpoints contradicting the Great Lakes’ Midwest status. Some argue that the Lakes are too geographically massive and strategically positioned to be associated with a single region. They influence not just the Midwest, but also regions in Canada and the US East Coast through the Saint Lawrence River. Hence, designating them as ‘Midwest’ can be seen as an oversimplification.

Moreover, cultural and economic disparities between various Midwest areas further fuel this debate. Threading them under a single category due to geographic proximity can dilute the distinctive qualities of each individual area. Hence, while some propagate embracing the Great Lakes as Midwest for commonalities in their history and economic interdependencies, others plead for recognizing the uniqueness of each state and the Lakes as separate entities.

Thus, despite robust reasoning supporting and opposing the Great Lakes’ inclusion in the Midwest, consensus eludes this debate, reflecting the complex, intertwined relations between geography, economics, and culture.


So, you’ve journeyed through the history, economics, culture, and geography of the Great Lakes and their intricate connection to the Midwest. You’ve considered the compelling arguments for and against their inclusion as part of this region. It’s clear that their vast influence stretches beyond the Midwest, yet their economic, cultural, and ecological ties to the region remain undeniable. The debate isn’t easily settled, and it’s the complexity of these relations that keeps the discussion alive. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, it’s evident that the Great Lakes’ role in shaping the Midwest is significant and enduring. As the dialogue continues, you’re now equipped with a well-rounded understanding of the topic. Remember, in matters of geography and identity, perspectives often vary as widely as the Great Lakes themselves!

The classification of the Great Lakes as part of the Midwest often stirs debate due to their geographical and cultural significance. The Great Lakes, comprising Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, span across the U.S.-Canada border and significantly impact the Midwestern states’ economy, environment, and daily life. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Great Lakes basin is home to over 30 million people and is crucial for agriculture and industry. Moreover, the Society for Ecological Restoration includes the Great Lakes in its Midwest-Great Lakes Chapter, underscoring their integral role in the Midwest’s ecological and economic landscape.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the historical and geographical significance of the Great Lakes?

The Great Lakes have played an important role in shaping the Midwest’s geography and history. Their size, location, and connectivity have facilitated regional development.

How do the Great Lakes contribute economically to the Midwest?

The Great Lakes significantly contribute to the Midwest’s economy through their role in trade and tourism. Their navigable waters promote the exchange of goods while their natural beauty attracts tourists.

What cultural and environmental influences do the Great Lakes have on the Midwest?

The Great Lakes shape Midwest’s culture and environment. Their presence has influenced local traditions, lifestyles, and even regional identity. Environmentally, they host diverse ecosystems, offering habitats to numerous species.

What is the debate about the inclusion of the Great Lakes in the Midwest?

The debate centres on whether or not to include the Great Lakes as part of the Midwest. Advocates site economic, cultural, and ecological reasons for their inclusion. However, critics argue that their influence extends beyond the Midwest.

What does the article conclude about the Great Lakes’ Midwest status?

The article concludes that conflicting viewpoints over geography, economics, and culture still fuel the ongoing debate over the Midwest status of the Great Lakes.