Des Moines, Iowa, the capital and largest city of the state, and the seat of Polk County. It is at the junction of the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers in central Iowa, about 300 miles (480 km) west of Chicago.
Des Moines is a commercial and industrial city and the trade center for one of the most productive farming areas in the nation. Food processing is a major activity—the city is sometimes called the greatest food-processing center in the world. Other economic activities include the making of machinery, agricultural equipment, automobile accessories, tires, clothing, chemicals, medicines, and cosmetics. Government, especially state government, employs many people. Insurance companies are also major employers; some 60 of them have home offices in the city. Publishing, mainly of magazines and books, is also a significant activity. Des Moines is a highway transportation hub and is served by trunk railways and major airlines.
The gold-domed state capitol, built between 1871 and 1896, is one of the city's main attractions. Nearby is the State of Iowa Historical Building, with exhibits on Iowa history. Other cultural institutions include the Civic Center Theater (for the performing arts) and the Des Moines Art Center, which displays 19th- and 20th-century art. The Des Moines Center of Science and Industry features a planetarium, a Foucault pendulum, and numerous permanent exhibits.
Institutions of higher learning include Drake University, Grand View College, and the University of Osteopathic Medicine and Health Sciences. The Iowa State Fair, one of the nation's largest agricultural expositions, is held at the Fairgrounds each August. Also held annually, on the campus of Drake University, are the Drake Relays, a major collegiate track event.
Des Moines was founded as a military post, Fort Des Moines, in 1843. It was incorporated as a town in 1851, and became a city and the state capital in 1857. In 1907 the city, adopting what came to be called the Des Moines Plan, became one of the first municipalities in the United States to use the commission form of government. It was abandoned in 1950 when the city changed to the council-manager form. The city suffered extensive damage during the summer of 1993 when torrential rains caused the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers to flood.