With more than 200,000 residents, Iowa’s capital of Des Moines is the largest city in the state. It also has built an economy — largely through the insurance industry — that is an envy of the Midwest.
Now known as the “Hartford of the West,” Business Wire has called it the third-largest “insurance capital” of the world. Twice in the last five years, Forbes has ranked Des Moines as its “Best Place for Business” and last year NBC ranked it as the “Wealthiest City in America,” according to a list of criteria.
Des Moines has another distinction as it may be the most important city in the country when it comes to picking a U.S. president. Because Iowa is home to the first caucuses of the primary cycle for both parties, candidates set up campaign headquarters in the city. In 2007, Adam Nagourney of the New York Times wrote “if you have any desire to witness presidential candidates in the most close-up and intimate of settings, there is arguably no better place to go than Des Moines.”
Another nugget about Des Moines is that it was home to an unsung hero of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1948, Edna Griffin, with her infant daughter in tow, ordered ice cream at Katz Drug Store in downtown Des Moines, but was denied service because of her race. She responded by launching a campaign to force the store to change policy, leading boycotts, pickets and sit-ins. She also took Katz to court. Her victory at the Iowa Supreme Court legally ended the practice of denying service based on race in all of Iowa. She then served a career of challenging discrimination in Iowa and beyond.
The building that once housed Katz Drug Store is now the Edna Griffin Building (pictured) and a pedestrian bridge over I-235 in Des Moines is also named in her honor.