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Ottumwa, Iowa
Location of Ottumwa in the state of Iowa.
Location of Ottumwa in the state of Iowa.
Country  United States
State  Iowa
County Wapello
 • Total 16.53 sq mi (42.81 km2)
 • Land 15.86 sq mi (41.08 km2)
 • Water 0.67 sq mi (1.74 km2)
Elevation 673 ft (205 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 25,023
 • Estimate (2013) 24,840
 • Rank 20th in Iowa
 • Density 1,577.7/sq mi (609.2/km2)
Time zone CST (UTC-6)
 • Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP code 52501
Area code(s) 641
FIPS code 19-60465
GNIS feature ID 0459952

Ottumwa (/əˈtʌmwə/ ə-TUM-wə) is a city in and the county seat of Wapello County, Iowa, United States. The population was 25,023 at the 2010 census. Located in southeastern Iowa, the city is split into northern and southern halves by the Des Moines River.


Map of Ottumwa from 1908, showing the railroads and coal mines (shown in red) of the region.

The young town was severely damaged during the Flood of 1851.

In 1857, coal was being mined from the McCready bank, a site along Bear Creek four miles west of Ottumwa. In 1868, Brown and Godfrey opened a drift mine four miles northwest of town. By 1872, Brown and Godfrey employed 300 men and had an annual production of 77,000 tons. In 1880, the Phillips Coal and Mining Company opened a mine two miles northwest of town. In subsequent years, they opened 5 more shafts in the Phillips and Rutledge neighborhoods, just north of Ottumwa. The Phillips number 5 shaft was 140 feet deep, with a 375 horse power steam hoist. By 1889, the state mine inspector’s report listed 15 mine shafts in Ottumwa. In 1914, the Phillips Fuel Company produced over 100,000 tons of coal, ranking among the top 24 coal producers in the state.

Coal mining was so important to the local economy that, from 1890 to 1892, the Coal Palace was erected in Ottumwa as an exhibition center.

John Morrell & Company played a significant role in the development of the City of Ottumwa from 1877 to 1973. The complex typified meat packing as it developed in the midwest during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century.

Presidential visits

Because of the Iowa caucuses, Ottumwa is no stranger to visits by presidential hopefuls. On five occasions a sitting U.S. President has visited the Bridge City:

  • Benjamin Harrison was the first, in 1890, touring the Coal Palace and then speaking to a crowd of over 40,000 people.
  • In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt made a brief stop while on a train trip around America.
  • President Harry Truman spent part of his 66th birthday, May 8, 1950, in Ottumwa while on a 16-state train trip in support of his Fair Deal program.
  • In July 1971, President Richard Nixon arrived in Air Force One at the Ottumwa Industrial Airport on his way to dedicate the nearby Rathbun Lake dam and reservoir. It was a homecoming for Nixon of sorts, as he had been stationed at the Ottumwa airport while serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
  • On April 27, 2010 President Barack Obama spoke to a large crowd at the Hellyer Student Center on the campus of Indian Hills Community College. After the speech the president held a question and answer session.
  • In September 2012 Vice President Joe Biden made a campaign stop in Ottumwa, where he spoke at the Bridgeview Center.


Ottumwa's longitude and latitude coordinates in decimal form are 41.012917, −92.414817.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 16.53 square miles (42.81 km2), of which, 15.86 square miles (41.08 km2) is land and 0.67 square miles (1.74 km2) is water.

Northeastern Wapello County contains large deposits of coal, and there are also large deposits of clay in the region, which played an important role in the industrial development of Ottumwa.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 1,632
1870 5,214 219.5%
1880 9,004 72.7%
1890 14,001 55.5%
1900 18,197 30.0%
1910 22,012 21.0%
1920 23,003 4.5%
1930 28,075 22.0%
1940 31,570 12.4%
1950 33,631 6.5%
1960 33,871 0.7%
1970 29,610 −12.6%
1980 27,381 −7.5%
1990 24,488 −10.6%
2000 24,998 2.1%
2010 25,023 0.1%
Est. 2015 24,624 −1.6%
U.S. Decennial Census
Wapello County, Iowa Courthouse
Wapello County Courthouse

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 25,023 people, 10,251 households, and 6,208 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,577.7 inhabitants per square mile (609.2/km2). There were 11,257 housing units at an average density of 709.8 per square mile (274.1/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 90.2% White, 11.3% Hispanic or Latino, 1.9% African American, 0.6% Native American, 0.9% Asian, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 4.5% from other races, and 1.8% from two or more races.

There were 10,251 households of which 30.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.1% were married couples living together, 12.9% had a female householder with no husband present, 5.6% had a male householder with no wife present, and 39.4% were non-families. 32.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.36 and the average family size was 2.97.

The median age in the city was 37.4 years. 23.3% of residents were under the age of 18; 10.8% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 24.8% were from 25 to 44; 25% were from 45 to 64; and 16% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.4% male and 51.6% female.

2000 census

As of the census of 2000, there were 24,998 people, 10,383 households, and 6,530 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,582.2 people per square mile (610.9/km²). There were 11,038 housing units at an average density of 698.6 per square mile (269.7/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 95.33% White, 1.27% African American, 0.33% Native American, 0.78% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 1.38% from other races, and 0.89% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.76% of the population.

There were 10,383 households out of which 28.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.8% were married couples living together, 11.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.1% were non-families. 31.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.31 and the average family size was 2.88.

Age spread: 22.9% under the age of 18, 10.9% from 18 to 24, 26.1% from 25 to 44, 21.2% from 45 to 64, and 19.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 92.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.6 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $30,174, and the median income for a family was $37,302. Males had a median income of $31,222 versus $20,934 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,040. About 10.9% of families and 15.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 21.3% of those under age 18 and 8.2% of those age 65 or over.

Arts and culture

"Video Game Capital of the World"

As the home of Twin Galaxies, Ottumwa was proclaimed the "Video Game Capital of the World" by a mayoral decree issued on November 30, 1982, by Ottumwa Mayor Jerry Parker. The city's proclamation was recognized by U.S. Senator Charles Grassley. In connection with this proclamation, the city hosted the first North American Video Olympics in the fall of 1982. In 2009, the city council and chamber of commerce authorized a steering committee to plan out the International Video Game Hall of Fame museum, which, while not yet built, has inducted several video game industry professionals, developers and designers, and high-scoring players into the Hall of Fame.

In popular culture

  • Cpl. "Radar" O'Reilly – Company clerk from M*A*S*H television series and books was from Ottumwa, Iowa. The town is mentioned as Radar's hometown in the novel and regularly on the show. The character was based on Don Shaffer, a veteran who is from Ottumwa.
  • The movie The Tuskegee Airmen featured the character Hannibal "Iowa" Lee Jr. (played by Laurence Fishburne), who claimed Ottumwa as his hometown.
  • The television movie The Woman Who Loved Elvis starring Rosanne Barr (then the wife of Ottumwa native Tom Arnold) was partially filmed in Ottumwa.
View of Canteen Lunch in the Alley
  • In the sitcom Roseanne, Roseanne Connor’s restaurant, the Lanford Lunch Box, was based on the Canteen Lunch in the Alley, in central downtown Ottumwa, which has been a stopping point for Ottumwans since the 1920s. Many famous patrons have been seen eating a "Canteen", a loose meat sandwich similar to a Maid-Rite.
  • Pansy Bump – a character in the Nero Wolfe novel Over My Dead Body by Rex Stout was from Ottumwa

Historic preservation

Ottumwa has many historic structures as well as several historic districts that are listed on the National Register. The city has an active Historic Preservation Commission that has worked to preserve some of the most important structures in the community since 1989. The following structures and districts are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Historic districts

  • Historic Railroad District
  • Fifth Street Bluff Historic District
  • Ottumwa Cemetery
  • Court Hill Historic District
  • Vogel Place Historic District
  • North Fellows Historic District

Historic structures

  • First National Bank Building 1915
  • Hotel Ottumwa
  • Hoffman Building
  • Benson Building 1930
  • B'nai Jacob Synagogue
  • Foster/Bell House
  • Trinity Episcopal Church
  • Benson Block
  • Burlington Depot
  • J.W. Garner Building
  • Jay Funeral Home
  • Jefferson Street Viaduct
  • Ottumwa Public Library
  • St. Mary of the Visitation Catholic Church
  • Ottumwa City Hall
  • Wapello County Courthouse
  • Ottumwa Young Women's Christian Association

Fictional people

  • Cpl. Walter "Radar" O'Reilly – fictional character from the book, movie, and series M*A*S*H


  • The U.S. Navy harbor tug USS Ottumwa (YTB-761) was named for the city.

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