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Waterloo, Iowa
Downtown Waterloo from the west bank of Cedar River
Downtown Waterloo from the west bank of Cedar River
Flag of Waterloo, Iowa
Location within Black Hawk County and Iowa
Location within Black Hawk County and Iowa
Country  United States
State Iowa
County Black Hawk
Incorporated 1868
 • City 63.43 sq mi (164.29 km2)
 • Land 61.59 sq mi (159.53 km2)
 • Water 1.84 sq mi (4.76 km2)
883 ft (269 m)
 • City 67,314
 • Rank 8th in Iowa
 • Density 1,092.85/sq mi (421.95/km2)
 • Metro
Time zone UTC−6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP codes
Area code 319
FIPS code 19-82425
GNIS ID 468951
Interstate Spurs I-380 (IA 1961).svg

Waterloo is a city in and the county seat of Black Hawk County, Iowa, United States. As of the 2020 United States Census the population was 67,314, making it the eighth-largest city in the state. The city is part of the Waterloo – Cedar Falls Metropolitan Statistical Area, and is the more populous of the two cities.

West Fourth Street, 1910


Waterloo was originally known as Prairie Rapids Crossing. The town was established, according to the original researcher as reported by staff of the Grout Museum in Waterloo, near two Meskwaki American tribal seasonal camps alongside the Cedar River. It was first settled in 1845 when George and Mary Melrose Hanna and their children arrived on the east bank of the Red Cedar River (now just called the Cedar River). They were followed by the Virden and Mullan families in 1846. Evidence of these earliest families can still be found in the street names Hanna Blvd., Mullan Avenue and Virden Creek.

On December 8, 1845 the Iowa State Register and Waterloo Herald was the first newspaper published in Waterloo.

The name "Waterloo" supplanted the original name, "Prairie Rapids Crossing," shortly after Charles Mullan petitioned for a post office in the town. Since the signed petition did not include the name of the proposed post office location, Mullan was charged with selecting the name when he submitted the petition. Tradition has it that as he flipped through a list of other post offices in the United States, he came upon the name "Waterloo." The name struck his fancy, and on December 29, 1851, a post office was established under that name. The town was later called the same, and Mullan served as the first postmaster from December 29, 1851 until August 11, 1854.

There were two extended periods of rapid growth over the next 115 years. From 1895 to 1915, the population increased from 8,490 to 33,097, a 290% increase. From 1925 to 1960, population increased from 36,771 to 71,755. The 1895 to 1915 period was a time of the rapid growth in manufacturing, rail transportation and wholesale operations. During this period the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company moved to Waterloo and shortly after, the Rath Packing Company moved from Dubuque. Another major employer throughout the first two-thirds of the 20th century was the Illinois Central Railroad. Among the others was the less-successful brass era automobile manufacturer, the Maytag-Mason Motor Company.

Waterloo suffered particularly in the agricultural recession of the 1980s, due to the major employers at the time being heavily rooted in agriculture. In particular, John Deere, the area's largest employer, cut 10,000 jobs, and the Rath meatpacking plant closed altogether, losing 2500 jobs. It is estimated Waterloo lost 14% of its population during this time. Today the city enjoys a broader industrial base, as city leaders have sought to diversify the industrial and commercial mix. Deere remains a strong presence in the city, but employs only roughly one-third the number of people it did at its peak.

African American Community

In 1910 a significant number of black railroad workers were brought in as strikebreakers to the Waterloo area. Black workers were relegated to 20 square blocks in Waterloo, an area which remains the 'East' side to this day. In 1940, more black strikebreakers were brought in to work in the Rath meat plant. In 1948 a black strikebreaker accidentally killed a white union member as he tried to escape the striker's ire. Instead of a race riot, a strike ensued against the Rath Company, necessitating the National Guard being called in to end the 73-day strike.

Civil Rights

United Packinghouse Workers of America became the main union of the Rath Company, welcoming in black workers. However, United Auto Workers Local 838 continued to refuse black members With the power of the union, Anna Mae Weems, Ada Treadwell, Charles Pearson and Jimmy Porter formed an anti-discrimination department at Rath by the 1950s. This department helped organize protests against local places that discriminated against blacks.

Porter would go on to organize the first black radio station in Waterloo, KBBG, in 1978. Weems became the head of the anti-discrimination department and local NAACP chapter.

On May 31, 1966, Eddie Wallace Sallis was found dead in the local jail. The black community felt the death was suspicious, and protests were held. On June 4, Weems led a march on city hall to encourage investigation into his death. The march led to the creation of the Waterloo Human Rights Commission, which lasted only a year due to lack of funding.

On Sept. 7, 1967, a city report titled "Waterloo's Unfinished Business" was released. The report covered the ongoing problems in housing, education and employment faced by the black community of Waterloo. The report confirmed the housing bias faced by black residents, that many of the schools were generally 80% of one race, and that 80% of black residents held service jobs. In a 2007 article, the Courier covered some changes in the 40 years since. The article found that housing was now mostly divided by socioeconomic status, schools still violated the desegregation plan, and black unemployment was still double that of white residents.

The Iowa Supreme Court had outlawed school segregation in 1868. A 1967 commission found most schools were still segregated and recommended immediate desegregation, which Mayor Lloyd Turner opposed. In 1969 the Waterloo school board voted to allow open enrollment in all their schools to encourage integration. Many parents felt it was not enough. Despite the efforts between 1967 and 1970, already-black schools in the area increased in their segregation.

Protests and Riots

By the 1960s Rath was in decline and jobs there were harder to come by. A federal government program trained 1,200 local youths with the promise of summer jobs, only to hire two as bricklayers. Starting in the summer months of 1966, Waterloo was subject to riots over race relations between the white community and the black community. Many white residents expressed confusion as to why riots were occurring in Waterloo, while younger black residents felt they were being treated unfairly, as their conditions seemed worse than their white neighbors. In 1967 the black population of Waterloo was equivalent to 8%, and according to the Courier, had a 4% unemployment rate. Yet despite being a northern city, Waterloo was unofficially segregated at the time, as 95% of its black population lived in 'East' Waterloo. While the white community felt East High was 'integrated' with a 45% black student body, the black community pointed out the elementary school in 'East' Waterloo had only one white pupil.

Protests were mostly organized by black teenagers aged 16–25. Protests would turn to riots when the youth felt protesting wasn't effective. Protests turned into riots in July 1968 and reached 'critical' mass by that September with buildings on East 4th street torched and vandalized.

In August 1968, East High students Terri and Kathy Pearson presented the current principal with a list of grievances and how they felt the discrimination could be lessened. The principal refused to initiate any of the requested changes Student protests and walkouts continued through September. Students were angry that no African American history course was being taught, and that interracial dating was being discouraged by teachers and administrators.

On Sep 13, 1968, during an East High School football team, the police attempted arrest of a black youth. The man resisted arrest, drawing attention of students in the stands. Black students fought and argued with the police, to which police responded by using clubs and mace. The riot continued into the East side of Waterloo, starting a fire that claimed a lumber mill and three homes. There was an attempt to set East High on fire as well. The riot lasted until midnight and resulted in seven officers injured and thirteen youth jailed. The National Guard was called in for the following day.

Present Day

In 2003 Governor Vilsack created a task force to try to close the racial achievement gap in Waterloo. In 2009 a fair housing report titled "Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice" compiled by Mullin & Lonergan Associates Inc., found Waterloo to be the most segregated city in Iowa "Historical patterns of racial segregation persist in Waterloo, of the 20 cities in Iowa with populations exceeding 25,000, Waterloo ranks as the most segregated."

Many activists who partook in the original protests feel Waterloo has remained the same. In 2015 Huffpost listed Waterloo as the 10th worst city for black Americans. The site noted black residents have a 24% unemployment rate in the city compared with 3.9% for whites, giving Waterloo one of the highest black unemployment rates in the article compared to other Midwest cities. Waterloo still has a higher percentage of blacks compared to most other cities in Iowa.

Flood of 2008

June 12, 2008

June 2008 saw the worst flooding the Waterloo – Cedar Falls area had ever recorded; other major floods include the Great Flood of 1993. The flood control system constructed in the 1970s–90s largely functioned as designed.

For those areas not protected by the system, the Cedar River poured out of its banks and into parking lots, back yards and across the rich Iowa farmland surrounding the city. Although much damage was done, the larger downstream city of Cedar Rapids was much harder hit.

An area of the west side of the downtown and an area near the former Rath Packing facility were impacted, not directly by water coming from the river, but as a result of storm runoff draining towards the river but then being trapped on the back side of the flood levy system. These areas did not have lift stations or alternate pumping capacity sufficient to force this water back to the river side of the control system. Areas where lift stations had been constructed (Virden Creek and East 7th Street ) to pump this storm runoff into the swollen river remained largely dry (the east and north sides of downtown). Several areas experienced water seeping into basements due to high water-table levels.

Historical Crests

According to the National Weather Service, the ten highest crests of the Cedar River recorded at East 7th Street in downtown Waterloo:

(1) 27.01 ft on June 11, 2008
(2) 21.86 ft on March 29, 1961
(3) 21.67 ft on April 8, 1965
(4) 20.78 ft on July 23, 1999
(5) 20.60 ft on June 2, 1993

(6) 20.54 ft on April 2, 1993
(7) 20.15 ft on June 29, 1969
(8) 20.00 ft on March 16, 1929
(9) 19.50 ft on April 2, 1933
(10) 19.26 ft on March 31, 1962

Crests reported in the 1960s and prior were before completion of major flood control projects and therefore may not be directly comparable.

In September 2016, flood watches and warnings were put in affect for the city of Waterloo and its surrounding cities. The crest was expected to just barely hit the height of the 2008 flood.


Location of Waterloo, Iowa

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 63.23 square miles (163.76 km2), of which 61.39 square miles (159.00 km2) is land and 1.84 square miles (4.77 km2) is water.

The average elevation of Waterloo is 846 feet above sea level. The population density is 1101 people per square mile, considered low for an urban area.


Waterloo has a humid continental climate zone (Köppen classification Dfa), typical of the state of Iowa, and is part of USDA Plant Hardiness zone 5a. The normal monthly mean temperature ranges from 18.5 °F (−7.5 °C) in January to 73.6 °F (23.1 °C) in July. On average, there are 22 nights annually with a low at or below 0 °F (−18 °C), 58 days annually with a high at or below freezing, and 16 days with a high at or above 90 °F (32 °C). As the mean first and last occurrence of freezing temperatures is October 1 and April 29, respectively, this allows for a growing season of 154 days. Temperature records range from −34 °F (−37 °C) on March 1, 1962 and January 16, 2009 up to 112 °F (44 °C) on July 13 and 14, 1936, during the Dust Bowl. The record cold daily maximum is −16 °F (−27 °C) on February 2, 1996, while conversely the record warm daily minimum is 80 °F (27 °C) on July 31, 1917 and August 16, 1988.

Normal annual precipitation equivalent is 34.60 inches (879 mm) spread over an average 112 days, with heavier rainfall in spring and summer, but observed annual rainfall has ranged from 17.35 to 53.07 inches (441 to 1,348 mm) in 1910 and 1993, respectively. The wettest month on record is July 1999 with 12.82 inches (326 mm); on the 2nd of that month, 5.49 inches (139 mm) of rain fell, making for the heaviest rainfall in a single calendar day. The driest months are October 1952 and November 1954 with trace amounts each.

Winter snowfall is moderate, and averages 35.3 inches (90 cm) per season, spread over an average 27 days, and snow cover of 1 inch (2.5 cm) or more is seen on 67 days, mostly from December to March. Winter snowfall has ranged from 11.6 inches (29.5 cm) in 1967–68 to 68.5 inches (174.0 cm) in 1904–05. The most snow in a calendar day and month is 13.2 inches (33.5 cm) and 33.9 inches (86.1 cm) on January 3, 1971 and in December 2000, respectively.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1870 4,337
1880 5,630 29.8%
1890 6,674 18.5%
1900 12,580 88.5%
1910 26,693 112.2%
1920 36,230 35.7%
1930 46,191 27.5%
1940 51,743 12.0%
1950 65,198 26.0%
1960 71,755 10.1%
1970 75,533 5.3%
1980 75,985 0.6%
1990 66,467 −12.5%
2000 68,747 3.4%
2010 68,406 −0.5%
2020 67,314 −1.6%
Iowa Data Center

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 68,406 people, 28,607 households, 17,233 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,114.3 inhabitants per square mile (430.2/km2). There were 30,723 housing units at an average density of 500.5 per square mile (193.2/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 77.3% White, 15.5% African American, 0.3% Native American, 1.1% Asian, 0.3% Pacific Islander, 2.6% from other races, and 3.0% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino people of any race were 5.6% of the population.

There were 28,607 households, of which 29.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.3% were married couples living together, 14.9% had a female householder with no husband present, 5.1% had a male householder with no wife present, and 39.8% were non-families. 31.6% of all households were made up of individuals, and 11.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.35 and the average family size was 2.95.

The median age in the city was 35.9 years. 23.7% of residents were under the age of 18; 10.4% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 26.4% were from 25 to 44; 25.5% were from 45 to 64; and 14% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.4% male and 51.6% female.

Metropolitan area

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Metropolitan Statistical Area consists of Black Hawk, Bremer, and Grundy counties. The area had a 2000 census population of 163,706 and a 2008 estimated population of 164,220.

Waterloo is next to Cedar Falls, home to the University of Northern Iowa. Small suburbs include Evansdale, Hudson, Raymond, Elk Run Heights, Gilbertville, and Washburn.

The largest employers in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls MSA, according to the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance, as of June 2016 include (in order): John Deere, Tyson Fresh Meats, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, UnityPoint Health, the University of Northern Iowa, HyVee Food Stores, Waterloo Community Schools, Target Regional Distribution Center, CBE Companies, Inc., City of Waterloo, and Bertch Cabinet Manufacturing.

Arts and culture

Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area (SSNHA) preserves and tells the story of American agriculture and its global significance through partnerships and activities that celebrate the land, people, and communities of the area. SSNHA is one of 49 federally designated National Heritage Areas and is an Affiliated Area of the National Park Service. Through the development of a network of 113 partner sites, programs and events, SSNHA’s mission is to interpret farm life, agribusiness and rural communities-past and present. Waterloo Partner Sites include The Waterloo Center for the Arts & The Grout Museum. The Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area Office is located in the Fowler Building, Suite 2, 604 Lafayette Street in Waterloo.

Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens

A 40-acre public garden oasis located directly east of Hawkeye Community College. Admission is $5/adult and $2/child, under five and members are free. Please visit or call 319.226.4966 for more information.

Waterloo Center for the Arts

The Waterloo Center for the Arts (WCA) is a regional center for visual and performance arts. The WCA is owned and operated by the City of Waterloo with oversight by the advisory Waterloo Cultural and Arts Commission. The Center is located at 225 Commercial Street in Waterloo. It is also an anchor for the Waterloo Cultural and Arts District (a State of Iowa designation).

The permanent collection at the WCA includes artwork featuring the largest collection of Haitian Art in the country, Midwest Regionalist Art (including works by Grant Wood & Thomas Hart Benton), Mexican Folk Art, International Folk Art, American Decorative Arts, and Public Art.

President Barack Obama gave a speech here on August 14, 2012 during the 2012 presidential election, which he won on November 6 of that year. Originally scheduled for 7:45 pm, the speech was delayed by about 15 minutes, when the President made an unannounced stop in neighboring Cedar Falls for a beer in a pub.

The Phelps Youth Pavilion

Included in the WCA is the Phelps Youth Pavilion (PYP) which opened in 2009. The PYP is an interactive children’s museum where art launches a world of wonder, discovery & learning for children and adults. PYP also provides additional gallery and studio space. An outdoor riverfront plaza and amphitheater is scheduled for completion in 2011.

Hope Martin Theatre

The WCA also houses the Waterloo Community Playhouse, the oldest community theatre in Iowa operating since 1916, and the Black Hawk Children's Theatre started in 1982. Both perform in the Hope Martin Theatre, which opened in 1965. The theatre's administrative offices are located across the street in the historic Walker Building.

Grout Museum District

Grout Museum District sign Waterloo IA pic1.JPG
Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum Watrtloo IA pic1
Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum (2011)
Rensselaer Russell House
Rensselaer Russell House (1973)
Snowden House Front pic1
Snowden House (February 2011)

Established in 1932, the district started with an endowment set up in the will of Henry W. Grout. The district is a nonprofit educational entity that is active in engaging the students and all people from the surrounding communities. The district is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

Grout Museum of History and Science

The first museum which would grow into the museum district was displayed for many years in the building that was the local YMCA. The current building was completed and opened to the public as a not for profit museum in 1956.

Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum

Opened in November 2008 at a cost of $11 million, funded in part by a grassroots campaign by average citizens.

Rensselaer Russell House Museum

The Rensselaer Russell House, located at 520 W. 3rd Street in Waterloo, Iowa. Built in 1858, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Rensselaer and Caroline Russell built the house utilizing Italianate architecture in 1861 for $5,878.83.

Bluedorn Science Imaginarium

The Carl A. and Peggy J. Bluedorn Science Imaginarium opened in 1993 and provides both interactive exhibits and formal demonstrations in various fields of science.

Snowden House

A two-story brick Victorian era house listed on the National Register of Historic Places was built in 1875. The house was once used as the Waterloo Woman's Club.


Waterloo has one central public library. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, there were 253,929 patron visits resulting in a circulation of 453,094 items. The total collection consisted of 121,370 items. The library's reference services, supported by six full-time-equivalent librarians, answered 67,942 questions. The library's 99 public access computers provided over 80,000 sessions for patrons.<refname="ReferenceA">[1]

The library is governed by a board of trustees, nominated by the city mayor and confirmed by the city council: Ivy Hagedorn, Jan Hahn, Kathleen Wernimont and John Berry. The library is directed by Steven P. Nielsen, MLS.

The Waterloo Public Library is located in a renovated Great Depression era building that served as a post office and federal building. The building was renovated in the late 1970s for use as a library. In 2011, the Waterloo Public Library celebrates 30 years at its current Commercial Street location.

Two New Deal-funded murals by artist Edgar Britton are on display at the library. "Exposition" is an image of the National Cattle Congress, and "Holiday" is of a picnic."

Pop culture

The 2015 film Carol uses Waterloo for a major plot point of the film.

International relations

Twin towns – Sister cities

Waterloo, Iowa is twinned with:



Hawkeye Community College is located in Waterloo. Neighboring Cedar Falls is home to the University of Northern Iowa.

Almost all of the city is within the Waterloo Community School District. The three public high schools in the city are Waterloo West High School, Waterloo East High School, and Expo High School. Additionally a portion of the city is within the Cedar Falls Community School District.

Waterloo's private high schools are Waterloo Christian School and Columbus Catholic High School, which is supported by the Catholic parishes of Waterloo and Cedar Falls. Waterloo Christian is a non-denominational college preparatory school located on the grounds of Walnut Ridge Baptist Church. The school's colors are green and yellow, and its mascot is the "Regent." Columbus' mascot is the "Sailor", a connection to the school's namesake Christopher Columbus, and its colors are green and white.

There is also a wide array of elementary and junior high schools in the area, with open enrollment available.



Waterloo is located at the north end of Interstate 380. U.S. Highways 20, 63, and 218 and Iowa Highway 21, also run through the metropolitan area. The Avenue of the Saints runs through Waterloo.

American Airlines provides non-stop air service to and from Chicago from the Waterloo Regional Airport as of April 3, 2012. As of October 27, 2014, American Airlines runs two flights to/from Chicago O'Hare (ORD). Departures to Chicago are early morning and mid/late afternoon. Arrivals are early/mid-afternoon and evening.

Waterloo is served by a metropolitan bus system (MET), which serves most areas of Cedar Falls and Waterloo. Most routes meet at the central bus station in downtown Waterloo. The system operates Monday through Saturday. During the week the earliest bus is at 5:45 am from downtown Waterloo, and the last bus arrives downtown at 6:40 pm. Service is limited on Saturdays.

Waterloo is served by one daily intercity bus arrival and departure to Chicago and Des Moines, provided by Burlington Trailways. New service to and from Mason City and Minneapolis/St. Paul provided by Jefferson Lines started in the fall of 2009.

There are currently five taxi operators in Waterloo and Cedar Falls: First Call, Yellow, City Cab, Cedar Valley Cab, and Dolly's Taxi.

The Chicago Central railroad runs through Waterloo.


The MidAmerican Energy Company supplies Waterloo with electricity and natural gas. The Waterloo Water Works supplies potable water with a capacity of 50,400,000 GPD (gallons per day) with an average use of 13,400,000 GPD and a peak use of 28,800,000 GPD. News reports indicate that 18.5% of the system's output in 2013, or 851 million gallons, was unaccounted for. Sanitation service (sewage) is operated by the city of Waterloo, with a capacity of 36,500,000 GPD and an average use of 14,000,000 GPD.


Waterloo is home to two hospitals, Mercy One Waterloo Medical Center, which has 366 beds, and Unity Point Health Allen Memorial Hospital, with 234 beds. Neighboring Cedar Falls is home to Sartori Memorial Hospital, with 83 beds. The Waterloo-Cedar Falls metropolitan area has 295 physicians, 69 dentists, 52 chiropractors, 24 vision specialists and 21 nursing/retirement homes.

Notable people

The Five Sullivan Brothers
  • Pat McLaughlin (born 1950), Grammy-nominated songwriter and musician, collaborated with John Prine, Dan Auerbach and many others
  • Bruce B. Zager; Former Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court

See also

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