Changes Come to Rural Iowa Communities Beginning in the 1940s

Technological advances and economic forces brought many changes to rural Iowa communities in the 1940s. The migration away from family farms and small towns that started at that time is still going on today. In this segment from the "Picture Perfect: Iowa in the 1940s" documentary, rural Iowans describe changes that came to their hometown of Ridgeway, Iowa.


Narrator: The Kuntz family’s departure from the farm reflects rural demographic trends over the past 150 years. In 1850 nearly 95 percent of the total population resided in the country. By 2000 less than 40 percent of Iowans lived in rural areas, and only about 6 percent lived on farms. The exodus changed small towns like Ridgeway dramatically.

Bob McQueen, Ridgeway High School Alumnus: If I were to tell you all the businesses that were in Ridgeway at the time, people knowing the little town today would not believe me.

John Moe, Ridgeway High School Alumnus: Everything there that we needed for the farmers to come to town.

Narrator: Technological advances, beginning with the tractor, and economic forces increased the size of the farms and reduced the number of farm families. As a consequence, fewer customers patronized small-town cafes, grocery stores and clothing retailers that once filled Main Street.

Bob McQueen, Ridgeway High School Alumnus: I think the trend that’s happened in Ridgeway is characteristic of what has probably happened in most small towns in Iowa and other places. The consolidation of farms has meant fewer individuals, fewer needs for certain products that were available in the small town of Ridgeway and other neighboring towns. That meant a population decline. It’s just an unfortunate thing that has happened. Some people call it progress. Some people don’t. It’s a matter of opinion.


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