Our Iowa Heritage: February 25, 1847 – SUI Begins With A Bang.

It’s late morning, Thursday, February 25, 1847 in Iowa City, Iowa. On Capitol Square, the first General Assembly of the newly formed State of Iowa is meeting in the new State Capitol. Iowa, now the 29th state in the Union, is only 59 days old. Yet despite that fact, this forward-looking state legislature, in its second official act, is about to approve a recommendation that this new western state called Iowa, with a total population of just over 100,000 people, will fund a state university of higher learning, located in Iowa City – one that will train our future doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. In an 1878 publication on Iowa history, we find these intriguing details about this day…

The State Capitol Building located on Capitol Square. Iowa City artist George H Yewell sketched this piece for one of the earliest maps of Iowa City. Click here for more details.

A Brand-New State Commits to Building a Brand-New State University.

The first General Assembly, by act approved February 25, 1847, established the “State University of Iowa” at Iowa City, then the capital of the State, “with such other branches as public convenience may hereafter require.” The “public buildings at Iowa City, together with the ten acres of land in which they are situated,” were granted for the use of said university, provided, however, that the sessions of the Legislature and State offices should be held in the capitol until otherwise provided by law.

Without a doubt, this idea of building a new state university in Iowa City must have sounded very lofty. And as it turned out, making this educational dream into a reality was not an easy effort, to say the least. Read more about the first twenty years of the State University of Iowa here.

But, as a good friend once told me, “Marty…if accomplishing a dream was easy, everybody would be doing it!”

Looking back, I wonder how many of those state legislators walked out of the Capitol Building that afternoon, wondering to themselves how very foolish it seemed for this new state, which was barely able to support a state government, to attempt this crazy idea of starting a new state university?

And, then it happened . . . Ba-boom!

The American Journal of Science and Arts (Vol. IV, November 1847) duly notes what occurred…

[A]n aerolite fell at 3 o’clock in the afternoon of the 25th day of February, 1847, within seventy-five yards of the house of Daniel Rogers, nine miles due south of Marion, Iowa. The ground was covered with snow at the time it fell. Mr. Rogers heard a loud explosion in the air, and immediately ran to his door. He heard the stone and several others whiz through the air, and strike the ground, and saw the snow and dirt fly where this stone struck. The weight of the stone before it was broken was forty-two pounds. … The explosion was heard distinctly by one of the surveyors who was engaged on the survey of the public lands, forty miles distant from Mr. Rogers’ house.

Ben Wilson, a writer for The Palimpsest Magazine, gives us yet another account of that special afternoon in Iowa City…

Yes. Within a few hours of the very moment our State Legislature voted to establish The State University of Iowa, a meteorite crashed to the ground in rural Linn County near the Cedar River, less than 30 miles from Iowa City. The sonic boom was so loud, it was heard throughout the countryside and, as reported above, attracted considerable attention at the time.

So, one at a time, let’s review the facts. I’ll be using Wilson’s 1937 account written up in The Palimpsest Magazine to answer all of your questions…

Where did the Marion Meteorite fall?

What time of day did this happen?

What was the weather like at the time?

What did actual eye-witnesses report seeing and feeling?

What was the experience like for folks living in Iowa City?

Was there just one meteorite stone found or multiple fragments?

What do the fragments look like?

An Old Capitol Museum staff member holds a fragment of the Marion Meteorite, which landed in Linn Country just hours after the General Assembly of the State of Iowa voted to establish the State University of Iowa in 1847. Interest from a UI graduate student in 1974 ultimately led to the fragment being displayed at the museum, typically on the desk in the President’s Office.

I’m so fortunate that, recently, a reliable dealer who supplies collectors, museums, and enthusiasts with all forms of Natural History located a small slice of the Marion Meteorite for Our Iowa Heritage collection. Below are pics of my little piece of Iowa history!

(M-0111) Marion Meteorite slice (Feb 25, 1847) from the Wayne Walton Meteorite Collection 4.06 gram – L6 Chondrite – 19 x 18 x 6 millimeters.

So…one final question. Was the February 25, 1847 Marion Meteorite a sign of confirmation from above?

That’s not for me to say, but as a loyal Hawkeye for all of my 70 years of life, I dare ask…

What other major University in this fair land can claim a meteorite strike that celebrates the inauguration of their honored institution? Can The Ohio State University make such a claim? Can the University of Michigan top that? Nay, I say. Not even the hallowed and sacred halls of Notre Dame can point to such a heavenly confirmation. Bells might ring out. Cannons may explode. Crowds will shout aloud. But for us Hawkeyes, only we have the heavenly sonic boom of holy confirmation. A fiery piece of the Almighty’s universe falling upon Iowa, kissing our state with His favor, forever marking this special day, February 25, 1847… a day we shall never forget!

A bit lofty, you think?

Maybe. I’ll let you decide.

On Iowa! Go Hawks!


Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

The State University – Iowa City, Johnson County, History of the State of Iowa, The History of Black Hawk County, Iowa, The Western Historical Society, 1878, p 188

Old Gold: SUI Began With A Bang, David McCartney, Iowa Now, June 6, 2017

Marion Meteorite Photo, Tim Schoon, Iowa Now, June 6, 2017

The Marion Meteor, Ben Hur Wilson, The Palimpsest, Volume 18 Number 2 Article 2, February 1937, pp 33-47

Meteorites in Iowa: Shooting Stars Come to Earth, Iowa Geological Survey

The Marion (Iowa) Meteorite, The Meteoritical Society Bulletin Database

Thanks to The University of Iowa Pentacrest Museums for the pic from inside the Old Capitol Museum.

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