What Is Omaha, Nebraska Known For
When you think about the most famous locations in the United States, most people think of major cities like Dallas, New York, and Los Angeles. However, these cities are not the only important locations in the country. Other cities, including Omaha, Nebraska, are also key parts of the United States, even though the city is in the middle of the country.
Omaha, also called the Gateway to the West, is known for the world-class Henry Doorly Zoo and as the home of business magnate Warren Buffett. It is also known as the home of the annual College World Series baseball tournament and home to the headquarters of four Fortune 500 companies.
These are only some of the key reasons Omaha is both famous and nationally significant. In this article, I’ll look at these reasons in further detail. I’m sure that by the time you finish reading, you’ll have a newfound appreciation for a city that you have overlooked previously!
Omaha Is Home to the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
When you talk about Omaha attractions, the Henry Doorly Zoo is undoubtedly at the top of the list. Accredited by the Associated of Zoos and Aquariums, this zoo is a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums and was given the title “world’s best zoo” by travel company TripAdvisor in 2014.
The zoo can trace its roots to the Riverview Park Zoo, which opened its doors in 1894. The first efforts to improve the zoo can be traced to the formation of the Omaha Zoological Society in 1952.
The zoo was renamed in memory of Henry Doorly, who was the chairman of the World Publishing Company, in 1963, following the donation of $750,000 by his widow, Margaret Hitchcock Doorly.
Today, the zoo sprawls over about 160 acres (64.7 hectares), including over 7 acres (2.8 hectares) of indoor exhibits.
It is home to nearly 1000 species of animals, and some of the key exhibits include:
- Lied Jungle: Among the largest indoor rainforests in the world, and the largest indoor rainforest in the United States, the Lied Jungle spans 1.5 acres (0.61 hectares) of floor space. Among the animals visible in this area are gibbons, otters, scarlet macaws, ring-tailed lemurs, and blue monkeys. In total, this section is home to about 90 species of animals.
- Hubbard Gorilla Valley: Named after Dr. Theodore Hubbard, an Omaha cardiologist, this section of the zoo features multiple gorillas and monkeys, including the Western lowland gorilla, the mantled guereza, and the Diana monkey. Other animals in this section include the black-crowned crane and the Abyssinian ground hornbill.
- The Butterfly and Insect Pavilion: A 14,000 sq ft (1300 sq m) exhibit, the pavilion is home to the Butterfly Conservatory, the Conservation Promenade, the Chrysalis Hatching Room, the Insect Zoo, and more.
- Desert Dome: One of the world’s largest indoor deserts, the Desert Dome also features the world’s largest glazed geodesic dome. Animals in this section include wallabies, hummingbirds, ocelots, greater roadrunners, and more. Beneath the Desert Dome is the Kingdoms of the Night exhibit, which is the world’s largest nocturnal animals exhibit and features a wet cave, a canyon, a swamp, and more.
The zoo is also home to the Bill and Berniece Grewcock Center for Conservation and Research, one of the world’s leading research centers. Research at the center has resulted in the births of the world’s first artificially inseminated tiger and gaur, as well as the world’s first in-vitro fertilized gorilla.
If you’re traveling with young children, it’s my recommendation that you don’t send them to their other parent without keeping an eye on them. I did this once with my 4-year old, and we lost her for a few minutes. We finally found her by the polar bears.
What a nightmare!
Omaha Hosts the Annual College World Series
Since 1950, Omaha has been host to the annual College World Series. This men’s baseball tournament determines the winner of the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship. The Championship starts with 64 participating teams, and by the time it reaches the College World Series, they have been whittled down to the final eight.
Initially, the tournament was held at Rosenblatt Stadium. However, since 2011, it has been played at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
While the tournament was hosted in Omaha annually from 1950-2019, it was canceled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was the first time the College World Series was canceled in history.
It resumed in 2021 and saw the Mississippi State Bulldogs baseball team win the Championship.
The NCAA announced a contract extension for the College World Series in 2009, committing to keep the tournament in Omaha until at least 2035.
Omaha Is the Birthplace of Warren Buffet
Business magnate Warren Buffet, considered among the most successful investors in the world, was born in Omaha in 1930. Today, Buffet has a net worth of about $102 billion and, as of October 2021, was the 9th richest person in the world.
He is often referred to as the Oracle of Omaha or the Sage of Omaha. However, many local residents don’t even care about him.
Buffet is Chairman, CEO, and owner of conglomerate holding company Berkshire Hathaway, which is headquartered in Kiewit Plaza, Omaha. He is also a noted philanthropist and has pledged to donate 99% of his fortune to worthy causes either during his lifetime or in his will.
Omaha Is the Birthplace of the Reuben Sandwich (Maybe)
While New Yorkers might have other opinions, most Omahans agree that Omaha is the true birthplace of the Reuben sandwich.
A Reuben sandwich contains the following ingredients:
- Swiss cheese
- Corned beef
- Russian dressing
- Rye bread
If you’ve never had one before, you’re missing out – they’re delicious!
The story behind its invention goes that Reuben Kulakofsky, a Jewish, Lithuanian-born grocer who lived in Omaha, used to play a weekly game of poker at the Blackstone Hotel.
During those games, he would ask for a sandwich with corned beef and sauerkraut. One of his regular poker buddies was hotel owner Charles Schimmel, and it was Schimmel’s son who came up with the sandwich described above.
To Kulakofsky’s request of corned beef and sauerkraut, he added Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing. Impressed with the taste, Schimmel added it to the hotel’s lunch menu, and one of the hotel’s employees would win a national sandwich idea contest with the recipe.
The sandwich was named after Kulakofsky, and March 14th is celebrated as Rueben Sandwich Day in Omaha.
The Rueben is sometimes made using Thousand Island dressing rather than the more commonly accepted Russian dressing as a nod to the original recipe.
However, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that this claim to the sandwich’s creation is often disputed. Many stories instead claim that it was created in New York City by either Arnold Reuben, owner of Reuben’s Delicatessen, or Alfred Scheuing, a chef at the same deli.
While the facts may be lost to history, it’s undeniable that Omaha is proud of its title as the birthplace of the Rueben (well, maybe). If you ask any Omahan where they believe the true home of the sandwich is, they’ll proudly tell you it’s Omaha, and anyone who claims otherwise is lying.
If you like Reuben Sandwiches you also might like a Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich as well, check what else Montreal is known for here!
Omaha Is Home to Some of the Biggest Companies in the World
When you hear the phrases Fortune 500 or Fortune 1000, you probably think of New York City and Wall Street.
However, while you may not be able to guess it at first glance, Omaha is actually home to a few of these companies as well. Four Fortune 500 company headquarters call the city home, as do the headquarters of another 4 Fortune 1000 companies.
The four companies on the Fortune 500 list are:
- Berkshire Hathaway: As mentioned above, this conglomerate holding company’s CEO and owner, Warren Buffet, is an Omaha native. The company’s annual shareholders’ meetings are nicknamed “Woodstock for Capitalists” and are the biggest annual events in the city after the College World Series.
- Kiewit Corporation: Currently ranked 243rd on the Fortune 500, Kiewit is one of the largest construction companies in the world. The company was founded in Omaha in 1884 by brothers Peter and Andrew Kiewit. Notable projects undertaken by the company include building the Nebraska State Capitol Tower and the 63rd Street Tunnel in New York City.
- Mutual of Omaha: Founded in 1909, Mutual of Omaha is an insurance and financial services company. It was founded by Dr. C. C. Criss, who was at that time a medical student at Creighton University in Omaha, and his wife, Mabel Criss.
- Union Pacific Corporation: Also known as Union Pacific, this company is one of the largest railroad operators in the country, alongside competitor Burlington Northern Santa Fe, LLC, which is the parent company of the better-known company, BNSF Railway. Union Pacific has a presence in 23 states in the country. It can trace its history back to 1862, though the current incarnation of the company was founded in 1969.
The Fortune 1000 list contains the 500 companies on the Fortune 500 list and the next 500 companies by size. The additional four companies on the Fortune 1000 list that have headquarters in Omaha are:
- Green Plains Inc.: Founded in 2004, the company is one of the largest producers of ethanol fuel in North America.
- Valmont Industries: A manufacturing company, Valmont Industries was founded in 1946 by Robert B. Daugherty. The name is a combination of the names of two towns near Omaha, Fremont, and Valley.
- Werner Enterprises, Inc.: Founded by Clarence L. Werner, Werner Enterprises, Inc. is a transportation and logistics company that serves the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
- Intrado: Known as the West Corporation before being renamed in 2019, Intrado is a telecommunications company founded by Gary and Mary West and Troy Eden in 1986.
Omaha Was Home to the Largest Meat Packing Industry in the World
The 1883 formation of the Union Stockyards in South Omaha led to the growth of one of the most critical industries in the city – meatpacking.
By the early 1900s, Omaha was home to four of the five top meatpacking companies in the country, and by the 1950s, meatpacking and processing companies employed half the city’s workforce. Alongside railroads, the meatpacking industry was one of the primary reasons the city grew as quickly as it did in the 20th century.
Union Stockyards was one of the two major centers for the livestock and meatpacking industry in the country, alongside Chicago’s Union Stock Yards. By 1955, Omaha had outstripped Chicago and become the biggest center of the industry.
However, the 1960s saw the start of the decline of the Omaha meatpacking industry. The Union Stock Yards retook its title as the biggest in the country in 1971. In 1999, the historic Union Stockyards shut its doors.
The legacy of Omaha’s meatpacking past lives on in the city’s cuisine, particularly in its many steakhouses. Major steakhouses include Mister C’s Steak House, which closed in 2007, and Gorat’s Steak House, which is one of Warren Buffet’s favorite steakhouses and has played host to Martha Stewart, Bill Gates, and others.
Mister C’s Steak House was one of the better steakhouses in Omaha and provided a great dining experience in one of the poorer neighborhoods in the city.
Omaha Has a Rich Music History
Omaha has been home to a well-regarded music scene since the 1920s and has a history of R&B and jazz music. In the 1920s, it was a hub of African American music and attracted some of the country’s top blues, swing, and jazz musicians.
It is also home to the distinctive indie rock “Omaha Sound” and is the birthplace of three record labels:
- American Gramaphone, formed in 1974 by Chip Davis.
- Saddle Creek Records, considered to be the flagship label of the Omaha Sound.
- Team Love Records, formed in 2003 by Connor Oberst and Nate Krenkel. Oberst is also one of the founders of Saddle Creek Records.
Some prominent names in music from Omaha include:
- Terry Lewis, a songwriter and record producer. Alongside partner Jimmy Jam, Lewis is one of the most successful producers in the business and has worked with Mariah Carey, Usher, and Janet Jackson, among others.
- The Cotton Club Boys, a swing band formed by Anna Mae Wilburn in the 1930s.
- Wyonie Harris, an R&B singer considered to be one of the founders of rock and roll.
- Preston Love, a jazz and R&B saxophonist who played with Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Aretha Franklin.
- Buddy Miles, a rock drummer, and vocalist who was the founder of the Buddy Miles Express and a member of The Electric Flag. He also collaborated frequently with Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana.
While it may not be as well known as New York, Chicago, or Houston, Omaha is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating places in the country. This article has only begun to scratch the surface of the many things that make it both a wonderful place to live and a stunning place to visit.
If you’re looking for a city off the beaten path that still offers a rich history and a ton of things to do, then the Gateway to the West is the right choice for you.
If you’re planning a trip to Omaha, be sure to check out this guide to the city here.