annonThe nation network of railroads laid from 1848 through the Civil War, andthe steam powered locomotives that traversed them, supplied Chicago withvast new markets, resources, and people who quickly transformed it from aquiet Frontier village into a highly populated industrial powerhouse. TheChicago of 1830 was hardly a city at all.
Fort Dearborn located near thefork of what is now the Chicago River was bogged down with mud andtormented by disease and Indian wars. By the 1833 when the city wasincorporated, a warehouse, dry good’s store, and hotel had all been built. William B. Ogden, the first mayor of Chicago was also the first to attemptto give Chicago a railroad. He chartered the Galena and Chicago Railroadin 1836, but it collapsed with the economic disaster of 1837 (Berger 3). Ogden tried again in 1846, and on October 22, 1848 Chicago’s firstlocomotive, “Pioneer”, was loaded onto the tracks (Casey, Douglas 59).Order now
Inretrospect, “Pioneer” turned out to be a fitting name for the city’s firsttrain, because by 1866 there were more than forty railroads servingChicago and the city’s population had skyrocketed to just under 300,000. There were many problems that needed to be resolved starting in the 1830s,before a railroad could become a versatile enough to be a cost effectivecarrier of freight and people. The nation’s original tracks had beenbuilt mainly of wood, although cheaper than iron, it was quickly decidedthat iron’s durability was well worth the extra cost. Another developmentwas the placement of ballas, or pebbles, that covered the bottom of thetracks and added weight and stability along with drainage to the tracks.
Also, the trains were known to collide head on into grazing animals. Theproblem lay in how to keep the animal from being pulled under the trainand causing it to derail. This answer came with the placement of a hoodplate on the front of the locomotive so that whatever hit the train wouldbe pushed harmlessly in front of it and could later be cleared withoutendangering the train. Other major safety issues found solutions with theutilization of lights and horns (Gordon 27-33). By 1848, when Chicago wasready to start building railroads, the technology had already beendeveloped enough to conduct real business. Charters for railroads leading to Chicago soon began to pour in.
After the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad was completed shortly after1853, it merged with the Chicago and Northwestern Railway which began itslong march to Greenbay WI. Soon came the Illinois Central, the ChicagoRock Island and Pacific, and the Chicago Burlington and Quincy. Many morecame and connected Chicago to nearly every part of the US (Gordon 151). If one looked at a map of all the major trunk lines that stretched overthe United States, he would see “a wheel with Chicago as the hub” (Berger22). The busy development of all these new railroads furnished thedeveloping Chicago with huge markets, to both the east and the west. Chicago’s destiny as center of industry was set, but it would still takesome time for Chicago to take advantage of its potential.
The first of the markets was the ever-expanding frontier with itsagricultural surplus that lay to the west and north of Chicago. In thefrontier, a town’s distance from a railroad determined what its cost fortrade and travel would be. To minimize these costs, new cities and farmspopped up very close to the railroads (Martin 81). Train loads of NewEnglanders came to these new villages in search of the free homesteadsthat they saw in newspaper advertisements and pamphlets back home.
Thesemen and women became the farmers who ended up producing surplus cropswhich they desired to sell (Gordon 35). According to Mayer, as theylooked for their most profitable course of action, their goal was adestination with the most choices of routes, the highest competition, andtherefore the lowest rates (Growth 122). With connections to many of thenation’s railways, Chicago marked the spot to the farmers of the West. Chicago was the perfect outlet to sell their heavy and relativelyinexpensive crops. The railroads in Chicago had laid the foundation forits success limited only to the ingenuity of the capitalistic market. To the east lay Chicago’s second market, New England.
By the1850s, this region was industrialized and was producing vast quantities ofmanufactured goods. Facing much the same dilemma as the West, New Englandrealized that Chicago was a perfect spot to export its goods. A majorityof these “manufactured goods” was “through” traffic for Chicago and aftera short layover was loaded onto other trains to continue on west (Casey,Douglas 122). These manufactured goods included building materials,industrial tools, and hardware. Liking what they saw, the frontierfarmers became increasingly enticed to send their wheat, hay, cement,lumber and wool to Chicago in exchange for money they spent purchasinggoods from back east.
So began a cycle of trade between the East and Weston railroads that all went via Chicago. Partially because of its central geographic location, but mainlybecause it had so many railroads blossoming from it, Chicago became themiddle man between the East and the West, ensuring its future economicsuccess. Chicago provided markets where western settlers could buyEastern manufactured goods and sell farm produce, lumber, and otherWestern products. By 1968, McCormick, a Chicago based firm was producingover 10,000 soil-breaking implements annually (Mayer, Growth 46).
Butmanufacturing finished products was not the most logical calling for thecity that received ever-rising quantities of unfinished goods by rail. Inthe mid 1850s, Chicago’s industrial sector found the city’s niche inincreasing the value of the products that it imported before sending themout to market. Starting in the 1850s, new industries took hold as Chicago beganto harness the vast quantities of raw resources obtainable by thetrainload and increase the value per pound to make a profit as it is sentoff on another railroad. According to Mayer, the needs of these companiesand not the plans of the city determined the pattern of railroaddevelopment (Growth 44).
The railroads had brought the resources thatfinally ignited into the industries of Chicago. This industrializationcaused explosive growth in the building industry. From the first censusof 1837 the number of buildings had grown from under 500 to around 60,000(Badger 4). As fast as industries could develop, railroads were laid withdoor to door service, carrying with them the raw materials and shippingout the end products.
Nineteenth century Chicagoans were very supportiveof industrial development in Chicago. They viewed the smoke and pollutionoutside as a signs of progress. In the early 1850s, Chicago’s ironindustry was still in its youth, but was able to grow with help from therailroads. All three of the iron mill’s needed materials were hauled inby train. The ore came from the Lake Superior Region, the fuel was foundin the coal of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Southern Illinois, and the limestonewas mined in Michigan.
The belt line railroad which made one giant looparound the city and connected to as many trunk railroads as possiblebrought all three ingredients to their meeting places near the fork of theChicago River (Growth 52). Opening in 1851, the first mill was the NorthChicago Rolling Mills. In 1865, it was the first mill in the nation toproduce steel rails. This industry was so well suited for Chicago that by1875, Chicago rolled more rails than any other American city (Berger 157). Like the raw materials shipped by train for steel, grain became aresource that Chicago needed for storing large quantities for use in thelivestock industry. The first steam-operated grain elevator was built in1848 on the lakefront and in just four years, railroads accounted for themajority of grain received in Chicago (Martin 166).
By 1870 almost 60million bushels arrived in Chicago annually. Chicago’s seventeensteam-powered grain elevators could “pump or dump” an entire train’s loadworth of grain in just a few minutes time (Growth 46). The huge amount ofbusiness regarding the buying and selling of the grain took place a fewblocks away at the Board of Trade, “the altar of Ceres,” where some becamerich and others poor. The large scale at which the grain came intoChicago allowed Chicago’s largest industry to take hold. Before 1864, most of the livestock coming to Chicago came by wayof cattle drives thus prohibiting the feasibility of wide scaleslaughtering in Chicago. On June 1, 1865 nine railroads with enoughinterest in connecting branches to the stock yards put up enough money fora consolidation project that was completed by Christmas of that same yearwith a capacity to deliver over 1,000,000 cattle and hogs annually (Growth44).
The entire livestock industry was described by Mayer in Growth as aprocess where “grain is condensed and reduced in bulk by feeding it intoan animal form, more portable (48). In this sense, very bulky andinexpensive and animals arrived in Chicago and much more valuable piecesof meat were packaged and placed on trains to be sold across the country. By the mid 60s, Chicago’s slaughtering industry had grown to eightstockyards, and Chicago was home to a third of all the slaughtering in thenation (Stover 79). Opened in 1865, the Union stockyards were Chicago’slargest and could hold 25,000 head of cattle, 80,000 hogs and 25,000sheep. By 1867, the meat from these stockyards was being processed bytwenty-six packers who processed at least 5,000 hogs annually. PhilipDanforth Armour was opened in 1867 and could butcher 30,000 head a year.
Until the refrigerator car was developed in 1869, butchered hogs wereusually packed into wooden barrels to cure and then sent abroad aboardnumerous train lines. After 1869, meat-packers such as Gustavus Swiftrevolutionized the meat industry by sending fresh meat across the nationover rail (Stover 200). Beside the actual meat, many “by-products” soondeveloped large markets of their own (Growth 52). One worker at Armour’swas interviewed and exageratingly said “a cow goes lowin’ softy in andcomes out glue, gelatine, fertylizer, celoolid, joolry, sofy cushions,hair restorer, washin sody, soap, . .
. and bed springs” (Qtd. In Growth54). The railroads in Chicago increased the numbers of factories,elevators, mills, and depots. As Chicago continued to develop, itsexpanding population would have to find new places, outside of downtown,to live. The first to leave were the rich.
These were the men who sawlight at the end of the tunnel, the railroad tunnel to be precise. Theyopened their own businesses profiting on the production of new rawresources that Chicago received as freight aboard trains. The mansions ofMarshall Field and Phillip Armour were the first on the South Side whilethe West Side also provided new land for wealthy merchants, lumberdealers, and manufacturers to build their homes. The North Side founditself more isolated from the city as the river was always difficult tocross due to the constant use of the numerous draw- bridges. Because ofthe obstacle north of the North Branch of the Chicago River did notattract many buyers and therefore retained an “aristocratic aura” to it(Port 137).
As Chicago grew into the new role as a commodities center, astrong middle-class of shopkeepers, speculators along with doctors,lawyers, and skilled artisans developed. These people lived in growingcommunities of single-family homes on the outskirts of betterneighborhoods (Berger 66). Also much of the middle-class migrated to thenewly developing suburbs which popped up like beads around a string on therailroad lines leaving the city” (Martin 67). The railroads provideddepots and daily passenger service that allowed these people to commuteinto the city to their jobs.
The Chicago and Northwestern Railway, withits main line of 242 miles from Chicago to Greenbay was the route thatallowed Northern suburbs from Evanston to Lake Forest to become part ofthe greater metropolitan Chicago. The working class, Chicago’s bluecollared labor supply, was also growing at a very fast rate. A portion ofthe working poor initially came to work on the railroads and decided tostay. Many were immigrants new to the country, while others had traveledto Chicago in hopes of cashing in on its success. These men were thelongshoremen who unloaded cargo from trains, the warehousemen who movedthe grain to elevators, and the millers who ground the wheat down to flour(Casey, Douglas 342).
What they all shared were “the avenues” or thesmall lots where several families live together in houses no bigger thanfour rooms (Growth 54). Many of the streets remained littered andunpaved, and the mortality rate was very high. At such close quarters,different ethnic neighborhoods began to form. In the mix of their harshenvironment, close knit communities of Irish, German, Indians, Blacks,Jews, Poles, and Swedes all were formed. In approximately twenty yearsfrom the arrival of trains, Chicago found itself the forefront of industryand the second most populated city in the country.
The train along withthe need of the country for a central trade route had allowed Chicago toform industries which continued to exist solely because of the continuoussupport they received from the railroads. Chicago and the people who madefortunes from industry located within Chicago had a lot for which to thankthe railroads. Like the locomotive’s successful ascent of a mountain inthe story of the Little Engine that Could, so did the little village ofChicago grow to the top of the nation. WORKS CITEDBerger, L.
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