.. hree ingredients to their meeting places near the fork of the Chicago River (Growth 52). Opening in 1851, the first mill was the North Chicago Rolling Mills. In 1865, it was the first mill in the nation to produce steel rails. This industry was so well suited for Chicago that by 1875, Chicago rolled more rails than any other American city (Berger 157).
Like the raw materials shipped by train for steel, grain became a resource that Chicago needed for storing large quantities for use in the livestock industry. The first steam-operated grain elevator was built in 1848 on the lakefront and in just four years, railroads accounted for the majority of grain received in Chicago (Martin 166). By 1870 almost 60 million bushels arrived in Chicago annually. Chicago’s seventeen steam-powered grain elevators could ‘pump or dump’ an entire train’s load worth of grain in just a few minutes time (Growth 46). The huge amount of business regarding the buying and selling of the grain took place a few blocks away at the Board of Trade, ‘the altar of Ceres,’ where some became rich and others poor.
The large scale at which the grain came into Chicago allowed Chicago’s largest industry to take hold. Before 1864, most of the livestock coming to Chicago came by way of cattle drives thus prohibiting the feasibility of wide scale slaughtering in Chicago. On June 1, 1865 nine railroads with enough interest in connecting branches to the stock yards put up enough money for a consolidation project that was completed by Christmas of that same year with a capacity to deliver over 1,000,000 cattle and hogs annually (Growth 44). The entire livestock industry was described by Mayer in Growth as a process where ‘grain is condensed and reduced in bulk by feeding it into an animal form, more portable (48). In this sense, very bulky and inexpensive and animals arrived in Chicago and much more valuable pieces of meat were packaged and placed on trains to be sold across the country. By the mid 60s, Chicago’s slaughtering industry had grown to eight stockyards, and Chicago was home to a third of all the slaughtering in the nation (Stover 79).
Opened in 1865, the Union stockyards were Chicago’s largest and could hold 25,000 head of cattle, 80,000 hogs and 25,000 sheep. By 1867, the meat from these stockyards was being processed by twenty-six packers who processed at least 5,000 hogs annually. Philip Danforth Armour was opened in 1867 and could butcher 30,000 head a year. Until the refrigerator car was developed in 1869, butchered hogs were usually packed into wooden barrels to cure and then sent abroad aboard numerous train lines. After 1869, meat-packers such as Gustavus Swift revolutionized the meat industry by sending fresh meat across the nation over rail (Stover 200).
Beside the actual meat, many ‘by-products’ soon developed large markets of their own (Growth 52). One worker at Armour’s was interviewed and exageratingly said ‘a cow goes lowin’ softy in and comes out glue, gelatine, fertylizer, celoolid, joolry, sofy cushions, hair restorer, washin sody, soap, .. and bed springs’ (Qtd. In Growth 54). The railroads in Chicago increased the numbers of factories, elevators, mills, and depots.
As Chicago continued to develop, its expanding population would have to find new places, outside of downtown, to live. The first to leave were the rich. These were the men who saw light at the end of the tunnel, the railroad tunnel to be precise. They opened their own businesses profiting on the production of new raw resources that Chicago received as freight aboard trains. The mansions of Marshall Field and Phillip Armour were the first on the South Side while the West Side also provided new land for wealthy merchants, lumber dealers, and manufacturers to build their homes.
The North Side found itself more isolated from the city as the river was always difficult to cross due to the constant use of the numerous draw- bridges. Because of the obstacle north of the North Branch of the Chicago River did not attract many buyers and therefore retained an ‘aristocratic aura’ to it (Port 137). As Chicago grew into the new role as a commodities center, a strong middle-class of shopkeepers, speculators along with doctors, lawyers, and skilled artisans developed. These people lived in growing communities of single-family homes on the outskirts of better neighborhoods (Berger 66). Also much of the middle-class migrated to the newly developing suburbs which popped up like beads around a string on the railroad lines leaving the city’ (Martin 67). The railroads provided depots and daily passenger service that allowed these people to commute into the city to their jobs.
The Chicago and Northwestern Railway, with its main line of 242 miles from Chicago to Greenbay was the route that allowed Northern suburbs from Evanston to Lake Forest to become part of the greater metropolitan Chicago. The working class, Chicago’s blue collared labor supply, was also growing at a very fast rate. A portion of the working poor initially came to work on the railroads and decided to stay. Many were immigrants new to the country, while others had traveled to Chicago in hopes of cashing in on its success. These men were the longshoremen who unloaded cargo from trains, the warehousemen who moved the grain to elevators, and the millers who ground the wheat down to flour (Casey, Douglas 342).
What they all shared were ‘the avenues’ or the small lots where several families live together in houses no bigger than four rooms (Growth 54). Many of the streets remained littered and unpaved, and the mortality rate was very high. At such close quarters, different ethnic neighborhoods began to form. In the mix of their harsh environment, close knit communities of Irish, German, Indians, Blacks, Jews, Poles, and Swedes all were formed. In approximately twenty years from the arrival of trains, Chicago found itself the forefront of industry and the second most populated city in the country.
The train along with the need of the country for a central trade route had allowed Chicago to form industries which continued to exist solely because of the continuous support they received from the railroads. Chicago and the people who made fortunes from industry located within Chicago had a lot for which to thank the railroads. Like the locomotive’s successful ascent of a mountain in the story of the Little Engine that Could, so did the little village of Chicago grow to the top of the nation. WORKS CITED Berger, L. Miles.
They Built Chicago: Entrepreneurs Who Shaped a Great City’s Architecture. Chicago: Bonus Book, Inc., 1992. 1-6. Gordon, H. Sarah.
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