Chicago’s Industrial Age Importance
As the 1870s began, Chicago was one of the most powerful, yet vulnerable, cities in America. A vital connection point between the agricultural West and manufacturing East and served by a powerful river flowing south, Chicago became an essential city for the nation’s commerce and trade. It was a particularly efficient thoroughfare for freight moving between the coasts, an industrial corridor to the West, a commercial crossroads, as well as a destination in itself.
The city was divided by the Chicago River, a great benefit to the lumber industry and its lumberyards situated along the water for easy access. Manufacturing plants and mills were located inland and agricultural concerns spread into the surrounding neighborhoods. The amount of timber moving down river toward the Mississippi from Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin was matched only by the amount of sawdust continually kicked up along the banks from the mills, yards, and factories. Truly, Chicago was a wooden city. Of its 88 miles of paved streets, 57 were made of wood, and the city center boasted thousands of wooden structures abutting some 561 miles of raised wooden sidewalks.By 1871, Chicago was a key destination for Jewish immigrants hoping to capitalize on the area’s economic opportunities and escape religious persecution. Earlier in the century, waves of