User Tools

Site Tools


Cronon tells the story of Chicago's rise to fame through a mostly industrial and geographical perspective. He demonstrates how Chicago was a city that started from a very bad position, even though it had access to Lake Michigan and part of the Mississippi River. In order for it to be on stable footing, the city had to be transformed, such as changing the surrounding land for a better port, and even raising the city further off the ground, due to its horrific drainage. As railroads began to develop, Chicago slowly got off its feet, and began a sharp transformation into a crucial economic hub. (Sam J.)

Cronon highlights the connection between Chicago and other western cities with older cities in the east. As western cities like Chicago were developing, they relied on investments that largely came from cities in the east. The railroad also helped to connect the east to the west. Chicago became the breakpoint between railroad lines coming from the east and going to the west, helping it to become the gateway city to the west. (Kynzie J.)

Cronon explains how most people think that Chicago is a good city for communal economic activity in the Midwest due its location on that Great Lakes, as well as its harbors and canal corridors. This is important for the growth of the city because it allowed for natural transportation methods to arise which allowed the city to grow and expand faster than most around it. However, Cronon argues that this doesn't quite make much sense, as there is many other cities or places around Chicago that this is more so a central factor (for example: St Louis). He explains this myth and how it is bad so that he can argue later (like Kynzie) said, trains are the most important way Chicago grows (Oliver M)

Cronon explains the agricultural economy of the time in “A Sack's Journey” where he explains the relationship between the mass amounts of Farmers and merchants. While before Farmers could just simply bring their produce to the river front and sell them onto a boat, the increase of land settlement as well as the sheer number of farmers created a situation where that was not possible. Instead, Farmer's would sell their product to merchants and store clerks who would then sell them (oftentimes) locally to others. This relationship becomes important for both the buyer and the seller, as the Farmer will always have somewhere to sell their crops to, and the merchant needs to take the risk and sell them out at a higher price. Cronon explains that this means the Farmers make less money than the merchants overall, but the merchants have a greater risk with their selling/jobs. (Oliver M)

In “Futures”, Cronon explains that the three main factors of Chicago's grain/agricultural revolution where the elevator warehouse, the grading system, and the agricultural economy created by the Board of Trade. grain elevators would allow mass amounts of product to be stored in the city, acting almost as banks as people took receipts that would then be reclaimed when they needed it. Along with that, the Board of Trade and the grading system allowed the citizens of Chicago to rest easy knowing that their food and grain was of a high quality and safe, insuring that there was nothing bad in the product or were of generally bad quality. (Oliver M)

In the introduction, there was talk about how the city was possibly a bad experience for the writer. However, in his later life, he explains how the difference between city and rural were not so different. This is due to how humans had as much an influence to rural development as well as city development. (David Y.)

We learn a bit about the history of the area before Chicago became a city during the first chapter of the book. The first inhabitants in the area were Native Americans who would eventually have to give up the area after a treaty was signed. By the War of 1812, Fort Dearborn was present, but was taken down during a massive attack by the Native Americans who were allied with the British during the war. (David Y.)

Cronon tells the story of his personal experience with Chicago and how he viewed its development. He also talks about the role that the city's proximity to the Mississippi watershed and the Erie Canal allowed agricultural products to travel in and out of Chicago with ease. Cronon explains that the development started with trading between colonists and Native Americans, then the colonists began buying the land which the Potawamis did not think of being able to trade.(Makai M)

The arrival of railroads not only served the farmers (who, as we discussed in class, were the original investors in the railroads), but also the merchants too. Cronon recounts an unfortunate story told by an Iowan potato merchant who was offered fifty cents a bushel for his potatoes up north in Illinois and passed on that offer in favor of traveling south to New Orleans in search of the higher prices he had been assured existed down south. Due to the slow speed of water transit, by the time he arrived in New Orleans the market for potatoes had disappeared and he was forced to cut his losses by selling them for just eight cents a bushel. This story is an indication of how railroads sped up and stabilized trade in the mid-19th century, as they provided strict schedules with less fluctuation in prices because of how quickly goods reached their destination. Prior to railroads, the markets were less predictable and mercahants were subjected to higher risk of losses and even bankruptcy. (Carter B.)

Cronon talks about how crucial trade ways were to the commercialization of the city but also how important these trade routes and hubs were to the countryside surrounding cities. When the railroads were introduced this changed the way in which products were distributed and linked the inner city to the countryside. The railroad helped to connect further away rural areas to the growing city. With the influx and growth of railroads schedules started to become a more established thing compared to what we saw earlier with travel and product movement by water ways. (Jacob M.)

The massive urban growth of Chicago was contributed to by Chicago's status as a commercial center linking the East and the West. Chicago had bolstered its railroad systems to branch out into the prairies of Illinois and Iowa, as well as creating the connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. This allowed Chicago to be the connection from the West to the East, taking advantage of the railroads and Erie Canal to run lots of goods through the city. This connection worked both ways however, as when the railroad companies of the East were building West, they all stopped at Chicago. This was because Chicago already had the infrastructure in place to reach the areas West of itself, and the Eastern railroad companies didn't see the need to go further and spend more money when there was already a system in place. (Ewan H)

At one point, Chicago seem to have trouble with acquiring beef and other meats throughout the summer months due to Ice being hard to harvest in large numbers. The development of the refrigerated railroad car would help fix the problem of preventing meat from spoiling while being traded. With railroads already a big part of Chicago, this invention helped the city. (David Y.) The refrigerated railroad cars were better than using straight-up ice because the meat spoiled if it touched the ice and froze. Suspending the beef carcasses from the overhead rail of the car led to wear on equipment and cooling that was not uniform, so the meat was packed tighter and boxes with ice and brine were put on both sides of the car.

One of Cronon's main points he makes throughout the book is that the city relies on the country and vice versa. The city wouldn’t be able to be built up without the crops like grain, corn, wheat etc. coming into Chicago and the rural areas wouldn’t survive without the clientele within the city to buy these goods or the transportation means Chicago supplies for their crops (i.e. trains, steamboats).- Emma Galvin

One of the first main goods that built Chicago up was through the growing of grain. Due to the good soil that inhabited this part of the region, grain was easy to grow and was very plentiful until about the 1850s. The only issue with this area is that because the soil and vegetation was so good, it was hard to break the ground to plant the seeds for wheat and corn. To combat this, they created steel plows, which provided industry within the city itself. Farmers were also smart in not just relying on one crop, especially since wheat was finicky and sometimes hard to harvest. They also planted corn and often rotated their crops to ensure that the soil stayed healthy and so that they would have a backup income if one crop failed.- Emma Galvin

Lumber was also an important commodity in Chicago at the time. Lumber was in high demand because for the first time, settlers were starting to move to the grasslands and prairies of the Midwest where there were few trees. Chicago was able to supply an abundant and efficient lumber supply.

The Columbian Exposition was, in many ways, considered to be Chicago's climax. Following the destruction caused by the Great Fire, the city was left in an interesting position. Although much of Chicago was ravaged, many at the time considered it to be something of a good thing, since it cleared much of the older and outdated architecture. As such, it left a desire to transform the city into a representation of America's future: one that was grandiose, united, and chasing the future. In fact, many people visiting the Exposition had no idea what they were looking at, due to the sheer scale of it all. In many ways, it was Chicago's climax, even if much of it was intentionally overdramatic. (Sam J.)


To continue with Sam's discussion above about the Great Fire of 1871, Cronon points out that the fire actually didn't affect Chicago's economy negatively all that much, even in the immediate aftermath. Yes, it devastated vast spans of residential neighborhoods, but it didn't touch most of the grain elevators, lumberyards, stockyards, factories, or railroads. Then, the construction boom that results from the rebuilding of the residential neighborhoods provided a huge boost to the economy, as well as providing Chicago with buildings much better protected against fire than before. Significantly, constructing these buildings out of steel gave way to the emergence of the skyscraper, as steel was better for building stronger and higher using the same footprint as before. These skyscrapers allowed for more workers in the city, and those employees used the railroads to spread out from the city for their residential settings. The result was a higher city with exploding suburbs (probably the largest suburban area in the world in 1873). All of this development was the precursor to the World's Fair and created the impressive Chicago which the visitors of the White City were awestruck by, just 22 years after the devastating fire. (Carter B.)

After the fire in 1871, Chicago grew exponentially. It seemed to be a way for Chicago to start from ground zero and build up their city with the newest technologies and innovations. Usually when fires go through towns, it is devastating and sets cities back from growth. This seemed to have the opposite effect which I find interesting. I think it also helped that most of their industry was on the outskirts of town. They relied on grain and lumber as their big resources, none of which were actually produced are harvested within the city center. They still had their previous economic structure and therefore had the money to start rebuilding.- Emma Galvin

The Chicago Worlds Fair in 1893 proves just how much Chicago was able to rebuild. By the time the fair happened, 20 years after the fire, Chicago was well built up and booming with infrastructure. The White City in the fair showed off all of what Chicago could offer. With that said, the fair only showcased the very best of the city, often leaving out what poorer and less well off areas looked like. There were many accounts of people who stayed within the actual city remarking on how the real Chicago was vastly different than what was shown at the fair.- Emma Galvin

The young people of the hinterlands of Chicago were being pulled in to the city in search of economic opportunity and potential for upward mobility. There was a big counter to this movement, however, as many farmers saw the city as a place of sin/crime. This phenomena in particular helps to demonstrate the difference in the moral compasses of the city and the rural areas. (Ewan H)

cronon_nature_s_metropolis.txt · Last modified: 2024/02/15 16:37 by ehighsmi