Chicago on the Make: Power and Inequality in a Modern City

Chicago on the Make: Power and Inequality in a Modern City

by Andrew J. Diamond

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"Effectively details the long history of racial conflict and abuse that has led to Chicago becoming one of America's most segregated cities. . . . A wealth of material."New York Times 

Winner of the 2017 Jon Gjerde Prize, Midwestern History Association

Winner of the 2017 Award of Superior Achievement, Illinois State Historical Society

Heralded as America’s quintessentially modern city, Chicago has attracted the gaze of journalists, novelists, essayists, and scholars. Yet few historians have attempted big-picture narratives of the city’s transformation over the twentieth century. Chicago on the Make traces the evolution of the city’s politics, culture, and economy as it grew from an unruly tangle of rail yards, slaughterhouses, factories, tenement houses, and fiercely defended ethnic neighborhoods into a global urban center. Reinterpreting the narrative that Chicago’s autocratic machine politics shaped its institutions and public life, Andrew J. Diamond demonstrates how the grassroots politics of race crippled progressive forces and enabled an alliance of downtown business interests to promote a neoliberal agenda that created stark inequalities. Chicago on the Make takes the story into the twenty-first century, chronicling Chicago’s deeply entrenched social and urban problems as the city ascended to the national stage during the Obama years.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520286498
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 06/16/2020
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 440
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Andrew J. Diamond is Professor of American History at Sorbonne Université. He is the author or coauthor of numerous articles and books on the history of race, politics, and political culture in the urban United States, including Mean Streets: Chicago Youths and the Everyday Struggle for Empowerment in the Multiracial City, 1908–1969.

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Capital Order


In 1903 renowned muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens traveled to Chicago in search of a scoop on the graft, corruption, and brutality that Americans across the nation associated with the country's second largest metropolis. He did not exactly find the story he was expecting to write. After all, this was a city run by Carter Harrison II, a mayor who had proven his reformist mettle by working with the "goo-goos" in the Municipal Voter's League (MVL) — a group of upright businessmen, professionals, and social workers unified by the mission of bringing "good government" to their city — to appoint city council committees on a nonpartisan basis. And Harrison had just a year earlier taken an unequivocal stand in defense of the public interest in his dealings with the traction magnates — the robber barons looking to cash in on their soon-to-expire franchises on the tangle of streetcar lines inflicting impossible traffic jams downtown. If, for his part, Steffens judged Harrison a reluctant reformer, the mayor nonetheless advocated municipal ownership of mass transit and a popular referendum to decide the issue — a stance that certainly did not win him favor with railroad tycoon Charles Tyson Yerkes and the so-called Gray Wolves on the city council who had enabled him to amass a fortune of some $30 million since his arrival in Chicago more than a decade earlier. What impressed Steffens most of all were the earnest efforts of the MVL and its new secretary, Walter L. Fisher, which gave him cause to proclaim: "The city of Chicago is ruled by the citizens of Chicago." And yet Steffens did not leave Chicago without something sensational to report. If Chicago reformers seemed to Steffens to be fighting the good fight, they also seemed no match for the miasma of ills that plagued its residents: its tainted drinking water, its unpaved streets, its "stench of the stockyards," its "insufficient (and inefficient)" police force, its "mobs" and "riotous strikers," its "extra-legal system of controlling vice and crime." Summing it all up in the oft -repeated phrase that would come to identify Steffens's view of Chicago much more than any of his accolades about its engaged citizenry and reformers, he dubbed the city "[f]irst in violence, deepest in dirt; loud, lawless, unlovely, ill-smelling, irreverent, new; an overgrown gawk of a village, the "tough" among cities, the spectacle of a nation."

While some may have thought Steffens was merely displaying the hyperbolic flair that was the signature of turn-of-the-century muckraking journalism, his claims were, in fact, right on the mark. By the early twentieth century, Chicagoans were killing each other at an astounding rate; its muddy streets were piled with trash, animal excrement, and seemingly all the detritus of humanity; its rivers were brown with sewage; and its skies black with coal soot. In fact, the vigorous civic engagement Steffens found so remarkable signified that an increasing number of its notables were beginning to reckon with these horrid conditions and with the idea that their city was quickly turning into the world's reference point for urban dystopia. Indeed, Steffens had arrived in Chicago at the dawning of a new era of reformist zeal, whose intensity had something to do with a growing sense among civic and political leaders that their city had fallen behind other great cities throughout the world in its manner of dealing with the social costs of laissez-faire capitalism. This new reformist spirit had taken shape within the context of what Daniel T. Rodgers has referred to as "the Atlantic Era," when "American social politics were tied to social political debates and endeavors in Europe through a web of rivalry and exchange." For pioneering social worker Jane Addams, this meant traveling repeatedly to London's East End to observe the Toynbee Hall social settlement before launching her own Hull House settlement on Chicago's Near West Side. And for architect Daniel Burnham, who would set to work on his visionary Plan of Chicago several years later, it meant using the inspiration of Baron Haussmann and his renovation of nineteenth-century Paris "to bring order out of the chaos."

It came as no surprise to most that Steffens had bestowed upon Chicago the dubious honor of being "first in violence" — certainly in the nation and perhaps in the world. By 1913, its murder rate was four times higher than New York's and was about fourteen times that of London. In fact, this situation had begun to arouse concern in 1903, when juvenile court judge Richard Tuthill had organized a group of businessmen, religious leaders, and other reform types into an "anti-crime committee" to put pressure on the police, whom they viewed as inefficient in fighting criminal activities, if not complicit with them. Holding up Chicago's startling number of murders in comparison with London's, the editors of the Chicago Tribune spoke of "an attitude of mind which prevails in Chicago and which cannot be shaken except by long years of struggle on the part of individual Chicagoans to bring individual souls to a nobler conception of individual life." In the years to come, as racial theories and social Darwinism would take center stage in campaigns to close the country's borders, anticrime discourses would increasingly identify this "attitude of mind" with African Americans, Mexicans, Asian Americans, and a range of "races" that poured into the country from southern and eastern Europe between the 1880s and 1910s. But in turn-of-the-century Chicago, perceptions of criminality were still surprisingly democratic, more so, it seemed, than in comparable cities. "Crime in Chicago," the Tribune's editors made sure to point out, "is a matter of individual tolerance of sharp, illegal, wrongful, violent practices, either at mahogany tables or in dark alleys."

Chicago in the first decade of the twentieth century was certainly a place where even political officials at times settled their arguments with their fists, and one's ability to do so convincingly could earn respect. For example, when, as a young foreman for the Chicago Sanitary District in 1907, future mayor Edward Kelly punched out an insubordinate worker, his supervisor, Robert McCormick (a staunch Republican and future owner and publisher of the Chicago Tribune), granted him a raise and a promotion. McCormick told him he admired his "guts," as the story goes. Nonetheless, in most people's minds the violent crime problem that was the object of law-and-order campaigns and sensationalized newspaper reportage belonged almost exclusively to Chicago's laboring classes. "Homicide," as historian Jeffrey Adler has argued, "was a public and shockingly visible activity in late-nineteenth-century Chicago," where a good many murders took place in and around saloons, brothels, and other spaces defined by the male working-class "sporting culture" of the time. And it was significant that a relatively large proportion of the city's rank and file worked in the most brutal of workplaces: the packinghouses, which, by the turn of the century, had become Chicago's largest sector of employment. The link between the bloody entrails on the killing floors and the bloody brawls in the streets was irresistible. "Men who crack the heads of animals all day," Upton Sinclair famously quipped in The Jungle, "seem to get into the habit, and to practice on their friends, and even on their families." However, Chicago's national reputation for violence had also come, in part, from the spectacles of violence and destruction wrought by the Haymarket bombing of 1886 and the Pullman Strike of 1894, both of which witnessed striking workers battling the local forces of order and federal troops in its streets. These events were so threatening to Chicago's upper crust that a group of affluent businessmen living along Prairie Avenue's "Millionaire's Row" in the South Loop commissioned architects Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root to design the five-story, fortress-like First Regiment Armory at 1552 S. Michigan Avenue for the purpose of stationing troops and armaments just three blocks from their homes.

Hence, the civic-minded folks seeking to root out the sources of criminality in the first decade of the twentieth century, some of whom rubbed elbows with the residents of Prairie Avenue around mahogany tables, went first looking for them down "dark alleys." In 1900, for example, a group of concerned citizens and settlement workers constituted themselves into the Investigative Committee of the City Homes Association and fanned out into some of the city's impoverished Jewish, Italian, and Polish tenement districts around the Near West and Near North Sides with pencils and notepads. Among the six members of the committee were tireless social settlement worker Jane Addams and Anita McCormick Blaine, whose older brother Cyrus McCormick, Jr., had ordered Pinkerton thugs to attack strikers at his McCormick Harvesting Machine Company plant three days before the Haymarket bombing. McCormick Blaine, however, was no apologist for capitalism. She had just finished bankrolling John Dewey's new Laboratory School at the University of Chicago and its bold experiment of interactive pedagogical approaches in order to imbue in young children a sense of democratic citizenship. Addams, another daughter of a prominent Midwest businessman, was cut from the same cloth. Having cofounded Hull House a decade earlier to serve and better understand the needs of the largely Italian, Jewish, and Greek communities of the Near West Side, Addams thought of her work there as part of the same project of promoting social democratic principles at the grassroots. She placed special emphasis on the recreational programs offered to children, designing art, theater, and sports activities as means for instilling a spirit of democratic cooperation and civic consciousness. That these women had joined sociologist Robert Hunter on this committee demonstrated their belief that the living conditions prevailing in Chicago's tenement districts threatened the goals they held so dear.

Allowing no alley, privy, or manure box to escape their gaze, McCormick Blaine, Addams, and the other committee members recorded a seemingly endless litany of atrocities: raw sewage seeping into basements packed with families and into alleys where small children played; yards covered in manure and rotting garbage; chickens, horses, and cows living in and around apartments — all emitting unbearable odors and noises that forced residents to keep their windows closed, even during the suffocating heat of a Chicago summer. If Jacob Riis had made New York the emblem of tenement ills with his stunning photojournalism in How the Other Half Lives a decade earlier, the Investigative Committee of the City Homes Association, whose observations were gathered into a published report entitled Tenement Conditions in Chicago, insisted that conditions in Chicago were no less serious. Moreover, unlike older cities such as New York and London, which had been addressing tenement problems for years with an array of city ordinances, such legislation in Chicago was either nonexistent or unenforced. "There is probably no other city approximating the size of Chicago, in this country or abroad," they asserted, "which has as many neglected sanitary conditions associated with its tenement-house problem." "The conditions here," they concluded, "show how backward, in some respects, the City of Chicago is."

To be sure, viewed from its tenement alleys, Chicago may have appeared backwards. But such perceptions also reflected the loft y standards of some of its leading reformers, who had already made the city a pioneer in some important ways. By the turn of the century Hull House represented the cutting edge of the nation's settlement house movement; Chicago's juvenile court — the world's first — was providing a widely recognized model for a new case-by-case approach that emphasized rehabilitation over punishment; and John Dewey was trying to revolutionize the country's educational system at the University of Chicago, which, when it had opened its doors in 1892, was the first university in the country to house a sociology department. Even on the tenement housing issue, Chicago was not exactly a laggard. In fact, the city's health department had been inspecting buildings and approving construction plans since the early 1880s. But the rapid spread of tenement districts overwhelmed its monitoring capacities. Chicago seemed backwards to reformers in large part because its authorities had failed to keep up with its breathtaking growth in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when the population had more than quadrupled, from just over 400,000 to some 1.7 million.

While the many skyscrapers shooting upward from the bustling streets of the Loop business district during these decades attested to the new legions of white-collar workers making the city their home, industrialization was a key driver of this spectacular growth. Indeed, if Chicago's breathtaking population growth made it an outlier in comparison with other large cities, the expansion of its industrial capacity was even more extraordinary. Between 1880 and 1900, the number of manufacturing workers in the city nearly quadrupled and the number of manufacturing establishments more than doubled. Leading the way was the meatpacking sector, which by the turn of the century had captured an 80-percent share of the domestic market in packaged meat, making Chicago, in the words of local poet and journalist Carl Sandburg, "Hog Butcher for the World." At that time, Chicago's biggest meatpacking plants — Armour, Swift, and Morris — were among the thirty largest factories in the United States. Meatpacking workers constituted 10 percent of the city's wage labor force, and some 30 percent of Chicago's manufactures came out of the mammoth Union Stockyards at the southwestern edge of the city in the form of "Chicago dressed meat" — a brand that was shuttering butcher shops throughout the heartland. By 1900 the stockyards, perhaps the largest single industrial plant in the world, had expanded to 475 acres, with a pen capacity of more than 430,000 animals, 50 miles of road, and 130 miles of railroad track along its perimeter. During that year, 14,622,315 cattle, sheep, hogs, and horses passed through its pens, nine times the number of livestock herded through its gates in its first year of operation in 1866; by the 1920s, this number would surpass 18 million.

Chicago's dramatic industrial growth, however, was also propelled by its massive steel works along the lakefront in the southeastern corner of the city. In 1889, most of Chicago's major steel mills merged to form Illinois Steel, making it, at the time, the world's largest steel manufacturer. In 1902, another merger engineered by New York banker J. P. Morgan saw Illinois Steel (then called Federal Steel) absorbed into the industrial giant U.S. Steel, the world's largest business enterprise. At that time the South Works site of steel production employed 3,500 men and covered some 260 acres; twelve years later, 11,000 people worked there. A number of other mills, such as Iroquois Steel, Wisconsin Steel, the Federal Furnace Company, and Interstate Iron and Steel Company, opened to the south of U.S. Steel around this time, and in 1906 U.S. Steel began operations in its massive Gary Works, which by the 1920s employed some 16,000. In the years to come, the steel corridor extending from the southern part of Chicago to Gary, Indiana, would make the region one of the world's top steel producers.

Moreover, a sizable amount of the millions of tons of steel being turned out in Chicago did not have to go very far. By the turn of the century the raw-materials needs of a number of Chicago's heavy industries were rising sharply, creating corresponding labor demands. In 1902, International Harvester — the by-product of the merger of McCormick Harvesting Machine Company with four other Chicago farm equipment makers — launched Wisconsin Steel to assure its steel supply as it gathered an 80-percent share of the world market in grain harvesting equipment. Within eight years the company was grossing about $100 million in annual sales and employing more than 17,000 workers in the Chicago area. Around this time, the Pullman Company became another big purchaser of Chicago-made steel as its production shift ed from wooden to steel sleeper cars in its company town of Pullman fourteen miles south of the Loop, where its workforce increased from 6,000 to 10,000 between 1900 and 1910. In addition, a significant and growing portion of the steel produced within the Chicago-Gary corridor was hauled up to the Loop to be used in the construction of the steel skeletons holding up the city's many imposing skyscrapers.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

1 • Capital Order
2 • Black Metropolis
3 • White and Black
4 • Th e Boss and the Black Belt
5 • Civil Rights in the Multiracial City
6 • Violence in the Global City
7 • A City of Two Tales


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