Innovation and Change
for Industries and Workers
As one of the great workshops of the world, the Calumet region lays bare the epic stories of entrepreneurship, industrial development, the struggle for decent working conditions and wages, and of what happens when a century of industrial heritage begins to collapse.
Manufacturing and Industrial Urbanism
With access to Lake Michigan and the development of a national railroad network, the Calumet region became a premier location for steel manufacturing beginning in the late 1800s. 1875 saw the construction of the Brown Ironworks, followed by the North Chicago Rolling Mills Company’s South Works plant (1881), Inland Steel (1901), Gary Works (1906), and Mark Manufacturing (1914). By 1920, one out of five manufacturing workers in the Chicago metropolitan area worked in the area’s leading “Iron and Steel Products” employment group, most of it concentrated in the Calumet area.
Once established in the region, the steel industry proved to be magnetically attractive to a variety of other related businesses. Steel supply companies thrived. Other firms were attracted by the availability of inexpensive steel in the Chicago market, or by the region’s centrality to the national rail network. The G.H. Hammond Meatpacking Company, founded in 1869 in what would become Hammond, Indiana, pioneered the use of refrigerated railcars for shipping meat. Industrial facilities opened across the region in new industrial suburbs like Chicago Heights or old country towns like Valparaiso and LaPorte.
Illinois Steel Company machine shop, South Works (predecessor to U.S. Steel). Southeast Chicago Historical Museum.
G.H. Hammond Meatpacking Company flier
Labor Takes a Stand
The A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum
This monument of the Memorial Day Massacre of 1937 sits across from the former Republic Steel.
Workers’ struggles for better conditions, wages, and rights, such as the Pullman Strike of 1894 and the deadly Memorial Day massacre of 1937 led to the establishment of Labor Day and significant paths towards improving living standards for all Americans.
A. Philip Randolph organized the nation's first African American union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. As members, Pullman Porters were not just advocates for themselves in the workplace, but messengers for greater opportunity, equal rights, and dignity in all the corners of the nation. Their efforts, as essential contributors to America's labor and civil rights movements, are explored and celebrated at the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum.
Industrial Change and Job Loss
An era of drastic shutdowns, offshoring, and automation dramatically changed the region’s industrial powerhouse and caused widespread job loss. In Chicago, all of the steel mills eventually closed, beginning with Wisconsin Steel in 1980, and industrial firms went bankrupt. While many Northwest Indiana mills still produce steel, they have dramatically downsized their workforce and, as in Chicago, communities have been devastated. This fate, shared by other places in the American Manufacturing Belt, is one of the most significant national stories of the past four decades.
Regional resources remain that tell the stories of past industrial endeavors, such as the Pullman National Monument and Steelworkers Park (located on the former site of U.S. Steel South Works). Throughout the region, grassroots, non-profit, for-profit, and government entities and individuals work to remediate economic and environmental issues and re-envision the region in light of the changes it has undergone, the assets it contains, and the realities it faces.
Monumental ore walls, once part of U.S. Steel South Works, still stand at Steelworkers Park.
“Tribute to the Past”, Roman Villarreal. Steelworkers Park