Why is Chicago important to the Midwest?

By Product Expert | Posted in Community, FAQs on Friday, August 14th, 2020 at 5:48 pm
Chicago skyline sepia toned

Chicago’s Role in Midwestern History and Modern Times

Chicago is the largest city of the American Midwest. What makes Chicago so important to the region?



To understand the importance of Chicago, we have to delve into the city’s history. Its role has changed over the years, but its importance has remained.

Early Years: A Shipping Port

St. Louis used to be the largest midwestern city. But when hunters and fur traders needed to ship their trappings to the eastern states, a trading port had to be made off of Lake Michigan along the way. Chicago arose to fulfill this purpose. It came into being as a water transit hub.

Chicago was incorporated as a town in 1833. It evolved to a city in 1837, when its population reached 4,000.

The Region’s Grain Refinery

The Midwest was simply rife with raw materials that were in demand throughout the country. Farmers, for example, needed a hub from which to store and ship grain across the country. Chicago served as a place to process and transport those materials. By 1854, the city was already the world’s largest grain port.

You may also be interested to know just how big Chicago is.

Retail and Meat at the Turn of the Century

In the late 1800s, after the Chicago fire and rebuilding, the city grew as a national retail center.

Chicago’s central location made it perfect for producing and distributing meat products. In addition, being near the northern states allowed blocks of ice to be shipped down to the city to store meat for longer periods before the invention of refrigeration.

As a 1916 poem by Carl Sandburg described it, Chicago had become, “Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroad and Freight Handler to the Nation.”

Importance of Modern Chicago: Art, Culture and Trade

Over the course of the 20th century, Chicago secured its position as a cultural hub for art, music and architecture in the Midwest. Its variety of building styles and urban character draw many movie and tv series to film there. Its central location is now used for a major package shipping hub, and hosts much trucking and distribution. It also has one of the world’s largest airports.

Immigrants still flock to Chicago, but more from Asia and Latin America today as opposed to Europe in the past. The city remains a center of trade, with airports joining the old rail and water transit hubs. Agricultural futures are now traded electronically from the floor of the Mercantile Exchange.

Chicago theater sign

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