Chicago and the Great West

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Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. By William Cronon. (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1991.) William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis examines the role of Chicago as a “gateway” city between the east and west of a developing United States. The grain, lumber, and meat industries were rapidly changing during this time, which led to exceptional growth for the city of Chicago. Railroad systems and water transportation were big factors in the growth of Chicago by spreading the aforementioned industries across the U.S. Such rapid growth was perceived to be responsible for the creation of the mass market in the U.S. today. Cronon argued that because of Chicago’s great innovations and growth, America as a whole grew as well. During this time in the nineteenth century, Cronon noted that the city and country were equally important to each other. The metropolis relied on the hinterland to provide valuable raw materials, while the hinterland depended on the city to manufacture, transport, and sell its goods. One of the biggest services Chicago had to offer was that it played an important role in linking the agricultural hinterland to its market in the east. Cronon proposed an idea that if not for Chicago in particular, another city would have achieved its same status as the gateway city to take its place. To him it seemed inevitable that a city like Chicago would form and serve as a gateway between the east and west. He also saw the innovations of the time as being inevitable discoveries. The creation of innovations like refrigerated railroad cars and grain elevators, among many others, contributed to a more efficient connection between the producer and consumer in the marketplace. The rate of growth for Chicago came as a direct result of the increase in innovative ideas. Chicago’s extreme growth was largely responsible for creating America’s mass market.
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