Return to Golden Age
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, October, 1880
I hear a resident of Chicago say:
- The metropolis of the Northwest, you mean.
No, my friend, that is what, you were, not what you are. You are undoubtedly the metropolis of what was the Northwest, and you are the most splendid city on the sunset side of the Alleghanies; but we are nothing if not geographical, and can not impeach our own maps. Since you have built those great railroads the star of empire has been availing itself of the express trains, and our real northwestern frontier is now only separated from Asia by Bearing Straits.
Call it what we may, it is assuredly one of the wonders of the world, in its rapid growth, in its recovery from disaster, in its greatness today, and in its; prospects for the future.
New York and Boston, about 250 years old, have respectively 1,000,000 and 350,000 inhabitants. Chicago made up her half million in little over forty years. In New York and Boston one sees the graves of eight generations, and the relics of colonial times. In Chicago Mr. Gurdon S. Hubbard is now living, an active man, seventy-eight years of age (and looking sixty), who came to the spot when there were but two houses there.
The site of this great city, a favorite one with the Indians, was early visited by some of those splendid old “pioneers of France in the New World,” who have been made famous in this generation by the pen of that accomplished and genial historian, Mr. Parkman. Old Pere Marquette was there in 1673, and returned in the winter of 1674-75. It was also known to Joliet (for whom a town not far off is now named), Hennepin, and La Salle. The name is of Indian origin, cheecaqua meaning “strong,” and being also the term for a kind of wild onion found on the shore of the lake in old days. The place is first known to geography as the “Fort Checagou” of a French map published toward the end of the seventeenth century. Fort Dearborn was built by our government in 1804, and the late John H. Kinzie, an eminent pioneer and citizen of Chicago, celebrated the first anniversary of his birthday on its site, his father having arrived three days before, in company with Major Whistler and his command. The Fort Dearborn massacre, perpetrated by the Indians, was in 1812, and the boned of the soldiers were lying unburied near the shore when young Kinzie returned from Detroit in 1816. Here the memoranda which Mr. Hubbard has kindly prepared for the purpose may be appropriately inserted:
- I was born at Windsor, Vermont. August 22, 1802. In the spring of 1818 I engaged, with the consent of my parents, to the American Fur Company (of which John Jacob Astor was president), for the term of five years, at a salary of $120 per annum. On the 13th of May I left Montreal, in company with twelve other clerks of whom I was the youngest; and I am the only one of them, as well as of about one hundred others of that day, now living. I was in September detailed to the Illinois brigade of traders, under command of Antoine Dechamps. The brigade, of Pout twelve bateaux, coasted Lake Michigan to Chicago, where were Fort Dearborn and two white families — those of Mr. John Kinzie and Antoine Ouilmett. After leaving Lake Ontario, and till within eighteen miles of St. Louis, I did not see a white inhabitant, except at Mackinaw and Chicago; nor were there any signs of civilization in all this district until about 1826 or 1827. Up to this date there was but one yearly arrival of a small schooner, sent from Buffalo by the United States to take supplies to Fort Dearborn. From 1826 to 1832 there was an increase of vessels, but none were over 100 tons burden. The first steamer to Chicago came in 1832, bringing General Scott and troops for the Black Hawk war. Quite a number of these troops died on the way and at Chicago of cholera. Up to 1828 the only means of transit on Lake Michigan was in Canadian bateaux, known as Mackinaw boats. In this way I have coasted Lake Michigan twenty-six times, say. for thirteen consecutive years, fall and spring. In the fall of 1828 I went from Chicago to Detroit on horseback without meeting a white person or seeing any indication: of a white settlement until reaching Ypsilanti, where were a few rude log-cabins. Until 1832 the country north and west from Chicago to the Mississippi was almost a wilderness. A few families had settled on the Lower Fox and Rock river, and Galena and vicinity had a few people engaged in mining lead. In the summer of 1833 I erected, on the corner of South and Lasalle streets, in Chicago, the largest brick building (I believe) then in this State, the timbers for which were cut and hewn on the Calumet River in the winter, and in the spring rafted to Chicago. The building had two stories and cellar; steep roof; size, 150 by 60 feet. Workmen were brought from the Wabash to make the brick. The finishing lumber, etc., were brought from Cleveland, Ohio by vessel. This was called ‘Hubbard’s folly’ I was the first packer of beef and pork, opened the first store was the first insurance agent, and issued the first policy in Chicago.
These lines were written by Mr. Hubbard, in the midst of active engagements, just about sixty-two years after he saw the be beginning of the great city in which he now resides. It was in 1833 that a village was organized, and the city charter was obtained in 1837. The late William B. Ogden defeated Mr. Kinzie by a small majority, and was made the first Mayor. The census that year showed a population of 4179. Only one man was reported as having no regular employment, and he (as stated in the Hon. Isaac N. Arnold’s address before the Chicago Historical Society in 1868) was denominated a “loafer.” Mr. Arnold thinks that this gratifying proportion of 1 in 4000 has not been maintained as the city has grown. Up to 1848 there was nothing in the progress of Chicago to excite special comment, but in that year was completed the first of those lines of communication which so materially aided its advance. As the practical terminus of navigation on the four lower lakes, it had advantages patent the most casual observer; but they must needs be supplemented by a comprehensive system of modes of transit in all directions. The Illinois and Michigan Canal, connecting the lake with the Illinois River at LaSalle (the head of navigation, whence the waters run in a direction generally a little west of south, to the Mississippi, near its junction with the Missouri), was begun in 1836. After a delay of two years in the time of construction — due to financial difficulties — it was completed. It is ninety-six miles long, has fifteen locks, was deepened in 1866-70 by the city of Chicago, and is generally open about eight months in the year. The first railroad entering the city — the Galena and Chicago Union — was begun in 1847. So timid were its projectors that they put a clause in their charter by which they were authorized to make a turnpike, in case of need, instead of a railroad. By December 30, 1848, they had built just ten miles. From this modest beginning has grown the great Chicago and Northwestern corporation. The Michigan Southern and Michigan Central gave the earliest rail communication with the East both reaching Chicago in 1852. In the autumn of 1871 the actualities and possibilities of Chicago seemed greater than ever before. The local census gave a total of nearly 350,000 inhabitants. Real estate had advanced in an astounding manner, and with a rapidity which silenced croakers and scoffers.
Beautiful buildings of “Athens marble” — nearly white — rose on all sides, and additions were daily made to their number. A glance at the map will show the situation and conformation of the city, not differing greatly at present from what they were then. It extends along the lake shore, which here runs north and south, and of course gives it a long eastern water front. The Chicago River, which empties into the lake, forks very near its mouth, the north branch extending north westerly, and the south branch first southerly, and then a little south of west. Bounded on the north by the short main river, on the west by the north-and-south portion of the south branch, and on. the east by the lake, lay — and lies — the most important business section. Bridges were originally built across the river at intervals of two blocks, but the draws were frequently open, and great delays ensued, so a tunnel was constructed in 1869 to connect the south and west divisions, and another in 1871 to connect the north and south sides. Many as had been, up to 1871, the solid and stately buildings erected, there remained interspersed among them many more of the wooden structures of former days. For a great many miles the sidewalks too were of wood. In the early days of October, 1871, the city of Chicago was as active and bustling as at any time in its history. The preceding months had been very dry throughout the Northwestern country, and farmers were complaining; but the city people generally were hopeful and contented, and, as usual, absorbed in their occupations and industries. Nothing could have seemed more improbable than that a few hours would send this vast, strong, resolute population from prosperity to ruin, from happiness to despair. Yet on Sunday evening, October 8, some one, as the story goes, upset a lighted kerosene lamp in a small wooden building in De Koven Street, on the west side. A gale was blowing from the southwest, and in a few hours the most terrible conflagration known in modern times was fiercely raging. In the division where it originated it burned over 194 acres, reduced 500 buildings to ashes, and made 2500 people homeless. Crossing to the south division, it swept over 460 acres, and destroyed 1600 stores, 28 hotels, 60 manufacturing establishments and homes of some 22,000 persons. Rushing across the main river it attacked the north side. In short time, on an area of 1470 acres, here had been the dwellings of 75,000 people, 600 stores, and 100 manufactories, ere was left, out of 13,300 buildings, just one the residence of Mr. Mahlon Ogden, now the Union Club. The whole area traversed was about three and one-third miles. These figures will, of course, fail to convey any true idea of the frightful but a clearer one might be picturing the destruction of every building in New York city south drawn from the North to the East River at Worth Street.
Strange to say, and in the face of the heart-rending stories which have been told the writer can not learn of a single life having been lost in the flames.
The trouble and confusion which would result from destruction of deeds and official records can hardly be imagined, but presented themselves with startling force to the mind of a gentle man who was hurrying on this dreadful night toward his office, in which were the books containing what are technically called “abstracts” of Chicago titles, he having been engaged for years in the preparation thereof. Could these books possibly be saved? A friend joined him, and they made frantic efforts to fend some means of moving these precious folios. Twelve trucks successively engaged failed to appear, and at last one teamster was only compelled by the pointing of a revolver at his head to allow the load to be put on. There was a race between the clerks and the flames; the truckman edged off, and last of the books was put on a block away from the office, the title by which a large part of Chicago is now peacefully and incontestably held depended for some time on the respect which that truckman felt for the shining barrel and the resolute hand which held it.
Tuesday morning, October 10, 1871, saw the population of a great city apparently ruined and crushed; but then began that marvellous exhibition of human kindness and benevolence for which history furnishes no parallel, and which ought to discomfit the pessimist for a generation to come. Money and supplies, estimated to aggregate over six millions of dollars, were freely sent to Chicago from all over the world. A report for 1874 shows actual cash receipts of $3,000,000. From New York city went $975,000; from Boston, $416,000; from London, $316,000; even from Canton, China, not only $660 from the little handful of foreign residents, but $550 from the people whom we now call “moon-eyed lepers,” and propose to drive from our shores. If the fire was a remarkable episode in the history of Chicago, what shall be said of its rising from the ashes, of the marvellous rebuilding of the city, of the work of only about eight years? It is estimated that some $41,000,000 were spent in new buildings on the burned district in the first twelve months after the fire. Chicago is the very phoenix of cities.
As rebuilt, and in the present days of its renewed greatness and prosperity, its general conformation is about the same as before. The space bounded on the east by the lake, on the north by the main river, and on the west by the south branch contains the principal wholesale business establishments, exchanges, hotels, and three public buildings destined to take high rank among the notable ones in this country. They are the new Post-office, the City Hall, and the Court-house. On the south, near the lake shore, and again on the north side, are two distinct dwelling quarters of a very high class, and calculated to astonish all who have not seen them. The ample space secured around dwellings — so rare in Eastern cities — is of itself an immense attraction. Of the other quarters of the city no special description need be given in this limited space, but to the system of parks and connecting boulevards, extending round the whole, too much praise can not be accorded. Starting at the lake side at the south, one will soon be able to drive by a rectangular course, first westward, then northward, then eastward, to come out on the northerly lake shore in the well-known and pleasant Lincoln Park. At intervals he will have passed through other and smaller parks, exhibiting in the season a wealth of beautiful flowers. From a “crib” out in the lake comes, as is well known, the water supply. The river has been greatly improved, and the grade of the city has been raised The latter work been done at intervals, and a portion of it some time ago whereby hangs an interesting and veracious tale. The very amiable and worthy occupant of the position of British vice-consul at a port in; the far East had often expressed to his American fellow-residents his great desire to visit their country, and make himself familiar with some of its institutions His ideas of the West had been formed from a perusal of the works of Cooper, and it is to be feared that his interlocutor had purposely abstained from disturbing his somewhat highly colored expectations. Finally a furlough came to him, and he made ready to carry out his cherished plan of a trip home by the way of the Pacific Ocean and the United States. Introductions were given him to trusty practical jokers in San Francisco, which he presented, on arrival, with expressions of vehement desire to encounter Indians and hunt buffaloes. This, he was told, would be easy, as both abounded in the neighborhood of the Cliff House and in the peaceful and prosaic suburb of Oakland. An expedition was planned and carried out, and the British brother, armed to the teeth, performed great deeds |f the encounter with “practicable” Indians and buffaloes — furnished, it was whispered, by a theatre and a circus or menagerie. Exulting in the praise of his American friends, and covered with glory, he departed for New York and England. His fame stood him in good stead at dinners and other social gathering during his entire vacation, preceded him on his return to his post, and made him quite a hero among his fellow-exiles. No American could find it in his heart to disturb it, and all might have gone well to this day had he only confined himself to his character of amateur Leatherstocking. One day, however, a countryman of his came to a “Yankee” and denounced this hero. “Just think of that M——,” said he, “trying to sell us. By Jove! I never heard in all my life, you know, such atrocious stories as he has been telling us. What do you think he tried to make us believe? It is all very fine to have shot no end of Indians and buffaloes. Of course, you know, where there are so many as there are in San Francisco and New Hampshire and Niagara, and all those places, a plucky fellow might do that. But he has actually tried to make us believe the most extraordinary story that you have ever heard about your country, you know. He says that he went to a place called Chicago, and he went to draw some money from a bank, and found that they had raised it up and were moving it with all the fellows inside, you know, going on with their work! I say! just fancy the cheek of the fellow, supposing he could make us believe that!” Alas! the one true story which the poor consul told had proved his undoing.
East Side of State Street
Of the strides which Chicago has made in commerce and manufactures, it is difficult to convey any idea in words; nor can it be conveyed even by inspection, except to an experienced observer. A large volume might be written about the many and diverse industries in which her people are engaged, and here but a casual glance can be had at the most important and conspicuous. Chicago is an enormous grain market. Who has not read almost daily allusions in the papers to the great arrivals there and shipments thence of this staple ? of a “blockade” or a “corner” in it ? of a rise or fall in the price? of fortunes made or lost ? Yet the business shows no very marked “outward and visible signs” of its importance to the transient visitor. It is in concentrated and compact shape, and managed with admirable system and skill. In the year 1879 there were brought into the city, of flour, 3,370,000 barrels; of wheat, corn, oats, rye, and barley, 122,533,000 bushels. And it is curious to learn that all came by rail except 36,000 barrels of flour and 339,000 bushels of grain by the lake, and 42,000 barrels of flour and 6,479,000 bushels of grain by the canal, thus showing what the iron roads have done for the city. In Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Dakota; in Illinois and Missouri, and in that young giant of a State, Kansas; away up in the Red River Valley, and away out on the Santa Fe Trail, beyond the hundredth meridian on the fertile prairie farms which is east of the Mississippi, on new ones in the heart of what we used to call the Great American Desert — the farmers toiled to raise great import. On all the iron roads the freight trains were made up through long months to be concentrated on the lines leading into Chicago, and to deposit much of there carryings within her borders. The latter are somewhat curiously divided. The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, for instance which brought, in 1879, 1,300,000 barrels of flour, brought only 7,000,000 bushels of corn; while the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy registered only 461,000 barrels of flour, but 26,000,000 bushels of corn.
A glance at the map will show to what dimensions has grown the system of roads connecting Chicago with the region west and north of it, to say nothing of others As previously mentioned, the ten miles built toward Elgin in 1847-48 were the beginning of the Chicago and Northwestern Railway, Its ramifications now extend to Milwaukee and Lake Superior; to Minneapolis and St. Paul, and away to Watertown, in Dakota Territory; and to the Missouri at Council Bluffs, opposite Omaha. The Illinois Central extends to Cairo, with a line thence, and practically its own, to New Orleans; also to Dubuque, Iowa, and Sioux City. The Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific gives a line to Atchison and Leavenworth, and a second to Council Bluffs. The Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy extends to Burlington Council Bluffs again, Plattsmouth, Kearny Junction (on the Union Pacific Railroad), and other points in Nebraska; to Quincy and Louisiana, with connection for Kansas City and Topeka; and to St. Louis. The Chicago and Alton has lines to Kansas City and St. Louis. Over the roads just mentioned, and their almost innumerable branches, come most of the cereals. In connection with the great Eastern roads, they make up a body of lines which, hardly thirty years old, is simply a marvel.
The system, convenience, and speed (with which business of different kinds is carried on in Chicago must impress all observers. The use of the telephone is far more general and effective than in New York. A well-known merchant showed the writer how it had saved him in a single year $8000 in money, to say nothing of time and “worry.” The connection of all the railroads, for instance, with each other and with their customers is complete; and then the Chicago wires seem to be better conductors than those in some other cities. Stock indicators would not for the world do there as they do in New York, according to a well known wit — “go mad and point ‘Jabberwocky,’ as they invariably seem to do on an exciting day or during rapid fluctuations.” Nor are the Chicago telephonists driven to such an access of rage at the failure of their attempts at communication as to bring upon them the mild request often heard from the main office New York, “Please do not swear through the telephone.” In the handling of the immense body of grain, this little invention, like all others for lessening labor, comes well to the front.
It is, indeed, strange to think the Chicago — this young inland city — is the primary, market for a large part of food supply not only of this country, but also of Europe. Yet such is the case, under the working of natural economical laws. Our Western domain is so vast, our Western soil so fertile, and our Western population so industrious and enterprising, that this food can be produced there more cheaply than by the dwellers in the overcrowded countries of the Old World. Not an Englishman in a thousand, as in Cobden’s time, may yet know where Chicago is, but British Parliamentarians have been very forcibly reminded that it exists, and in a particularly healthy and aggressive condition. The one man will soon be called upon to enlighten the other nine hundred and ninety-nine, if this indefinitely situated place is to settle the price of the loaves consumed by a large percentage of them. The British traveler who recently told an American friend that the United States must surely be split asunder on geographical lines “when the Panama Canal separates the North from the South, you know,” bore unconscious witness accuracy of Cobden’s judgment. Could anything, however, so tend to make the shade of the great free-trader uneasily haunt the Houses of Parliament as the proposition to “protect” British agriculture by putting an import duty on American grain ? While this question is being agitated, the stream of breadstuff’s goes on pouring into Chicago, and. out again on its mission of sustentation. Reducing flour to wheat for purposes of calculation, we find that against 135,089,778 bushels of grain coming into Chicago in 1879, 128,237,645 bushels went out.
To receive such an incoming stream are waiting twenty elevators — a term, by the-way, which hardly describes properly the great storehouses, of which the “elevating” arrangements are but one feature. Their aggregate capacity is 16,840,000 bushels; individual capacity from 90,000 to 2,000,000 bushels. They are in different parts of the city, but those at the disposal of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad give nearly one-third of the whole capacity. One of the newest of them, Armour Dole and Co.’s elevator “D,” may be taken as what it is the fashion to call a “representative” elevator. It certainly is a very fine one, and should be seen by all inquiring visitors. It was begun in 1875, is 386 feet long, 100 feet wide, and 145 feet high, required five million feet of lumber in its construction, and cost $350,000. One can easily obtain permission to inspect it, and the superintendent will enlighten his ignorance, or increase and qualify his knowledge, as the case may be. He is conducted to a little “elevator” (here is this confusion of names again; it is what our English friends call a “lift”), and hoisted to the top floor. At one end he sees, swiftly passing over a shaft, the largest belt in the United States, 280 feet in length, and eighty inches in width. Below him are great scales, and bins sixty feet deep. A fine and suggestive dust gradually covers his clothes as he listens to the polite cicerone, who is telling him that there are twenty-six standard Fairbanks scales in the building, and that they weigh so accurately that in an aggregate of six carloads there was only a shortage of thirty pounds between “St. Joe” and Chicago. But “look out for the engine when the bell rings.” A train has come in below full of grain in bulk. Into a car goes a great shute, or nozzle; somebody pulls a lever, and, presto! away has gone that grain up into a weighing bin, then down into another receptacle of profundity and security. It dawns on the observer’s mind that one man’s property is by no means kept separate from another man’s. This grain is all graded by a State inspector; it is “weighed in” and “weighed out,” and all that is needful is that the contents of each bin should be homogeneous. But here comes another train — empty cars to be filled for East. Men wanted, with shovels, to laboriously handle the grain? Not at all. Down comes that shute again, boards are put across the door ways of the cars, and in one of them after another the grain runs up foot by foot. In less time than any one would think possible — a few minutes to each car — the train, is entirely loaded, its doors are close? and the engine is drawing it out again, to be delivered to one of the Eastern trunk lines.
These terrible dumb labor-saving inventions are apparently much more hostile to the interests of the “laboring-man” than all the Chinamen that ever came in through the Golden Gate. Yet the former have helped provide thousands and thousands of laboring-men not only with employment, but also with comfortable homes, where the Indian held sway less than two generations ago, just as the railroads built by the labor of these same Chinamen have opened up the great central area of the continent, where even more laboring-men may seek and find prosperity.
It has been previously said that this great grain business is in exceedingly compact, shape. It is very difficult for the casual observer to gauge either its magnitude or the multiplicity of its details. A witty Bostonian used to amuse his friends by recitals of his early experiences as a clerk on a quiet wharf in that old-fashioned and conservative city.
“I always took a great interest,” said he, “in old X. People used to look up to him, and say he had made over a million dollars. I would go and gaze through the grated door into his ‘store’ (which he used to unlock himself every morning), and wonder how he managed to make that sum out of five bales of Calcutta hides, which were all I ever could see there.” But in the business centre of Chicago you see not even one “original package” of the great cereals. Suppose that you walk down to the Board of Trade Building just before noon. There is a large room, well lighted, and with a species of railed tribune near one end. This room is quiet enough up to noon; but then — well, take the New York Stock Exchange when “the bottom is dropping out” of stocks, and a panic is impending, multiply the excitement several times, substitute the shrillest and hardest voices (like those which Dr. Holmes says are the product of salt-fish and east winds) for the more tempered ones of New York — and even then you will not have a fair idea of the hour for “dealing.” Yet there is a very pronounced method in all this mid-day madness. These apparently crazy people are only buying and selling the grain which you saw in the elevator. One man is the agent for a heavy Liverpool house, another is buying for a New York firm, a third is one of the representatives of a combination of operators who are trying wheat as a change from stocks. All the world are customers here. To be sure, the buyers four and five thousand miles away use the click of the telegraphic armature to attract the attention of the self-appointed auctioneers, and rap out their bids with the Morse instrument. None the less are they as active competitors as if they were in bodily presence clamoring for their share of this grand distribution.
In due time, and none too soon for your ears, comes one o’clock, and you listen in a dazed way to the figures to which the day’s doings have mounted. Now you clearly comprehend the splendid facilities afforded in Chicago for such business. Leaving out all sales for future delivery, and taking only bona fide dealings in wheat in the elevators, see how easily they are managed. A has bought 50,000 bushels of B. A gives B a check, and B gives A a little piece of paper — a receipt from some elevator for the 50,000 bushels. There can be no need of sampling, no question about quality. The State inspection has settled all that. The buyer puts the receipt in his pocket, and goes home. He will give it to the railroad company, and they will carry the grain East. But a thought strikes him. His grain is in the elevator of a certain road, and is to go out on the line of another. He remembers that there is a similar grade in the elevator of the latter; a transfer of warrants is made, and even the shifting of the cars is avoided. It should be mentioned that the charge for storage in the elevators is one and a quarter cents for the first ten days, and half a cent for each additional ten days.
The vast amount of grain shipped Eastward goes to many points. To Europe, under through bills of lading, there went enough in 1879, in conjunction with meal and provision to load a steamer of 2500 tons capacity every business day in the year — say a total of 768,153 tons, worth not less than, $45,000,000. The citizens of Chicago are fond of talking of the time when the improvement of the Welland Canal will be completed, and, as they expect, large vessels will be dispatched from Europe via the St. Lawrence and the tortuous route through Lake Ontario, the Welland Canal, Lake Erie, the Detroit River, and St. Clair Strait, Lake Huron, the Straits of Mackinaw, and Lake Michigan, to the docks of their great city, bringing direct importations, and prepared to retrace their course deeply laden with the produce of the prairies. Without impeaching the correctness of these vaticinations, one may fairly doubt whether this mode of transportation will ever success fully compete in the long-run with that by rail or small vessel to the ocean shipping ports.
During the season when lake navigation is closed, the railroads furnish the only — but ample — means of export from Chicago to the East. The “trunk lines,” so called, have various ramifications. Northernmost, we have the Michigan Central Railroad, extending from Chicago to Detroit, there connecting with the Grand Trunk Railway for Montreal, Portland, and Boston; the Canada Southern for Buffalo, and the Great Western of Canada for Suspension Bridge. Next, comes the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern, running south of Lake Erie, and direct to Buffalo. Connection between Buffalo and Suspension Bridge on the one hand, and New York and Boston on the other, is had by the four tracks of the New York Central, the Boston and Albany, and the Hoosac Tunnel route; also by the New York, Lake Erie, and Western Railway and connections. The Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago, and the Pennsylvania railroads, furnish route over the Alleghanies to Philadelphia and New York; and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad gives another to Baltimore. Safely and swiftly transported over mountains and through valleys, the products of Western toil and Western fertility are ultimately deposited in storehouses, elevators, and vessels’ holds in the limits or the harbors of the Atlantic sea-ports so well known to us. Every year the facilities for carrying them are developed and improved.
In the summer season, of course, the grain-laden vessels proceed regularly and frequently to various points of consumption or distribution, thus furnishing an even more effective check on the charges made by the railroads for transportation than is supplied by the competition between those roads themselves.
Among the great interests of Chicago the business in pine lumber occupies a prominent place. How necessary this article is in the building up of the West he knows well who has traversed it. The thousands of incomers who are filling up the habitable belt which girds the content must be sheltered. Pew are contented, as was the Colorado shepherd, with a cave, and the tent and “dug-out” can not long satisfy the men who see future Chicago in even the “air towns” found at the termini of constructed track on the railroads. Almost before the town lots are staked out, and the pretentious name has grown familiar in the mouths of the pioneers, timber must be had for those terribly ugly buildings, in which the modest gable ends on the street are masked by those odious square board fronts.
Everything new is of wood, and it is only after the fate of the town, be it to “boom” or “bust,” has been decided, that the brick-kiln or the quarry may be safety brought into play. What a market for lumber, therefore, this admirably situated city can command may be readily seen.
This business is one of the most interesting in the world. Its genesis is among the great forests and in the purest of air. Its mere mention calls up fascinating suggestions of the resinous odors of the foothills, of the ring of the axe in the crisp winter air, of the snow-laden trees, of the great logs plunging over the falls, or floating peaceably in rafts down the rivers. It is healthy, wholesome, cleanly, satisfactory throughout, and it has helped make our metropolis.
At the head of the Western States which produce pine lumber stand Michigan and Wisconsin, and the map will show how superbly they are situated as regards water communication, and what a convenient and natural destination Chicago affords for their laden vessels. There were very few lumber-yards in existence here up to 1846; there was a strong movement in the trade in 1853; in 1859 the first lumber exchange was established; after the fire of 1871 an enormous demand was, of course, created; in 1880 — but we must not anticipate.
It will be seen that Lake Michigan has the State of the same name at its east, its north, and partly at its west side, and Wisconsin also at the west. In these are the great forests. Deep bays and rivers penetrate into their heart, and such melodiously named towns as Muskegon, Manistee, Menominee, and Oconto afford shipping points. By sailing vessels and steamers the lumber is brought to Chicago. In this business are employed over $80,000,000 (several times the aggregate capital of all the city banks), and between 7000 and 10,000 men; and the arrangements for its transaction are as efficacious as they are compact and convenient. Just at the junction of the north and south branches of the Chicago River are the Lumber Exchange and the offices of many of the large dealers. Of dock frontage devoted to lumber there are twelve miles. Some of these docks are on the lake, but what is called the “Twenty-second Street district” attracts the visitor’s attention most forcibly. From the top of one of the neighboring elevators can be seen the south branch dragging its sluggish length through what twenty years ago was bare and useless prairie ground. Now it is laid out methodically in lots, each of 100 feet front and 244 feet depth, with a railroad track on one side, and on the other a ship-canal from the river, and of the same depth. These railroad tracks are connected with each other, and with all the roads leading out of the city, by the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad. Here planning-mills also abound.
Those who know what a profit is represented by even a small saving in the matters of transportation and handling will readily appreciate the advantage of the Chicago system. The owner or consignee of a cargo of lumber directs the vessel to his yard, and then rings the bell of his telephone. From perhaps five miles away comes the answer, “Well?”
“I have sent you the —— with —— thousand feet. Please be ready for it.”
That is all. This lumber goes out of the vessel within one hundred feet of the rails on which it will ultimately go to its purchaser. After sales have been made, the telephone again bespeaks the number of cars wanted from each road by which the lumber is to be dispatched. They are delivered in a train to the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad, which runs them into the yard about sunset, takes them out loaded in due time, and switches them methodically off to their own tracks.
In the attempt to give an idea of the extent of the Chicago lumber trade at the present time, figures again delude and dissatisfy. It is easy to say that the city handled in 1852 148,000,000 feet; in 1872, 1,184,000,000 feet; in 1879, 1,500,000,000 feet — the last figures representing nearly one-third of the entire manufacture of the Northwest: but “millions” convey no startling idea to the layman’s mind. It may help a little, however, to mention that to bring this lumber into the city would require average arrivals of thirty cargoes per day for two hundred days, each containing a quarter of a million feet; or that if a number of canal-boats, each containing one-eighth of a million feet, were loaded with the importation of 1879, and placed in line in the Erie Canal, they would reach, touching end to end, from Albany to Rochester — three hundred miles.
In early days doors, sashes, and blinds were shipped from the East to the little town at Fort Dearborn. Nous avons change tout cela, and with a vengeance! The writer saw the cars, at a large Chicago factory, loading not only for Denver, Leadville, Santa Fe, and Salt Lake City, but — tell it not in New England — for Connecticut as well.
Another enterprise which has brought wealth to Chicago is the stock business. It is of vast importance and of astounding dimensions. The Union Stock – Yards are situated near the southern limit of city, and surpass anything of the kind elsewhere. Hither came, in 1879 1,216,000 head of cattle, 6,539,000 hogs, 325,000 sheep.
Did we not call Cincinnati “Porkopolis” for many years? If this name be supposed to indicate a precedence in the disposal of the useful but not ornamental animal from which it is taken, it ought to be abandoned, for in the season from November 1, 1878, to March 1, 1879, Cincinnati packed 623,584, and Chicago 2,943,115. The stock-yards are useful and of great value to the trade and the city. The writer walked through lanes dividing up some twelve acres of dressed pork belonging to one firm, and standing higher than his head. He turned, however, with relief and satisfaction, to the one aesthetic oasis in this desert of the practical and the repulsive — a beautiful colly dog, which ran beside his master, looking up into his face with almost human intelligence, and then, darting to the head of a fugitive column of sheep, turned them in an instant.
“If he slips up in turning them, he’ll just lie down and cry,” remarked a bystander.
Cattle, hogs, and sheep must undoubtedly be transported, and ultimately slaughtered; none the less is the whole business a most unpleasant one, destitute of all semblance of picturesqueness, and tainted with cruelty and brutality. The various societies and philanthropic individuals throughout the country who have so nobly championed the cause of dumb animals have done much to lessen the sufferings of the many thousands of them brought in the course of the year to these great stock yards; but very much still remains to be done.
A very important and interesting industry in Chicago is the manufacture of all things pertaining to the fittings of railways, and of other articles which can be made by the same machinery. In examining a colossal and most complete establishment of this class one may learn a curious and striking fact in connection with the changes in international trade. It has been paraded for years, as an instance of the progress of England in the mechanical arts, that she could import cotton from India make it into cloth, and, sending that cloth back to India, undersell the Hindoos themselves. That the United States rove terribly dangerous competitors — in manufacturing as well as producing fact which has only lately begun to dawn on the mind of John Bull. What a shock it must be to him to learn that this obscure place, Chicago (for which he must hunt in one of those cheerful collections of maps where the United States are put the South-sea Islands), has had the impertinence to treat him just as he has been boasting of being able to treat the dark-skinned inhabitants of the land of Moguls and the Rajahs! The establishment just mentioned buys tin plates in England, has them sent not only across the Atlantic, but also a thousand miles inland, makes them up into ware, sends that ware over the same route again, and undersells the Birmingham dealers in own home!
There are other manufactures far too numerous to mention. There is an establishment for making soap, double the size of any in Europe, and probably the largest in the world, which sends its product over the entire globe. There are five iron and steel works; manufactories of carriages; breweries; agricultural implement; and very many other industrial establishments. No one can visit Chicago without being strongly impressed with the curious reversal, growing more marked every day, of the old order of things. To what extent the city will ultimately supply the rest of the country and the world with the articles formerly furnished by them to her it is quite impossible to predict.
The shops are large, and contain extensive and varied stocks. Goods are received from Europe in bond, paying duty at the local custom-house. The declared value of the articles imported during 1879 was 4,021,543. Among them were $2,000,000 worth of dry-goods; $290,000 worth of tin plates; $172,000 worth of chemicals; $184,000 worth of salt and salt-petre; and (rather remarkable) $124,000 worth of “musical merchandise.” The aggregate duties paid in that year were $1, 807,053.
It should be mentioned that Chicago is at present enjoying her full share of the prosperity which has come to the country, and that her citizens are in that state of relief and elation which is the natural sequence of years of struggle and depression. There is evidence, however, that she has made, and will continue to make, solid and substantial progress. Real estate has greatly improved in value ; money seems plenty and easy; and according to trustworthy local accounts, people desiring to be mortgagees are more plentiful than mortgagors — quite a different state of affairs from what obtained some years ago.
Churches, institutions of learning, and libraries abound. At the head of the Public Library is the well-known expert Mr. W. F. Poole, formerly of the Boston Athenaeum. Music is much cultivated; and the organ recitals of Mr. Eddy are famed throughout the country. Besides the Illinois Humane Society, there are similar organizations for the prevention of cruelty to children and the suppression of vice. The Chicago Literary Club is a most useful and interesting institution. It holds regular meetings, at which papers, often learned and abstruse, are read and discussed. One of its members, Mr. E. G. Mason, has occupied the time which he could spare from active professional life in some keen and most valuable researches into the history of the old French settlement at Kaskaskia, Illinois, running back into the seventeenth century. This praiseworthy work will be sure to be of great antiquarian value. The undertaking by busy citizens of work of this kind, the interest taken in the Historical Society, the large and increasing demand for books, and the collection of pictures and works of art, are notable and gratifying signs of the times. They show not only that progress in culture which comes with years, but an exceptional movement in that direction, due to the growing conviction among the men who have built up the city and their own fortunes at the same time that they will live longer and happier lives if they devote more of their time than in days past to other than mere material interests.
It is pleasant to add, in bringing this brief and inadequate sketch to its close, that Chicago is a patriotic city. The national pulse beats strongly in her arteries; she has sent not a few ardent patriots to direct the affairs of state, and the blood of her brave soldiers has been shed on I many a hard-fought field.