Great Lakes States: Trouble in America's Industrial Heartland

March 28, 1980

Report Outline
Social and Political Topography
Industrial Labor's Midwest Base
Stagnation in Region's Economy
Special Focus

Social and Political Topography

Heart of Nation's Industry, Transportation

Bound on virtually all sides by major waterways, situated at the heart of the nation's land and air transportation routes, and blessed in some sections with the richest soil found anywhere in the world, the Great Lakes states owe their enormous economic power to a happy conjunction of natural resources, markets and Yankee ingenuity. The combination of iron from Lake Superior to the northwest and coal from the Appalachian fields to the southeast made the Great Lakes region the home of U.S. heavy industry.

It was here, in the late 19th century, that an application of industrial machinery to family farming began to revolutionize agriculture. Today the region's agricultural and industrial products are transported to the world via the St. Lawrence Seaway to the north, the Ohio River to the south, and the Mississippi to the west. Chicago, the world's greatest rail center at the height of the railroad era, today has the world's busiest airport, O'Hare.

Ever on the move, the Great Lakes states typically inspire money-making and only occasionally nourish achievements of the more refined kinds. This is a region populated by business people big and small, workers, and farmers, but not — generally — artists. Chicago's industrial squalor provided themes for naturalist and muckraking writers at the turn of the century, to be sure, but its most celebrated writer, Ernest Hemingway, already was in Paris when he wrote his first stories about fishing and hunting in upper Michigan. He soon found more glamorous places to fish and hunt. Sherwood Anderson, similarly, already had left the Midwest when he published his powerful vignettes of stunted lives, broken ambitions and fantasies in a small Ohio town.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Economic Development
Manufacturing and Industrial Production
Unions and Labor-Management Relations