An English traveler visits America
Chicago, during the 1860’s, was an up-and-coming commercial city filled with buzz, people, industry and trade. Steamships and large boats rolled down rivers, canals, and out into and in from the mighty Lake Michigan. Streets were filled with the hustle and bustle of shoppers and market traders. John Francis Campbell, who visited Chicago from England in 1864, likened the city to a major European city in his memoir, “A Short American Tramp on the Fall of 1864”. He compared the busy streets to Paris, the wharfs to Glasgow and Liverpool, and he said the railroad tracks and engines were like nothing he had ever seen anywhere. Trains, he said, were like dragons the way they snorted loudly, but he also saw their impact on the farming and agriculture in Chicago. They were used to transport grains, seeds, pigs, etc. These were not like the English locomotives that he had known: they were loud, boisterous, deep, howling roars, different from the “shrill yells” of the English locomotives. Technology and industry were impacting Chicago and helping its advancement during this time. Canals made a huge impact on Chicago’s growth as a city. They provided routes to the Great Lakes and because Chicago is located right on Lake Michigan, it made a wonderful inland seaport so goods could come by ship along canals and the Mississippi River and also along the railroads. It was a horrible place for a city though, since it was located on mostly swampland.
Chicago was a city in the Midwest and affected by the “transportation revolution”. Much of its economy was booming because of the advantages of new forms of transportation and communication. J.F. Campbell realized this and said, “Ships of large size, big steamers, tugs, boats, and all the paraphernalia of a big inland seaport, come straggling through the town in canals which open to the lake; and street-cars and locomotives come rattling, panting and hissing, roaring and ringing, through the town. The whole is something unlike any other place in the world. In its water streets it savours of Amsterdam, and a very bad savour it is. In its wharfs, it has something of Glasgow or Liverpool. The main street, with the magnificent shop-fronts, is something like Argyle Street; the bustle is like Lord Street; the tame railway engines unlike anything to be found.” (p 277) During the second half of the 19th century, Chicago was the railway center of all America. It became one of the leading manufacturing and trade centers in the country. Chicago was becoming one of the fastest growing cities around because of its location, industry, and labor. Chicago became the center of the meat-packing industry as well. Campbell recalls one day seeing a train filled with livestock and chicken then seeing them being butchered. All of the industry led to massive increase in wealth, but there was still “devastating poverty” right by its side. There was a large immigrant population, mostly from Ireland and parts of Northern Europe. These men made up most of the working class and provided the dirty backbone for Chicago’s growth. Chicago was known as “The City of Opportunity.”
Chicago was a bright city that was on its way up economically and industrially. Its location, population, and steady stream of immigrant workers contributed to its stability and placement as a top urban city in the United States.
- John Francis Campbell, A Short American Tramp on the Fall of 1864 (Edinburgh, England: Edmonston and Douglas, 1865).
- N/A, "American Experience- Chicago: City of the Century", Public Broadcasting Service, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/chicago/index.html (accessed November 16, 2010).