How does Chicago in the 1900s compare to Chicago today in terms of change and continuity?I am trying to emphasize specific technological, demographical, and economical changes.

1 Answer | Add Yours

lprono's profile pic

lprono | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

In Chicago Dreaming, his insightful study on the literature of immigration at the beginning of the twentieth century, Timothy Spears claims that even today

Chicago remains the giant magnet that Theodore Dreiser encountered when he first came to the city in the 1880s P. 272).

Spears argues that, with the years, the rural midwesterner immigrants who moved to the city were complemented by the ethnic groups of Southern and Eastern Europeans as well as African Americans who settled down in the city in the first half of the twentieth century. You can get vivid portrayals of this shift in the migratory phenomenon by comparing the works of Hamlin Garland, Henry Blake Fuller and Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie (1900) to autobiographical and literary works such as Jane Addams's Twenty Years at Hull House (1910), Richard Wright's Native Son(1940), American Hunger (1945; part published posthumously) and his photojournalistic essay 12 Million Black Voices (1941), James T. Farrell's Studs Loningan trilogy and Danny O'Neill series of the 1930s and 1940s and Nelson Algren's novels and non fictional books. A more contemporary voice that shows how the pattern of immigration has changed from European and African American to Mexican American can be detected in Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street (1984). This shift began in the 1940s. Asian ethnic groups also became an important part of Chicago community in the 1960s.

With such a varied ethnic composition, Chicago has a history of race riots and ethnic tensions and has been the home of the first American sociology department, the so-called Chicago School of Urban Sociology, that focused on the study of the interactions between the city's different communities.The city has also been the site of labor struggles.

Housing patterns have changed in the course of the twentieth century with middle-class and well-to-do families moving out of the inner city into the suburbs.

As far as industry is concerned, the steel and the stockyards industries grew to be the largest sectors of employment for the city in the first half of the twentieth century, but during the second half they would lose their prominence causing significant job losses. Yet, after this big economic shock, the city has learnt to diversify its industries and Moody's rated it the most economically balanced city in the U.S. Chicago is also known for its advertising and building industries. Thanks to the work of architects such as Olmsted and Burnham, Chicago became the center of modern American architecture at the turn of the century and the home to the quintessentially American building: the skyscraper (necessary to maximize building space in the face of the city's astonishing population growth). Chicago remained a vital architectural center throughout the twentieth century with the construction of famous landmarks such as the Sears Tower.

Technology has played an important part in the development of the image of the city. In the midst of the Depression Era, Chicago celebrated technological progress with the Century of Progress International Exposition (1933-1934).


We’ve answered 317,489 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question