Industrialization and the Labor Movement

Industrial development came to the Calumet region along Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline in the late 19th cent. Marshy wastelands were drained and transformed into an area supporting a complex of factories and oil refineries. As the 19th cent. drew to a close, industry continued to expand and the growing numbers of industrial workers in the state sought to organize through labor unions. Eugene V. Debs, one of the great early labor leaders, was from Indiana, and the labor movement at Gary in the Calumet area figured prominently in the nationwide steel strike just after World War I. Indiana was an early leader in the production of automobiles. Before Detroit took control of the industry in the 1920s, Indiana boasted over 300 automobile companies.

Indiana society in the first half of the 20th cent. has been described in a number of studies and books. The classic sociological study by Robert S. Lynd and Helen M. Lynd of an American manufacturing town, Middletown (1929), was based on data from Muncie, Ind. Midwestern life and American boyhood were portrayed realistically, and often with humor and optimism, in the novels of Booth Tarkington. Another Indiana author, Theodore Dreiser, wrote more generally of American society in a changing age. In the 1930s and 1940s, Wendell Willkie and Ernie Pyle, both natives of Indiana, became nationally prominent figures in politics and journalism, respectively.

Although Indiana in the latter half of the 19th cent. was regarded as a “swing state” electorally, it has generally been conservative throughout the 1900s. Republican J. Danforth “Dan” Quayle, elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980 and 1986, was elected vice president of the United States in 1988. From the 1980s through the mid-1990s, the northern industrial portion of the state experienced a period of significant decline, along with the rest of the midwestern “rust belt.” However, the area around Indianapolis experienced significant growth with a diversified economy..

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