A brief history of one of the most fascinating cities in the United States, Gary, Indiana. YouTube Tips ⓘ
Gary is a city in Lake County, Indiana, United States. The city has been historically dominated by major industrial activity and is home to U.S. Steel’s Gary Works, the largest steel mill complex in North America, and at one time the largest steel mill complex in the world. Gary is located along the southern shore of Lake Michigan about 25 miles southeast of downtown Chicago, Illinois. The city is adjacent to the Indiana Dunes National Park, and is within the Chicago metropolitan area.
Gary’s fortunes have risen and fallen with those of the steel industry.
The jobs offered by the steel industry provided Gary with very rapid growth and a diverse population within the first 26 years of its founding. According to the 1920 United States Census, 29.7% of Gary’s population at the time was classified as foreign-born, mostly from eastern European countries, with another 30.8% classified as native-born with at least one foreign-born parent. In 1930 Gary’s population exceeded 100,000 in the United States Census for the first time, and was the fifth largest city in Indiana. Gary was comparable in size to South Bend, Fort Wayne, and Evansville. In 1930, 78.7% of the population was classified as white, with 19.3% of the population classified as foreign-born and another 25.9% as native-born with at least one foreign-born parent.
In addition to white migrants moving from within the United States, Gary had attracted numerous African-American migrants from the South in the Great Migration, and 17.8% of the population was classified as black. 3.5% were then classified as Mexican (today would be Hispanic).
Initially, the growth of the steel industry brought prosperity to the community. Broadway was known as a commercial center for the region. Department stores and architecturally significant movie houses were built in the downtown area and the Glen Park neighborhood.
However, in the 1960s, Gary entered a spiral of decline caused by an increase in overseas competitiveness in the steel industry. U.S. Steel began to lay off many workers from the Gary area. The U.S. Steel Gary Works employed over 30,000 in 1970, declined to just 6,000 by 1990, and further declined to 5,100 in August 2015. The Gary population, which peaked at 178,320 in 1960 began to decline and dropped to 69,093 in 2020. Attempts to shore up the city’s economy with major construction projects, such as a Holiday Inn hotel and the Genesis Convention Center, failed to reverse the decline.
The Gary community suffered the fate of other American urban centers of the Rust Belt when the predominant steel industry labor needs collapsed. Even when steel production increased, labor needs did not keep pace because of automation in the steel industry.
Gary is served by the Gary/Chicago International Airport, an alternative airport to the Chicago region’s two larger airports — O’Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport.