Great cities start with great histories. As the largest United States city founded in the 20th century, Indiana is an example of American know-how and initiative.
Gary’s roots reach as far back as the 1600’s when Marquette, the great French explorer who was one of the first explorers of the Mississippi River, used the Calumet Portage between the little Calumet regions. Tradition has it that Marquette camped at the eastern mouth of the Grand Calumet River where Gary’s Marquette Park is now dedicated in his honor.
In the early 1800’s, there were as many as 50 Potawatomi Native American Villages scattered throughout the NW Indiana region, but by the middle of that century, most of the tribes had moved to western reservations.
On Gary’s shores 1896, Octave Chanute completed the world’s first successful flight in a heavier-than-air machine. The French native and famed bridge and railroad engineer first flight in a glider off windswept dunes. Orville Wright later credited Chanute with building the prototype of the plane the Wright Brothers flew four years later, using a motorized engine for the first time on the sands of Kitty Hawk.
With the turn of the century and on the heels of the Industrial Revolution, Judge Elbert ph. Gary, the Chairman of the United States Steel Corporation, dreamt of erecting the largest steel plant in the world on a lake site midway between the ore fields of Minnesota and the coal fields of the south. He decided on 12,000 acres of unoccupied lands at the southern end of Lake Michigan. In 1906 work began on the big mill. Three and a half years and $100,000 later, the mills began to operate and the first steel was poured. In a matter of months, the City of Gary, named in honor of the area’s great visionary, was founded for the instant residency of thousands of steel workers and their families.
As the steel industry continued to grow throughout the decade other industries were attracted to Gary to service the mills or to turn the mill’s raw material into other products. During this time the United States Steel Corporation added now well-known divisions such as Sheet and Tin, Universal atlas Cement, and the American Bridge Company who was responsible for the construction of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge (1936) and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in New York (1964).
With the population of 16,800 in 1910, the City of Gary grew to 128,000 by the 1980 census, due in large to the fact that the mills attracted immigrants from as far away as Poland, Romania, Serbia, Hungary, as well as people in our own country looking for greater opportunities and better lives for their families. Gary, long known as a great ethnic melting pot, is built on the pride of great cultures and the ingenuity of its prodigious heritage. Many well-known entertainers have used Gary as the entry point to the American dream and gone on to be known throughout the world as Michael Jackson and the Jackson family; football’s Tom Harmon; Hank Stram; Gerald Irons, and Tank Johnson; track star Lee Calhoun; actors Karl Malden; Alex Karras; Fred Williamson and William Marshall; ex-world Champion boxer Tony Zale; the Metropolitan Opera’s James McCraken; baseball’s Charles 0. Finley; astronaut Frank Borman; sports announcer Bill Fleming; economist Nobel Prize winner Paul A. Samuelson; baseball stars Ron Kittle and LaTroy Hawkins; gymnast Dianne Durham; Armed Services General Hall; Rhodes Scholar Carlton Long; and basketball’s Dick Barnett and Glenn Robinson.
Being the dominant city in the Calumet Region of Lake and Porter Counties, Gary is only 28 miles away for Chicago’s famous “Loop” area and can be reached by car via Indiana Toll Road/Chicago Skyway or by train via the historic Chicago/South Shore South Bend Railroad and Amtrak. Gary had been the engine that has fueled the vitality of the NW Indiana region and will continue to make history as time progresses.