A Year of Indiana History Stories – Book 1
Chapter title – January 1, 1909 – Manufacture of Steel in Gary, Indiana by Indiana Steel Company Begins
Judge and industrialist Elbert H. Gary’s vision of turning northwest Indiana’s lakeshore into a steel building center culminated with the opening of the Indiana Steel Company’s plant on January 1, 1909 in the new city of Gary, Indiana.
Elbert H. Gary (October 8, 1846 – August 15, 1927)
Erastus Gary and Susan A. Vallette welcomed their son Elbert into the world near Wheaton, Illinois on October 8, 1846. Elbert attended Wheaton College, then the Union College of Law, from which he graduated after earning a law degree in 1868. He practiced law, employed by the newly developing railroad companies. During this time, he also served as president of Wheaton, Illinois, then as mayor after Wheaton became a city. He moved to Chicago where he practiced law, becoming president of the Chicago Bar Association during the years 1893 to 1894. After hearing a case dealing with steel mills, he became interested in the steel industry and retired from his law practice. He became President of the Federal Steel Corporation in 1898. He envisioned the dune country of northwest Indiana as a steel industry hub because of its closeness to the Chicago steel mills, Lake Michigan’s harbor facilities and the rail lines that had developed in the area. He envisioned that Gary would become a model community for steel workers.
The land chosen for Gary was unsuitable for farming and thus unoccupied. The prime farmlands to the south had already attracted farmers and were a developing agricultural area. The sand dunes of the Lake Michigan seashore had been stripped of most of the sand to use for constructing many of the buildings in Chicago and were a prime candidate for construction of a steel mill. Because there were no houses yet, workers at the mill constructed shacks and tents to live in during construction. Between the years 1906 to 1909, the workers constructed over 500 houses in the town. The residents chose the name Gary to honor the man whose vision made the jobs and opportunities possible. The town had attracted about 16,000 residents when it became a city in 1909.
Indiana Steel Company
The Indiana Steel Company was created as a subsidiary of the Illinois Steel Company, which in turn was a subsidiary of the United States Steel Corporation. Indiana Steel purchased over 9000 acres of land for the project. The company built twelve blast furnaces and forty-seven steel furnaces. They also excavated the harbor and constructed a lighthouse and breakwater. Construction began in 1906 on 700 acres with another 1000 acres slated for expansion. G. G. Thorpe designed the plant and oversaw its construction. Eugene J. Buffington was the first president of the corporation when operations commenced on January 1, 1909.
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