Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chicago reflecting the changes of the United States

At the end of the 19th century, the United States was a changed country. The benefits, as well as the problems, associated with industry ran rampant as industry itself grew more and more influential; as it gripped the world and spread through certain areas like wildfire. In Chicago, these products of industry and the societal change which it brought about were apparent, and, thus, it began to be widely regarded as the city which reflected the altering state of America the most clearly.

Chicago’s industry grew at an alarming rate. Roads for streetcars, railroads (including the “Union Loop” which let almost anyone have immediate access to Chicago’s business district), big name companies and corporations were established and flourished in Chicago. Technological benefits were reaped and sowed: skyscrapers were erected and innovative architects and businesses, such as that of Burnam and Root, had tons of power and success. Chicago also was “home” to many immigrants, a key component of industry.

The way in which Chicago began to symbolize the changes which America was undergoing can best be summed up in The World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. Fascination with the outside world was high at this time, as the general public was being exposed to more printed goods. Ergo, the exposure was to more tales from foreign lands and more educational material. “Exotic” immigrants were employed to work in exhibits which emulated the world beyond, with interactive scenes from Egypt (this exhibit being called “The Street in Cairo”) and other areas being shown off to the public. Along with these exhibitions were exhibitions pertaining to the technological growth of America during this time. The fair itself also had many technologically advanced attractions: a ferris wheel, locomotives, and moving sidewalks. Over 27 million people attended this exhibition, which showcased America’s growth not only internally but also in terms of its accumulation of knowledge which industry helped it to achieve. The showcased items weren’t only limited to industry, either: cultural developments, such as ragtime, played out for audiences, and hamburgers were sold.

Chicago also faced problems in industry, just as other industrial areas in America did, as is described in the novel by Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City, focusing on a serial killer who used this fair to carry out his killings. Crime associated with industry was an issue at the time, particularly with the knowledge of Whitechapel’s Jack the Ripper, so the very mindset of residents could summarize this well.

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