Family research / history & places / Chicago


Industries and labour (Chicago IV)

By 1850  Chicago had become the “hub of the nation”, at first by rapid and effective construction of channels connecting the Lake District with  the East Coast and its most important immigration harbour New York, then by the rapidly growing net of  railroads. Due to Chicago’s central role in the development of the Middle West there were all sorts of possible business.

Factories and industrial production were to be found in the centre [1] and at the banks of Chicago River. Within the industrial belt along the northern branch of  the Chicago River existed numerous wood and coal depots, brick works, saw mills, construction firms, supply companies, stock buildings, rolling mills, metal working industries, furniture factories, tanneries, clothing industries, bakeries and breweries [2] .
The almost unlimited growth and expansion of all these industries was the main reason that forced residential areas to move to outlying districts. The other was new immigration from the surroundings and from abroad.

German foreign born immigrants earned their money as craftsmen, tradesmen and labourers. In comparison to the Irish and Italians they were to a great extent well trained and skilled workers and found employment where qualified labour was needed. On the other hand did they suffer more than others from wages being reduced when mass production made special skills less important. Because of the language barrier they mostly were dependant on physical work, whereas e.g. administrative tasks, where domination of the English language was precondition, were reserved to the second generation, already born in their new home country.

But obviously not all cases suited into this pattern. For example Otto TEUTHORN.  I still ignore how he earned his living in Chicago. But in fact he chose the North Side as his district [3] and  he tried to integrate more quickly by longing for domination of the English language.  “He taught himself to read American papers and learn to speak basic English in order to assimilate more readily into his new homeland” [4] . Of course the single fate always depends on individual incidents. For example you must not underestimate the influence of  a wife and her family. So at the moment I speculate, that Otto’ s marriage with Auguste Janssen definately strongly influenced his  further way.

 Developing industries and growing population formed a fertile ground for a lot of small businesses within the neighbourhood itself. Characteristic for the district were trades of construction and food, home industries such as tailor’s  shops, shoe manufacturers, cigar makers and all sorts of services.

”Chicago’s Germans, who quickly moved up the economic ladder, became the backbone of late nineteenth-century Chicago.” [5]

©Peter Teuthorn, 2003-08-15

[1] In the 80ies 40 % of all employment were situated in the city centre.

[2]   “Wilhelm Haas and Lill opened Chicago’s first brewery in 1840; it grew to the largest brewery west of Cincinnati  by 1857.” Taken from Shaw, Stephen J.: The Catholic Parish as a Way-Station of Ethnicity and Americanisation, Chicago´s Germans and Italians 1903-1939, Brooklyn, New York in Jerald C. Brauer, Martin E. Marty (Hrsg.) Chicago Studies in the History of American Religion, page 32.

[3] Dawn Teuthorn told me.

[4] Also from D. Teuthorn.

[5] The same, P. 39.

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