A trip through the Rust Belt heart of America

Discussion in 'United States' started by kazenatsu, Nov 27, 2023.

  1. kazenatsu

    kazenatsu Well-Known Member Past Donor

    May 15, 2017
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    I'd like describe a region of the U.S. many of you may not be familiar with. This used to be a very economically important part of the U.S. from 1880 or 1910 to 1950. I'd almost go so far as to describe it as the "heartland" region. This used to be an area of economic growth and prosperity, becoming important to the U.S. culture. It's also why the "Midwest" region of the country became so powerful and influential. (Although this region later declined after 1970, the Midwest culture and language accent has left a big impact on California and southern Florida)

    This area is in the U.S. "Midwest" region. In the eastern middle region. It is considered part of "the North", but not too far north.

    It's a stretch of major big cities that go from Kansas City (in the far western part of Missouri) all the way to Pittsburgh (in the western part of Pennsylvania).

    If you were to drive across it would look like this.
    First you start at Kansas City, then you go east across the state along the small Missouri River to get to St. Louis. St. Louis is a very old city, along the great Mississippi River, originally settled by the French. St. Louis is a strange sort of city, in different ways halfway between the "Midwest" and "the South". From St. Louis, we travel across a vast stretch of mostly empty farmland in the state of Illinois. While Illinois is a "great state", there are no major big population centers in the state's southern half.

    The city of Chicago should be mentioned, since it is the biggest city in the middle region of the U.S. that is not on one of the coasts. Chicago is about four and a half hours north of St. Louis.

    We arrive at Indianapolis in the center of the state of Indiana. The plains have ended, and Indiana is more forested.

    From Indianapolis, we could go Louisville, two hours south. Or we could go southeast to Cincinnati, across the state border into Ohio, which is even a little closer. Both Louisville and Cincinnati are on the Ohio River, which ultimately feels down into the Mississippi River. They are significant cities, but not really as important. River transportation is not as important as it used to be, since the advent of railroads and highways.

    But instead of making a diversion, we continue to head straight east. We pass through the smaller but significant city of Dayton, Ohio, and then arrive at Columbus, which is in the center of the state of Ohio. Columbus is the capital of Ohio -- the capital in more ways than just politically. Ohio began to be industrialize around 1860, reaching a peak in output in 1930. In 1890 there was an important oil field that brought industry and wealth to Ohio. By the early 1980s, industry in Ohio was in decline. (Part of the reason was that the U.S. had opened up competition with Japan, which the U.S. government wanted to recover and strengthen to be able to fend off the Russian Soviets)

    We could go north to Cleveland, which is on the shore of Lake Erie. The once great city of Detroit, which was the car manufacturing capital of the country from 1904 to around 1960, is 3 hours north, also on Lake Erie.

    But instead we continue going straight east to Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is a former important manufacturing city in the western part of the state of Pennsylvania. It has a very different feel from the rest of Pennsylvania further east. It's closer to Ohio, culturally and economically.
    In the 1920s, Pittsburgh produced about one third of the total U.S. output of steel.
    Pittsburgh was at one time one of the important cities of the U.S., but began to decline between the 1920s to 1960, and only continued to slowly decline further all the way until 1990. (The fastest decline was between 1955 to 1960)

    We could continue going further east, and there are a fewer other smaller cities in Pennsylvania's western half that used to be industrially important. This could include Scranton, Reading, and Hershey.

    Some might even include Baltimore in this. Baltimore may be only a little under an hour away from the country's capital, but it has a very different feel and economy. With the completed construction of the Ohio railroad in 1857, Baltimore became an important early industrial city. It was due to the city's location, since the railroad had to go through a pass in the Appalachian mountains, going through a town called Harpers Ferry. This was an important transportation connection from America's east coast to the heart of Ohio. The only other connection was the Eerie canal in New York state, which was much further north, and only gave direct access to Cleveland, in Ohio's far north on Lake Eerie, and Detroit.
    Baltimore began to decline in the 1950s.

    The cities in this region represented an important time in the country's history.
    This would be considered to largely coincide with "The Rust Belt". Though this is mostly staying at one latitude.
    (If you go north of this latitude the climate gets colder and the regional population density is lower, despite being on the Great Lakes)
    As evidence of the former prosperity, there are still many huge brick or stone houses and mansions in these cities, all around a hundred years old by now.

    You can see a map of this region here: Google Maps
    (press the + button in the bottom right to zoom in)
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2023

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