Gary (613 alt., 102,746 pop.), key city of the Calumet, is a metropolis in the country having a population of more than 100,000. Twelve parks (one a scenic dune area on the lake front), a well-planned system of boulevards, a certain architectural distinction in its churches, libraries, and civic buildings, and its internationally known school system give an undeniable individuality to Gary.
The hub of the city is the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue, the latter the continuation of US 12 and US 20 through Gary. In the downtown section Fifth Avenue is zoned for business; in the outlying district it is lined with modern homes and apartment buildings.
Since the beginning of the city, 'south of the tracks' has meant differentiation. In this section are congested foreign centers, shops, taverns, and drab homes. Here too live most of Gary's thousands of Negroes, although segregation is largely self-imposed. This melting pot of race, creed, and color has its own residential distinctions, its parks and racial centers -- the Union Español, Sokol Hall, Centro Espafiol, and the like. It has schools and libraries, and many of the churches are patterned after those of other lands. Bizarre shops and markets, and signs and advertisements in many tongues give to this section almost an Old World atmosphere.
The most noteworthy break in industrial peace was the Gary and East Chicago phase of the Nation-wide steel strike called in August 1919 under the leadership of the A. F. of L. Gary became front-page news. General Leonard Wood and 1,500 United States Regulars were called in. A peak of 350,000 strikers throughout the Nation was reached in October 1919, and Youngstown, Cleveland, Johnstown, and Wheeling were affected. Seeing no hope of victory, labor leaders ended the strike in January 1920; the strikers returned to work apparently without having won a single concession. But the strike had dramatized the evils of the 12- and 16-hour day, and by September 1922 the 8hour day was in effect in Gary and in 97 per cent of the other plants of the steel corporation.
From that time until April 1937, the Gary mills functioned under an employee representation plan, which was a branch of the Industrial Relations Department of the corporation. However, on April 1, 1937, a contract was signed with the Committee for Industrial Organization, and the company unions were disbanded.
The early history of Gary is a story of industrial pioneering. 'It has been decided to construct and put in operation a new plant to be located on the south shore of Lake Michigan in Calumet Township, Lake County, Indiana, and a large acreage of land has been purchased for that purpose.' This conservatively worded statement of Judge Elbert H. Gary, for whom the city was later named, appeared in the annual report of the United States Steel Corporation for 1905.
Of all the tracts in the Calumet region the one selected by the steel corporation was the most desolate. Wholly uninhabited, it was an area of sloughs, sand dunes, and small streams, crossed by a meandering river and several trunk line railroads. However, almost overnight the new steel plant and a new city were in the making. The mill site was elevated an average of 15 feet by pumping material from Lake Michigan through huge suction pipes and spreading it over a wide irregular terrain; towering hills of sand were pulled down into the sloughs and valleys, a whole river was picked up and carried 100 yards and then set down again; a water tunnel extending 2 miles from the Jefferson Park powerhouse to the Lake Michigan shore line, and an additional mile into the lake, was constructed 95 feet underground. Three railroad right-of-ways were relocated. The region was a wilderness of chilling winds, and driving sand so deep that a quarter-mile walk was exhausting. The population during the first few years was mostly male -- young huskies who went about 'encased in thick sweaters' and lumber jackets. In 1907 the town consisted of a long, narrow street of shacks 'engulfed in white sand from one building line to the other.'
The Gary Land Company took over this crude camp and erected the city of Gary. It was obvious that the city would expand as the steel plant grew, and the steel corporation purchased practically all the land contiguous to the plant -- some 7,000 acres -- and platted the town according to the best principles of municipal design and zoning. A water system capable of supplying a city of 200,000 was installed, miles of streets were paved, gas mains and sidewalks were laid, and electrical facilities were provided. Grass would not grow in the sand, so trainloads of black soil were brought in. Trees and shrubs were planted and two thoroughfares, Broadway and Fifth Avenue, each 100 feet wide, were graded and paved. In order to avoid rows of identical houses, common to most industrial cities, architects were instructed to draw up diversified plans. Lots were offered by the company with the stipulation that a certain class of houses be erected within 18 months. The 500 houses under construction in 1907 were for sale only to employees of the steel company, at cost. Employees were permitted to rent, but were encouraged in every possible way to buy.With the United States Steel Corporation as a magnet, other industries were soon attracted to the site. Important subsidiaries of Republic Steel (the Union Drawn Steel Plant), the Standard Steel Spring Company, and the Pittsburgh Screw and Bolt Corporation were building factories in Gary before long. Other industries today include the Bear Brand Hosiery Mills, and the Anderson Company, manufacturing windshield wipers and similar devices.Architecturally, Gary's business section, despite its brief life, has had three distinct periods. The first was that of the tar-paper shack. From 1908 to 1921 these shacks were gradually replaced by more ambitious structures, many of stone or brick, and by 1921 the general picture was that of a small but thriving metropolis. In that year the city began a complete architectural renaissance. Civic buildings, churches, banks, and hotels were razed and the buildings of today were substituted.