East Chicago (610 alt., 32,414 pop.) is only 11 square miles in area, of which one square mile is 'made land.' Adjoining Gary on the east and Whiting and Hammond on the northwest and southwest, hemmed in on the north by Lake Michigan and on the south by swamps and dune lands, it is the most distant from farmland of all the Indiana cities. Nowhere else in the Calumet region is there such a dense concentration of industries, including steel works, blast furnaces, and coke ovens; rolling mills and petroleum refineries; chemical and packing house by-product establishments; railway car and equipment shops; lead, zinc, oxide aluminum, gypsum, silver and gold bullion works; steel fabricating and tin plate mills. These industries, which reach into the inland sections of the city, flank Lake Michigan, the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal, and the Grand Calumet River.
East Chicago is divided into two distinct business and residential centers. One, along the shore of Lake Michigan, is commonly referred to as Indiana Harbor; and the other, about two miles southwest, centering about the intersection of Chicago and Forsythe Avenues, is usually known as 'East Chicago proper.'
Indiana Harbor consists of an outer harbor and an inner channel ( Indiana Harbor Canal) to the Grand Calumet River and Lake George, 4.7 miles long. Ocean as well as lake vessels arrive and depart from the port, which has more than five miles of wharves and is served by trunk and belt line railroads, an electric railway, local and through bus lines, and motorized highway freight carriers. Leading exports are steel products, gasoline, kerosene, and fuel oils, heavy shipments being made by Shell, Sinclair, Cities Service, Standard Oil (Ind.), and Socony-Vacuum.
East Chicago has extensive school, church, library, and park systems. With the exception of the Federal building, however, and a few business and school structures, both its residential and business sections are dingy in appearance.
Almost contemporary with the beginning of East Chicago was the advent of the Standard Oil Company in Whiting, where the Rockefeller interests built the world's largest complete oil refinery in 1889. This'plant later was extended into East Chicago. During its first dozen years East Chicago grew slowly. Incorporated as a town in 1889, it had 1,255 inhabitants in 1890; by 1900 the population had reached only 3,411.However, America's industrial growth had created a constantly expanding demand for steel. When in 1901 Block Brothers built a small steel mill here, the lonely, unsettled Indiana Harbor sand dunes to the north of East Chicago suddenly came to life. Since the company needed a harbor to obtain ore shipments by water, work was begun in 1903 on the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal. By 1928 the first mill had expanded to 100 times its original size. After the first steel mill was built, related industries soon followed, chief among them the American Steel Foundries and the Standard Forgings Company. At this time, also, East Chicago still housed the employees of the Universal Atlas Portland Cement plant, erected just over the line in the still unborn city of Gary. In 1916 the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company, employing 5,500 persons, started a factory in East Chicago. From a population of 19,000 in 1910, the city grew to almost 55,000 in 1930. The development of the automobile industry during the last two decades accounts for much of the expansion in the steel business, and has also made East Chicago an important petroleum refining district.