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Illinois Economy: Influences & Development

Instructor: Matt Lamb

Matt has tutored for six years now, in a variety of subjects including reading, essay writing, chemistry, and theology. He is finishing his M.A. in Political Science this August.

In this lesson, you will learn about current and past major industries in the state of Illinois. Learn what factors and changes influenced agriculture, manufacturing, and finance - the state's key industries.

Illinois Today

While visiting Chicago you might be awestruck at the massive skyscrapers that dot the city. Who works there? What companies own those massive structures? Or you might be amazed while you ride the 'L' (transit train) at all the different neighborhoods the different lines run through!

Riders wait for the Chicago L
The L

Once out of the city though, you drive through central Illinois past miles and miles of cornfields. How long have they been there? How many generations have run these farms?

The history of Illinois' economy has gone through a lot of changes. Starting as an agricultural state, it added manufacturing and then a financial base (or if it's easier to visualize: corn, factories, and money!). Now it maintains a steady level of all three.

In this lesson, we will review the factors that contributed to the development of Illinois' economy, including geography, agriculture, and technology.

Geography

First, Illinois began as an agricultural state, thanks to its geography. Illinois is located in the middle of the U.S., with the right growing seasons for crops such as wheat, corn, and hay. Additionally, there was a heavy concentration of cattle and pig farming. These would later aid the development of the financial industry in Chicago.

Some current agricultural companies with offices in Illinois include Archer Daniels Midland, and Dow Chemical.

Manufacturing From Agriculture

In the late 1800s, Illinois began to add manufacturing jobs, due to its proximity to several important canals. These allowed for the companies to easily ship goods to Chicago, and from there, the United States.

The growth of agriculture spurred a growth in manufacturing, as companies started building better agriculture tools to sell to farms. Two of the first manufacturing businesses created in Illinois were John Deere and McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, which both specialized in farming tools. This represented a growth in technology in the state.

Labor From Manufacturing

Later, the growth of cities such as Chicago would spur further manufacturing growth, as people moved to Chicago for more opportunities and to live with family and friends. Companies wanted the cheap supply of labor to keep down costs and increase profits. Workers wanted opportunity, so they took these low-paying jobs.

Manufacturers flourished, though often at the cost of exploitation of immigrants. The book The Jungle showcases the exploited lives of immigrants in Chicago and is remembered for its shocking exposure of the unsanitary practices of the meatpacking industry.

As more land was converted for city purposes, investments in public transportation, such as a trolley and a bus system, encouraged poorer residents to move to the city seeking opportunity. This whole process of urbanization greatly contributed to the economy of the 1900s up until today. Some current manufacturing companies still operating in Illinois include: Caterpillar, John Deere, Ford, and Kraft.

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