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The University and the City
A Centennial View of the
University of Chicago
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Harper's visionary program found ready acceptance in Chicago, in part because the city was enjoying the prosperity of an era of expansion and welcomed the exhilaration of big ideas. In the decades around the turn of the century, sprawling plants manufacturing McCormick farm machinery, Pullman sleeper cars, and thousands of other products were making Chicago brand names known across the nation. The meat packing firms of Armour and Swift were building fortunes on the millions of head of cattle and swine moving through the pens of the Chicago stockyards The grand State Street department stores of Marshall Field and Carson Pirie Scott and the thriving mail-order enterprises of Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward were setting new standards for effective and innovative retailing. The imposing terminal stations and switching yards surrounding the Loop testified to the might of Chicago-owned railroads as they extended their tracks south and west across the prairie. Less conspicuously, but just as significantly, the grain traders, bankers, real estate brokers, shippers, lawyers, and agents who channeled and invested the city's wealth were profiting from a commerce that they felt was destined inevitably to grow despite the destruction of urban fires, periodic natural catastrophes, and the persistent cycle of financial boom and panic.

The city of Chicago also welcomed the University because higher education filled an important position in the array of cultural institutions that civic leaders were intent upon building. Older institutions such as the Chicago Historical Society and the Chicago Academy of Sciences were part of this ambitious effort, as was the Art Institute of Chicago. So too were the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Public Library, and the two great privately endowed research collections, the Newberry Library and John Crerar Library. The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 was the most spectacular and most ephemeral of these cultural endeavors, its image of classical refinement gone after a single summer. Yet it vividly expressed the ideals and expectations of the city's social elite and left its own permanent legacy with the establishment of the Field Columbian Museum, which was housed in what had been the fair's Palace of Fine Arts in Jackson Park.

If the city of Chicago was quick to see the benefits a new academic institution would bring, members of the University faculty were equally alert to the advantages of working in a metropolis. Obviously, a large city offered the University a substantial pool of prospective students and the promise of more generous financial support from its patrons. But there were other lures as well. Political economists sought to understand the operation of large industrial concerns. Sociologists were drawn to the problems of immigration, ethnicity, delinquency, and social order. Educators saw an opportunity to test new theories of learning. Social workers wanted to address inequities in employment, child care, and public health. Political scientists were concerned about the corruption of municipal government, the power of party machines, and the future of the democratic system. For scholars in all of these fields and others, the city of Chicago offered an ideal laboratory for investigation, experimentation, and discovery.

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