East St. Louis Transformed: The Emergence of an Industrial City

  • Malcolm McLaughlin


East St. Louis began 1917, the year of the race riot, as a self-confident and optimistic industrial city. Its politicians, realtors, businessmen, and cor porate managers anticipated a future of prosperity and growth and, indeed, they had grounds for optimism: over the course of a few decades, from the late nineteenth century, East St. Louis had grown from humble origins into one of America’s most dynamic industrial centers. It was a city shaped by its industrial development. Any visitor to East St. Louis during this period would have left in no doubt that this was a thriving city, one dedicated to— indeed, largely given over to—production: smokestacks dotted the horizon, factories stood next to and amongst workers’ neighborhoods, and railroad lines cut through the city’s streets, on their way to converge in a mass of warehousing that lined the river front. Industry shaped the experiences of the local men and women who worked and lived amongst the smoke, noise, and smells of the factories. This was a city of toilers, a community for which industrial employment was lifeblood. East St. Louis was not what most people would imagine as a pleasant place to live—but it was a place where thousands of workers moved in search of a job and a living. If we are to understand this city—a city that, in 1917, would find itself swept up in a cataclysm of racial violence—we must first understand the workings of its industrial heart, and the world its people inhabited. It is with the birth of industrial East St. Louis that we begin.


Unskilled Worker Black Worker Skilled Occupation European Immigrant United States Bureau 
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© Malcolm McLaughlin 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Malcolm McLaughlin

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