Gary is a "city by decree." Prior to 1905, the future site of Gary was uninhabited swamplands and dunes. United States Steel Corporation purchased more than 8,000 acres of land, including miles of frontage along Lake Michigan, to construct a massive steel mill. The site was chosen owing to the availability by water to iron ore from the north and its reasonable proximity to coal from the south.
The acreage was divided between the steel mill that occupied the waterfront, and a city for the company's workers inland. The town was incorporated in 1906 and named for Judge Elbert Gary, chairman of the board of directors of US Steel. It became a city three years later. From a population of zero in 1905, it reached 133,000 in the 1950 census and had become Indiana's second most populous city.
A large portion of Gary's population was foreign-born and the school system was designed to accommodate their needs. Superintendent William Wirt developed an approach, which came to be known as either the work-study-play system or the platoon system, drew heavily from the thinking of progressive educator John Dewey. At first widely admired, it attracted increasing criticism over the years and Gary schools eventually reverted to a more orthodox method.
During the Great Steel Strike of 1919, strikers were depicted as foreigners and radicals, which was part of the justification for bringing in federal troops to put down the strike. The Gary steel works would not be unionized until more favorable federal legislation was passed as part of the New Deal.
From the beginning, Gary was a segregated city, both residentially and in the schools. White flight from the city to the suburbs gradually increased the proportion of blacks in the population. Gary elected Richard Hatcher as its first black mayor in 1967.
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Gary's West Side: The Horace Mann Neighborhood by John C. Trafny.
Though Gary was an industrial city founded by U.S. Steel, the Horace Mann neighborhood evolved into one of the most exclusive residential areas in nor...