We Built This City
How industry, immigration, art and culture come together
By Eris Eady
One thing you'll notice when you visit Cleveland is a unique personality. The people here are very friendly, but they're also hard working and not afraid to get their hands dirty. In fact, that combination of welcomeness and grit creates a thriving marketplace for art, hospitality and industry that is unmistakably Cleveland. LeBron James famously said of Cleveland: "Nothing is given. Everything is earned."
How did this mentality come about? Well, there's a rich history behind it.
When the Industrial Revolution began in 1820, Cleveland’s population was just over 600 people. One hundred years later, Cleveland was the fifth largest city and the fourth largest manufacturing economy in the nation.
What contributed to its amazing growth, you ask? It was all determination, innovation, and migration.
A mix of cultures
Cleveland’s humble beginnings stemmed from New England settlers who ventured to the Midwest to secure new roots. Its rapid growth and expansion brought people from all over the world looking for economic growth and opportunities. In 1870, more than 42 percent of Cleveland’s population were immigrants.
(Our food and arts scenes thank you, brave immigrants.)
Cleveland was one of the few cities who began sprouting settlement houses for the influx of immigrants. These houses were created to build community for those who migrated here in droves, coming from Europe; mostly Germany, Ireland, and England.
Some of these houses still exist today. The settlement house movement has persisted through organizations like Hiram House, East End Neighborhood House, and Karamu House--the latter of which is one of the longest standing African-American theaters in the nation.
Cleveland was ground-zero for the Industrial Revolution in the United States. From transportation to steel and electricity, the industrialists and inventors that came out of Cleveland helped to shape modern necessities.
To say we worked hard here is understatement. When the Erie Canal was built in 1832, it opened the door for Cleveland to become the city that connected the east to the west. Later on, we’d also provide these connections by rail road and then by air.
The iron industry galvanized Cleveland in ways that no one expected. Each time an industry opened up, somehow, Cleveland was able to seize other opportunities to innovate. The steel industry led to petroleum, and petroleum gave way to the chemical industry, specifically sulfuric acid. As a result, companies like Sherwin-Williams found it’s home here in Cleveland almost 150 years ago, and it still is taking the world by storm today.
Because all roads led to Cleveland, over 80 millionaires called Cleveland home before the turn of the 20th Century, including John D. Rockefeller, who founded Standard Oil on the shores of the Cuyahoga River. Inventions like the stop light and the gas mask were made right here in Cleveland by inventor Garrett Morgan.
We’ve done a great job at holding on to our history while propelling forward inch by inch, mile by mile. You can still feel the mesh of old and new innovation when you walk down Euclid Ave. (formerly known as "Millionaire's Row"), take a stroll through the historic Arcade, and hang out in the Flats. Since 1916, the Cleveland Museum of Art has curated some of the best, brightest, and most beautiful art instillations in the country. And our Orchestra is world-renowned, performing out of both the gorgeous Severance Hall and the more casual Blossom Music Center.
So what can you expect when you visit Cleveland?
Friendly people from all walks of life. An eclectic food scene. Creativity in everything from hand-made jewelry in a family-owned shop to street art. Innovation at every turn. An appreciation for a glorious past that shaped the city's present and future.
Come see for yourself what makes Cleveland equal parts grit and sophistication.