Gary, Indiana gained its fame a few years ago as the most dangerous city in the United States. It was ranked #1 as the murder capital of the US as well and was also ranked very high on Worldwide statistical lists of the most dangerous cities to live in which also includes known dangerous places like Cape Town South Africa and Mexico City, Mexico. Gary is no longer the most dangerous in the US as it has been passed by New Orleans, LA, Camden, NJ, and Detroit, MI. At one time in history, Gary was a strong growing city built around US Steel’s Gary Works Plant. It had a population of almost 180,000 residents in the 1960’s which is down 55% to 80,000. Micheal Jackson and the Jackson 5 are also a big part of Gary’s history. – continued below
Gary Works is built on the southern shore of Lake Michigan as Gary sprawls mainly southward from the steel mill. Gary Works held the title of largest steel mill for many years with an annual capacity of 7.5 million tons. The Gary Works plant remains Gary’s largest single employer but, employment levels have fallen substantially since the mid-20th century. The steel plant and allied facilities employed over 30,000 people in the early 1970s but only 6,000 in 1990.
After World War 1, Gary became known as “Magic City” and “City of the Century” because of its rapid growth. The Great Depression of the 1930s had a devastating effect on Gary’s economy, with U.S. Steel dropping from 100 percent capacity in 1929 to 15 percent in 1932. Unionization of Gary’s industries also happened during this period, with U. S. Steel recognizing the Steelworkers Organizing Committee as the bargaining agent for its workers in 1937. Between 1935 and 1939 the steel worker’s wages rose nationally 27 percent, benefitting Gary’s workers as well. Gary Works steel production came back during World War II, continued for the next two decades. U.S. Steel production peaked in 1953 at more than 35 million tons.
Manufacturing in general declined in the region and in the whole country. Between 1979 and 1986 northwest Indiana’s loss in manufacturing totaled 42.5 percent, largely in the areas of oil and steel. The world market changed again and the American steel industry rebounded a bit from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. The steel industry is still important to the local economy in Gary, although it is not the world leader it once was.
Beginning in the 1960’s, Gary’s population decreased through “white flight” to the suburbs just like Detroit’s. The loss of population in Gary during the 1980s, almost 25 percent, was larger than that of any other U.S. city.
Gary today is home to one of only a few abandoned Hilton Hotels along with abandoned churches, schools, homes, theaters, gas stations, and many other structures and businesses. Unlike Detroit, much of Gary’s urban decay of homes is much less interesting from an architectural standpoint with less flare and interesting ornamentation. Roughly a quarter of Gary’s residents would be qualified as living in poverty which is almost double the national average.
Photographs can be purchased from the Gary Project here.