Indianapolis is one of the largest inland cities in the United States not located on any navigable body of water. It is situated near the geographical center of the state of Indiana, of which it has been the capital since shortly after Indiana became a state. Founded in 1821 as a planned city for the new seat of the government of Indiana, Indianapolis was platted by Alexander Ralston and Elias Pym Fordham on a 1-square-mile grid adjacent to the White River. Ralston’s plan extended outward from Governor’s Circle, now called Monument Circle, a large circular commons at the center of town. The early grid is still evident at the center of downtown Indianapolis, although the city has expanded well beyond its original boundaries.
The city grew beyond the Mile Square, as completion of the National Road and advent of the railroad solidified the city’s position as a manufacturing and transportation hub. Indianapolis is within a single-day drive of 70 percent of the nation’s population, lending to its nickname as the “Crossroads of America.” Indianapolis became an incorporated city effective March 30, 1847. Samuel Henderson, the city’s first mayor, led the new city government, which included a seven-member city council.
Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists established Indianapolis’s first religious congregations in the 1820s, but other groups including the Episcopalians, Disciples of Christ, Lutherans, Catholics, Congregationalists, Society of Friends (Quakers), Universalists, Unitarians, and Jewish congregations were established in Indianapolis before the Civil War. Many of Indianapolis’s early religious buildings have been demolished, but several of the congregations continue to exist, although some have been renamed or relocated to newer facilities.
Beginning in the 1820s local residents and religious groups established Indianapolis’s first private schools, but free public schools did not arrive until the 1840s. Indianapolis voters approved taxes to support free public schools in 1847, but operations were suspended after the Indiana Supreme Court declared the local taxes were unconstitutional in 1857; the city’s public schools did not reopen until 1861.
In the last half of the nineteenth century, when the city’s population soared from 8,091 in 1850 to 169,164 in 1900, urban development expanded in all directions as Indianapolis experienced a building boom and transitioned from an agricultural community to an industrial center. Some of the city’s most iconic structures were built during this period, including several that have survived to the present day: the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument (1888, dedicated 1902), the Indiana Statehouse (1888), Union Station (1888), and the Das Deutsche Haus (1898), among others. Construction of Indianapolis’s belt railroad and stockyards in the late 1870s, the Indiana gas boom in the late 1880s, and increasing railroad traffic during the late nineteenth century helped transform Indianapolis into a Midwestern industrial center. Several major railroads such as the Pennsylvania, Monon, “Big Four,” and the Lake Erie and Western lines passed through Indianapolis. The late nineteenth century was also a time of significant industrial growth. Between 1880 and 1900 the number of industrial manufacturers in the city increased from 688 to 1,190 and the value of manufactured goods grew from $28 million to $69 million.
The late nineteenth century was also a time of growth and change in the Indianapolis educational community, when several improvements were made to the city’s schools and public library. In response to the need for a skilled labor force, the Indianapolis Public Schools established its first manual training programs, which expanded to include the Industrial Training School.
Indianapolis entered a period of great prosperity at the beginning of the 20th century, and during this time the city witnessed great economic, social, and cultural progress. Much of this was due to the discovery in 1886 of a huge natural gas deposit in east-central Indiana, the celebrated Trenton Gas Field. A few years later, the discovery of oil in the area would follow and cause an increase in the population.
Manufacturing was the dominant sector until the 1980s, when it was surpassed by services and retail trade. Indianapolis’s manufacturing industries include food and food products, paper, chemicals, printing and publishing, petroleum, plastics, bricks, apparel, fabricated metal products, machinery, transportation equipment, medical and optical products, and electronics. At the end of 1996, manufacturing employed 126,100 people in Indianapolis. Top companies with corporate headquarters in the city include Eli Lilly and Company (pharmaceutical manufacturer), Allied Gas and Turbine, Allison Transmissions, and the Associated Group (an insurance firm that has been recommended as one of the top companies nationwide in which to invest).
Today, Indy may not be as big as some other major cities such as Chicago or New York, but it is a growing success for the state of Indiana. Indianapolis attracts new residents because of its growing jobs, higher education, and the events that take place there.