Chicago Made: Factory Networks in the Industrial Metropolis (review)
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Chicago Made: Factory Networks in the Industrial Metropolis. By Robert Lewis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. Pp. xii+351. $40.

In 1929, Campbell Soup completed a new 800,000-square-foot plant in an industrial development on the outskirts of Chicago. Each day, the facility took in tons of tomatoes from nearby farms in Illinois and Indiana and shipped out 3.6 million cans of soup to retailers across the Midwest. The factory’s most interesting trading partner, however, may have been just next door. The Continental Can Company not only built a factory on a neighboring lot, it delivered its cans via a conveyor belt that stretched between the two sites.

In the simplest possible form, the relationship between Campbell and Continental encapsulates the two major themes of this important new work by one of North America’s leading urban geographers. First, Campbell and Continental chose industrial sites outside Chicago’s old industrial core. The new location altered existing social and economic patterns, and, by luring workers and other industrial firms to the urban fringe, helped fuel a process of industrial “decentralization.” Second, the two companies forged a commercial link that—because similar links multiplied at every point along the production chain—formed part of an industrial network.

To make his case, Robert Lewis uses the tools of economic geography. In the first half of his book he documents changing patterns of industrial location between 1860 and 1940, offering both useful conceptual tools and a wealth of quantitative analysis. The industrial metropolis is best understood as a “localized production system” (p. 13). Industrialists don’t simply [End Page 932] build factories; they cultivate and exploit unique combinations of infrastructures, institutions, and practices that Lewis dubs “locational assets” (p. 15). Drawing on census records, business directories, and a variety of trade literature, he tracks variables such as firm size, product specialization, factory additions, and company relocations. The result is both nuanced and comprehensive. Most industrial growth occurred on the fringe, but certain industries tended to remain in the core, and different industries manifested different “location quotients,” or degrees of geographic concentration. Throughout, Lewis garnishes his empirical findings with lively anecdotes about individual firms, leading industrialists, and urban boosters.

In the second half of Chicago Made, Lewis shifts his attention from factory to network. He uses an extraordinary database of bankrupt firms (97 businesses selected from four historical periods yielded 7,196 creditors) to trace flows of money and material. Here again, Lewis’s deft analysis offers both breadth and detail. The majority of creditors were manufacturers, for example, but financial institutions lent the most capital. Firms borrowed from both local and non-local creditors, but non-local manufacturers outnumbered other non-local sources nearly two to one: in certain circumstances, goods proved more mobile than bank loans or other services.

Lewis makes clear that the vital importance of supply networks would not have been news to his actors. In chapters 6 and 7, he follows industrial boosters and developers as they used spatial proximity to promote and plan industrial districts such as Calumet, Pullman, and the Central Manufacturing District, America’s “first operating planned industrial district” (p. 167). Subsequent chapters probe the implications of networked space in broader terms, emphasizing not only geographic and economic consequences, but also deep, class-based social repercussions. Industrial networks reinforced particular social formations and alliances, and decisions about the built environment always carry a high degree of path dependency.

Make room on your shelves. This is a major work by a leader in his field about processes of interest to many T&C readers. That the book will fit nicely in a variety of places is evidence of Lewis’s achievement. Urbanists may want to tuck it next to Bill Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis (1991, because it complements agricultural flows from the hinterland with industrial flows in the city) or alongside Sam Warner’s Streetcar Suburbs (1962, because it contributes to the ongoing revision of the history of suburbanization). Scholars of “regional advantage” and “high technology” may choose to place it between AnnaLee Saxenian’s Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128 (1994...