Making of the Port

Calumet Harbor Chicago

Chicago Maritime Museum
Written By Chicago Maritime Museum

It is a tall order to tell the story of Chicago’s waterways and their emotional and prosperous impact on 19th, 20th and 21st century American growth. Welcome to the Chicago Maritime Museum and our developing story of Chicago’s maritime traditions and impact.

As ship traffic increased near Chicago, the city decided to build a proper port that could sustain growing industry. The port has continued to serve shipping needs to this day.

Making a Modern Port

In the first decade of the 20th century, the heavy industry businesses relocated from the Chicago River to the edges of the city, and ship sizes became too great for the narrow downtown waterway. South Chicago, where the Calumet River enters Lake Michigan, became the new hub for the ore carriers and grain ships.

In 1869, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers first began to improve the Calumet River and make it an effective harbor. George Pullman’s decision to locate his model town and car works near Lake Calumet and the giant North Chicago Rolling Mill’s move to the mouth of the Calumet River, signaled the emergence of the region as an industrial center.

Reversing the River's Flow

While the Chicago River continued to play a minor role in commerce, the growth of Calumet Harbor made it necessary to adapt the area’s inland waterways to the needs of the rapidly expanding Chicago area. In 1900, the Metropolitan Sanitary District succeeded in permanently reversing the flow of the Chicago River. Since the late 1860s, city engineers had used pumps to draw water from the river into the old Illinois and Michigan Canal, thereby reversing the flow. The Chicago and Sanitary Canal improved on that by creating a wider and deeper waterway to pull clean water from Lake Michigan.

{Cover photo from Chicago Maritime Museum.}

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Waterways and Rivers: Chicago's Maritime History

Making of the Port

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