Central Manufacturing District

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The Central Manufacturing District of Chicago is a 265-acre (1.07 km2) area[1] of the city in which private decisionmakers planned the structure of the district and its internal regulation, including the provision of vital services ordinarily considered to be outside the scope of private enterprise.[2] In 1892, Frederick Henry Prince, a financier and railroad magnate, acquired south Chicago's Central Junction Railway, which connected the Union Stockyards with Chicago's major trunk lines to other cities. The CMD began in 1905 by developing a square mile adjacent to the Union Stockyards.[3] Seeing that the stockyards would not provide enough business for his railway, Prince began purchasing adjacent land, ultimately erecting $20 million ($400 million in 1999 dollars) worth of streets, sewers, rail facilities, docks, and other improvements. The district had its own architectural department and its own engineers to supervise the construction that it provided for its customers. It has been described as the nation’s first planned industrial district.[4]

The private railroad police that patrolled the Chicago Junction Railway had an approximately 100 percent conviction rate; private security also patrolled the grounds on motorcycle. Fire safety was assured by spreading apart the buildings, by wire-glass windows and metal frames, and by the CMD's 250,000-gallon sprinkler tower. According to Central Manufacturing District Magazine, lots were standardized "to accommodate the most economical building units, to eliminate waste ground, and to give an ideal arrangement of improvements and facilities with easy accessibility."[5] Concrete tunnels were dug between plants and the CMD's freight station so that electric tractors could haul goods back and forth. Only one out of the CMD's hundreds of companies failed during the Great Depression. The CMD reduced rental and interest payments, extended credit, and forgave temporary mispayments during the 1930s. Prominent businesspeople of the district joined the CMD Club, which held various social activities. The CMD bragged of good housing "built for workers at cost" that could be found near the CMD's plants.

The Central Manufacturing has sold off many of its original properties, and no longer manages its remaining Chicago holdings, as it did before 1964. The CMD Company, however, still has the 350-acre (1.4 km2) Itasca industrial park, the 675-acre (2.73 km2) St. Charles Business Park, and an industrial park in Phoenix. Moreover, Centex and other companies have imitated CMD's concept of private development and central services. In Los Angeles, a large industrial tract was also promoted by the Central Manufacturing District of Chicago.[6]


Prince served as one of the CMD's two trustees from its founding.[7] His descendants continue to play a role in the CMD Company's management.


The CMD was located in the south of Chicago. By 1923, 48 percent of Chicago's population lived within four miles (6 km) of the CMD. The CMD provided centralized services in transportation, construction, finance, and diverse other services. The south bend of the Chicago River provided easy water transportation. Chicago itself lay at the geographical nexus of the nation's productive activity, at the center of its markets and the hub of its railways. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, it was "Bounded roughly by 35th Street to the north, Morgan Street to the east, Pershing Road to the south, and Ashland Avenue to the west"[8]


  1. ^ http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/785.html
  2. ^ Arne, Robert C. "Entrepreneurial City Planning". The Voluntary City. The Independent Institute. p. 102. 
  3. ^ JF McDonald, DP McMillen, Land values, land use, and the first Chicago zoning ordinance (PDF), The Journal of Real Estate Finance 
  4. ^ http://www.bubblydynamics.com/history.html
  5. ^ Central Manufacturing District Magazine, July 1955, 12
  6. ^ RL Wrigley Jr (1947), Organized Industrial Districts: With Special Reference to the Chicago Area, The Journal of Land & Public Utility Economics, JSTOR 3159154 
  7. ^ Ingham, John N. Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders. p. 1118. 
  8. ^ Stockwell, Clinton E. "Encyclopedia of Chicago". Retrieved 4/1/14.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)