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Purpose of Lesson: This lesson(1) introduces students to the concept and process of urbanization during the first three decades of the twentieth century and (2) gives them a greater understanding of urban change

Objectives: At the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • interpret first-person historical text
  • apply historical text to visual documentation

Correlation to Indiana Standards (for Twelfth Grade Social Studies)

Social Studies

USH.2.11 Consider different perspectives on industrial development and social problems expressed in primary documents.

USH 4.5 Investigate the ways life was changing on the farm and in the city in the United States generally and in Indiana during the 1920s due to technological development, with particular emphasis on the automobile industry.

USH 9.1 Locate and analyze primary and secondary sources presenting different perspectives on events and issues of the past.

USH 9.2 Locate and use sources found at local and state libraries, archival collections, museums, historic sites, and electronic sites.

Historical and Methodological Context for the Lesson:

Like the nation as a whole, Indiana saw a shift in its population from rural areas to the city, and then from city to suburbs, during the course of the twentieth century. The primary factor drawing people into towns and cities was work. The growth of urban workplaces, in turn, came from transportation and technological improvements that supported economies of scale and that concentrated facilities in centralized areas where goods and services could be easily exchanged. Until the Great Depression, urbanization was a spiraling cycle: more opportunities brought more workers; more people created more money and more opportunities. As this cycle continued, the face of cities changed, too: as land became more productive, it became more valuable; as it grew more valuable it had to be made more productive in order to cover its ever-rising cost.

With the economic revival that followed World War II, existing tendencies toward dispersal from central cities became dominant. Automobiles, federally subsidized road-building, improvements in production techniques, and changing forms of home financing pulled more and more people from the centers of Indiana's large cities to their suburban outskirts.

Indianapolis remained the state's largest city through the century. Behind it, Ft. Wayne, Evansville, Terre Haute, South Bend, Gary, and Muncie all filled a niche as small industrial cities. Hoosiers prided themselves on the "typical American" quality of these manageable cities, an image enforced by the " Middletown " studies of the 1920s and 1930s. A still broader network of large towns—places like Madison, Richmond, Marion, and Kokomo —supported these small cities, bringing the amenities of the town in close reach to almost all Indianans. In all, Indiana saw neither the extremes of rural isolation or of urban gigantism that typified many other states.

With the arrival of steam railroads in the mid-1800s and then of electrical power in the 1890s, Indianapolis grew beyond its role as a large mercantile town to become a complex industrial city. While Indianapolis remained much smaller than other big midwestern cities, Hoosiers were ambivalent about the changes that took place there. Writer Booth Tarkington grew up in the city, left it for Europe at the turn of the century, and returned to live there in 1913. He often used the city (which he called “ Midland City ”) as the setting for his famous novels, and he wrote perceptively about its changes in his 1928 autobiography, The World Does Move.


1. Excerpt of The World Does Move (1928) by Booth Tarkington Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

[The following excerpt describes Booth Tarkington's return to his native Indianapolis in 1913]

New York, however, was not my destination, being but a way station on this decisive journey to the verdant plain that had for me the persistent claim of native soil calling always, however faintly, to its wandering sons, "Come home!" A stranger, looking forth from his sleeping-car after a night of curving among the hills, might wonder why anybody should come home to this level monotony of landscape and the reiterating shabby back ends of wood and brick country towns, all alike. Moreover, a native son might himself feel a qualm or two of that same wonder, especially if he had been living in Paris. The flat lands were bleaker than they had been aforetime; the ground was dark and fertile, but great stretches of forest were gone, leaving only clumps of woodland here and there. The old bosky "snake fences" had disappeared, replaced by unamiable wire; and sometimes there would be a glimpse of a country road whereon an efficient, ugly little automobile bounced viciously into sudden distance, leaving the farmers' buggies and wagons, as it passed, enveiled and strangled in its long thick tail of dust. And sometimes, too, racing with the train, a demon of an interurban trolley-car would tear shrieking across the landscape.

Something of what had been the wistful charm of the long and wide flatness seemed to have disappeared; something of its old-time sleepy peacefulness seemed to be gone with the deep woods and rail fences. Nevertheless, it still had a voice and still could seem to murmur in its old-fashioned way, "Yes, this is home. It always will be home for those who were born in it. You have come home." And when I actually had reached home again, "old Charlie", the trolley-car conductor, who always remembered anybody that had ever lived on his "line", was warm in his congratulations. To him it seemed that any absence from his town must be unwilling, a hardship enforced. "You are certainly mighty lucky to get back to God's country again!" he said.

At first it did not appear to me that the Midland city had changed a great deal. It had grown, of course, because it was alive; and it was obviously not so clean as it had been. Almost into the Twentieth Century, natural gas had made it speckless, except for the ordinary dustiness of summer; and when the gas failed, anthracite helped to keep the air clear. There were not many factories in what was essentially a market town, the capital of an agricultural state, and what smoke there had been came principally from the railroad engines. Now, however, one was conscious sometimes of soft-coal smoke in the air, particularly at nightfall; but the traces were comparatively faint, far from unendurable.

The same pleasant old "principal residence streets" stretched serenely northward; the same green arches of joining branches shaded them; and the same solid, big old houses stood among the sun-and-shade-flecked green lawns; the same people lived in those houses. Two or three new buildings downtown had replaced old ones for offices and business; but the new ones were not veritable sky-scrapers--the tallest building in town was of twelve stories--and although the first apartment house was now more than ten years old, not more than half a dozen others had been built. One could stroll everywhere about the town, and, except for the automobiles, find only here and there a noticeable change….

[But] although most things "looked about the same" to the returned native, and the same old people and houses and trees and lawns and saloons appeared to be but slightly altered, principally by seeming a little older, there were tokens of a stirring, of something moving underneath, of unknown powers at work to produce a new kind of growing; but at first these hints were faint and not insistent. One felt that the town had somehow become more "citified"; it had become not only larger, that is to say, but more formal. Downtown there were traffic officers at several corners, and you couldn't drive just where and how you pleased, as in the easy-going old days of a little while before. In fact, one felt that the easy-going old days were gone forever. In this larger town young people wouldn't dance on a platform in somebody's yard by the light of paper lanterns; romantic gentlemen wouldn't pile an orchestra into "express wagons" and go midnight serenading; never again would a pretty young lady light the gas to show a bright window for the young Dons with fiddles, flutes and a harp upon the lawn below.

There was a great deal more asphalt and there were a great many more automobiles. A few "family carriages" were still to be seen on the streets, with a victoria or two andone or two broughams and coupes; "hired hacks" were still to be had at livery stables and horse cabs at the station; but the red-wheeled runabout had disappeared forever; the town's jeunesse doree (in the phrasing loved by the fin de siecle) now shot itself out to the country club with gas; the "fast trotter", that willing and faithful friend of youth, was gone with the red wheels, and so was the bicycle as the friend of pleasure. The little bells chimed no more above the darting lamps along the highways of a summer evening: there were too many automobiles.

Some of the streets had lengthened surprisingly and appeared to contemplate even more surprising extensions; asphalt and cement were stretching far into suburban territory, through what had been "picnic woods", not so very long before.


2. Selected photographs of Indianapolis , 1900-1930, taken from the Indiana Historical Society's online digital image collection


Lesson Activities:

These materials can be used in several ways to emphasize different learning skills. For example:

1) Vocabulary and reading comprehension: Divide students into teams. Have each team underline eight to ten significant descriptive phrases in Tarkington's writing. The students should look up any unfamiliar words and then decide what they think each phrase contibutes to Tarkington's portrait of the city. Finally, the students should put all of their analyses together and create a one-page presentation on Tarkington's view of urbanization.

2) Comprehension and Visual Analysis: Have students create a poster illustrating one or more processes of urbanization. They may use the included photographs but should also be encouraged to find more photographs from the collections listed below. Each photograph should be captioned with an appropriate passage from the reading sample.

a. Illinois Street Trolley, c. 1900
b. Traction Terminal, c. 1931
c. North Meridian Street, c. 1907
d. House and Field, Indiana, c. 1910
e. Interurban Car
f. Fall Creek Boulevard and Meridian Street Bridge, c. 1933
g. Indianapolis Neighborhood, c. 1920s
h. Booth Tarkington House, c. 1920s

3) Creative Writing: Have each student write an essay about coming back to their own home town in 15 years. What will have changed? What remains the same?

Other Resources:

1) Allen County Community Album
The Historic Photos and Fort Wayne/Allen County History collections cover a wide spectrum of Fort Wayne's history.

2) Harry Lemen Photograph Collection
Photos from 1927 to 1950 cover buildings, transportation, and other topics in Madison and Hanover, Indiana, history.

3) Indiana Historical Society Digital Image Collections
The Bass Photo, Recorder , Madam C. J. Walker, and O. James Fox collections all contain photos of Indianapolis throughout the 20th century.

4) Middletown Digital Archives
The Swift, Spurgeon-Green, and Sellers collections, as well as the Other Side of Middletown collection, contain hundreds of photographs of everyday Muncie, focusing on the 1910s through the 1940s.

5) U.S. Steel Gary Digital Photograph Collection
More than 2,000 photographs of Gary and the U.S. Steel Works, many from the first two decades of the city's existence. The site also includes a Teacher's Guide section with a brief city history, lesson plans for 4th, 8th, and 12th grades, and links to useful primary sources on Gary's early history.