The Old Northwest was comprised of territories that are northwest of the Ohio River. These territories would later make up states such as Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisonsin, and Illinois and be known as the American Midwest. New agricultural demands that could not be met by the Northeast led to a dramatic increase in the importance of industry and commerce in the Old Northwest. Although this regoin experienced an increase in industry, the economy remained largely tied to agriculture.
The Northwest Territory
The Northwest Territory

Agricultural Developments

Agricultural production in the Old Northwest was given a boost by the development of new farming technology and improved agricultural techniques. New imports such as Mediterranean wheat seeds and sheep and pigs from England and Spain would flourish in the climate of the Northwest. Farmers also began to hone their ability to maximize their crop's potential. They did this by developing farming techniques that reduce the amount of labor required to harvest a crop. They also adopted techniques that slowed the exhaustion of the earth and preserved the area's nutrient-filled soil. In 1834, Cyrus H. McCormick, a Virginian, patented automatic reaper. This machine enable a crew of 6 or 7 men to harvest the same amount of wheat as a crew of 15 men could using traditional techniques. This meant that the reaper effectively doubled the effectiveness of a group of farmers. McCormick opened a factory to produce reapers in 1847 and as many as 100,000 were in use on farms by 1860. By the 1840's another machine, the thresher, was also in use. The thresher mechanized the process of flailing grain. It could thresh 25 bushels in an hour. This was more than triple the possible volume by hand in a day (7 bushels) and even more than the daily output of a team of animals (20 bushels). These inventions increased agricultual output and also show the relationship between industrial innovations and the region's agriculture. Grain drills, mowers, harrows, and hay rakes helped increase the output of agricultural products too. In 1847, John Deere established a factory that produced steel plows, and it was another important invention that helped fuel the agricultural economy in the Northwest.
The Automatic Reaper
The Automatic Reaper

Introduction of Industry

The Northwest experienced steady industrial growth in the 1840's and 1850's, leading up to the Civil War. New industrial activities included flour milling, meat packing, and the production of farm machinery. These new industries both supported and were reliant on the agricultural output of the region. Urbanization and the esablishment of commercial centers began to develop along the Ohio River valley and Lake Erie. This contributed to the growth of new industrial centers such as Cleveland, Cincinatti and Chicago. By 1860 there were 36,785 manufacturing establishments in this region. These esablishments employed 209,909 workers. These numbers show the growing importance of industrial growth in the Old Northwest. Although not as industrialized as the Northeast, the Northwest was more developed than industry in the south.

Population of Chicago, According to the U.S. Census Bureau.
% of +/-
These statistics show the explosive growth of urban centers in this period


Although settlers continued to pour into the Northwest, some areas had yet to be dominated by caucasians. Until the end of the Civil War the upper third of the Great Lakes was primarily dominated by Native Americans. The building of the Erie Canal allowed white settlers to migrate to the area.

Erie Canal
The Erie Canal
The Erie Canal

The Erie Canal was finished in October 1825, and it connected the Hudson river to Lake Erie, and it allowed the Northwest to connect to the urban eastern area, especially New York. The canal connected the Northeast to the the Northwest, creating a more direct economic relationship between the regions. Northwestern agricultural products could be sold in the northeast area. These new connections contributed to an expansion of American business.


The Northwest mainly relied on agriculture, but in the city of Chicago, industry was growing rapidly in agricultural machinery and meatpacking. Wheat was the main product being produced in the Northwest, and the farmers imported wheat from the Meditrranean because they where a better breed then the ones they already produce. Their economy ran closely with the Northeast, as they were connected through the Erie Canal, and the farmers sold their products there. The demand for these agricultural products was great, and the Northwest's economy became very prosperous. Their connection to the Northeast was aided by the expansion of canals and railroads.. This commercial relationship increased the dividing line between them and the South.

Life in the Northwest

The farmers lived a very different life compared to the people living in the cities. Rural areas used schools, churches, stores, and taverns to bring the community together. Religion was also a big factor: since farmers usually had the same background, they usually met in churches either for service or social gatherings. Although some areas didn't have churches, religion was still a big factor, because there were still meetings in homes for bible study and prayers. Men and women had different roles. While the men worked on the farm, the women would be cooking. The average farmer was a reasonably wealthy individual. This economic standing was a result of prosperous agriculture. Community was the most important aspect of Northwestern life. During harvest season, families would gather to celebrate. But the social life of people in the agricultural community wasn't the same as life in the urban areas.