Great Lakes region (North America)

Great Lakes region (North America)

The Great Lakes region includes much of the Canadian province of Ontario and portions of eight U.S. states that border the Great Lakes: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The entire Canadian Great Lakes shoreline is in Ontario. The land area that drains into the Great Lakes is the corresponding geological definition.


The Great Lakes region is distinguished for significant contributions in natural resources, political economy, technology and culture. Among the most prominent are democratic government and economy; inventions and industrial production for agricultural machinery, automobile manufacture, commercial architecture, and transportation.

The lakes hold almost one fifth of the world's surface freshwater. The region has large mineral deposits of iron ore, especially in the Minnesota and Michigan Upper Peninsula Mesabi Range; and anthracite coal throughout western Pennsylvania through southern Illinois. The abundance of iron and coal furnished the basic materials for the world's largest steel production in the last half of the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth. The region's soil is rich and still produces large amounts of cereals and corn. Western Pennsylvania hosted the world's first major oil boom. Wisconsin cranberry bogs and Minnesotan wild rice still yield natural foods to which Indians introduced Europeans in the seventeenth century.


Prior to European settlement, Iroquoian peoples lived around Lakes Erie and Ontario, Algonquin peoples around most of the rest, with the exception of the Siouan Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) in Wisconsin. In government, Great Lakes states on the United States side derived from The Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The ordinance, adopted in its final form just before the writing of the United States Constitution, was a sweeping, visionary proposal to create what was at the time a radical experiment in democratic governance and economy. The Iroquois Confederacy and its covenant of The Great Peace served as forerunner and model for both the U.S. Constitution and the ordinance. The Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery, restricted primogeniture, mandated universal Public education, provided for affordable farm land to people who settled and improved it, and required peaceful, lawful treatment of indigenous Indian population. The ordinance prohibited the establishment of state religion and established civic rights that foreshadowed the [United States Bill of Rights] . Civil rights included freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, trial by jury, and exemption from unreasonable search and seizure. States were authorized to organize constitutional conventions and petition for admission as states equal to the original thirteen. The process constituted a kind of rolling revolution, extending the federal union westward as a grand anti-colonial imperative.

Not all provisions were promptly or fully adopted, but the basic constitutional framework effectively prescribed a free, self-reliant institutional framework and culture. Five states evolved from its provisions: Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. The northeastern section of Minnesota, from the Mississippi to St. Croix River, also fell under ordinance jurisdiction and extended the constitution and culture of the Old Northwest to the Dakotas.

The British-Canadian London Conference of 1866, and subsequent Constitution Act of 1867 analogously derived from political, and some military, turmoil in the former jurisdiction of Upper Canada, which was renamed and organized in the new dominion as the Province of Ontario. Like the provisions of the ordinance, Ontario prohibited slavery, made provisions for land distribution to farmers who owned their own land, and mandated universal public education.

ocial institutions

Governance was grounded in social institutions that were fundamentally more powerful, popular, and determinative than government, which remained comparatively small, weak, and distrusted until World War II.

The most powerful and influential of these were religious denominations and congregations. Even the most centralized denominations—the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, and Lutheran synods—necessarily became congregational in polity and to a lesser extent doctrine. There was no alternative, because without state funding, congregations were forced to depend on the voluntary donations, activities, and tithes of their members. In most settlements, congregations formed the social infrastructure that supported parish and common township schools, local boards and commissions, and an increasingly vital social life.

Congregations and township politics gave rise to voluntary organizations. Three kinds of these were especially significant to the region's development: agricultural associations, voluntary self-help associations, and political parties. The agricultural associations gave rise to the nineteenth century Grange, which in turn generated the agricultural cooperatives that defined much of rural political economy and culture throughout the region. Fraternal, ethnic, and civic organizations extended cooperatives and supported local ventures from insurance companies to orphanages and hospitals. The region was the political base, and provided much leadership political parties in the region.

The region's greatest institutional contributions were industrial labor organization and state educational systems. The Big Ten Conference memorializes the nation's first region in which every state sponsored major research, technical-agricultural, and teacher-training colleges and universities. The Congress of Industrial Organizations grew out of the region's coal and iron mines; steel, automobile and rubber industries; and breakthrough strikes and contracts of Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan.


In technology, the Great Lakes region hosted a tumultuous, globally influential number of breakthroughs in agricultural technology. The mechanical reaper invented by Cyrus McCormick, John Deere's steel plow, and the grain elevator are some of its most memorable contributions. Case Western Reserve University and the University of Chicago figured prominently in developing nuclear power. Automobile manufacture developed simultaneously in Ohio and Indiana and became centered in the Detroit area of Michigan. Henry Ford's movable assembly line drew on regional experience in meat processing, agricultural machinery manufacture, and the industrial engineering of steel in revolutionizing the modern era of mass production manufacturing. Chicago-based Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck companies complemented mass manufactures with mass retail distribution.

Perhaps no field proved so influential as architecture, and no city more significant than Chicago. William LeBaron Jenney was the architect of the first skyscraper in the world; The Home Insurance Building in Chicago is the first skyscraper because of the use of structural steel in the building. This setup Chicago to this day to hold some of the world's greatest architecture. Less famous, but equally influential, was the 1832 invention of balloon-framing in Chicago that replaced heavy timber construction requiring massive beams and great woodworking skill with pre-cut timber. This new lumber could be nailed together by farmers and settlers who used it to build homes and barns throughout the western prairies and plains. Wisconsin-born, Chicago-trained Sullivan apprentice Frank Lloyd Wright designed prototypes for architectural designs from the commercial skylight atrium to suburban ranch house.

Contributions to modern transportation include the Wright brothers' early airplanes, distinctive Great Lakes freighters, and railroad beds constructed of wooden ties and steel rails. The early nineteenth century Erie Canal and mid-twentieth century St. Lawrence Seaway expanded the scale and engineering for massive water-born freight.


The Great Lakes region has been a major center for industry since the industrial revolution. Many large American and Canadian companies are headquartered in the region.

According to the Brookings Institution, if it stood alone as a country, the Great Lakes economy would be the second-largest economic unit on earth (with a $4.2-trillion gross regional product), second only to the United States economy as a whole.

Dialect and accents

English is spoken by the majority of the population of the Great Lakes, with French being the exception in Quebec. The northern mid-western states (Minnesota, northern Wisconsin & Upper Peninsula Michigan) are generally speakers of the North Central American English dialect, while areas further to the south (Chicago, lower peninsula Michigan, northern Ohio, northern Indiana, upstate New York) are speakers of Inland Northern American English.


;Major U.S. cities
*Buffalo, New York
*Chicago, Illinois
*Cleveland, Ohio
*Columbus, Ohio
*Detroit, Michigan
*Indianapolis, Indiana
*Milwaukee, Wisconsin
*Minneapolis, Minnesota
*Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

;Major Canadian Cities
*Hamilton, Ontario
*Toronto, Ontario
*Sarnia, Ontario
*Thunder Bay, Ontario
*Windsor, Ontario

;Other cities and towns which are important to the region
*Akron, Ohio
*Appleton, Wisconsin
*Battle Creek, Michigan
*Duluth, Minnesota
*Erie, Pennsylvania
*Evanston, Illinois
*Fort Wayne, Indiana
*Gary, Indiana
*Grand Rapids, Michigan
*Green Bay, Wisconsin
*Kalamazoo, Michigan
*Kenosha, Wisconsin
*Kingston, Ontario
*Lansing, Michigan
*London, Ontario
*Niagara Falls, New York
*Niagara Falls, Ontario
*Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
*Racine, Wisconsin
*Rochester, New York
*Saint Catharines, Ontario
*Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
*Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
*South Bend, Indiana
*St. Paul, Minnesota
*Superior, Wisconsin
*Syracuse, New York
*Toledo, Ohio
*Windsor, Ontario
*Youngstown, Ohio

ee also

*Rust Belt
*Third Coast
*The Great Lakes region in baseball's Little League World Series, a U.S.-only region with an unusual definition

External links

* [ Great Lakes Information Network]
* [ Midwest Lakes Policy Center]
* [ The Nature Conservancy's Great Lakes Program]
* [ Brookings Institution]

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