Ohio History Journal

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Cincinnati, 1800-1830:

Cincinnati, 1800-1830:

Economic Development

Through Trade

And Industry






During the first three decades of the nineteenth century, Cincinnati emerged

in the estimation of many of its own residents and contemporary observers

as a symbol of economic progress in the West. Ambitious, forward looking,

and persevering young men migrated to the Queen City to take advantage

of the occupational opportunities frontier life offered. Within this remark-

ably brief period of time, they transformed a wilderness into a thriving city

of nearly twenty-five thousand inhabitants. Encouraged by a favorable geo-

graphical position, these early settlers turned to trade--based largely on

agricultural products--in creating the foundations for the city's economy.

The War of 1812, however, brought an increased demand for diversifica-

tion and the first serious attempt to make Cincinnati a manufacturing


The public reaction to this development was not entirely favorable. Be-

tween 1815 and 1830, residents interested in the city's growth debated the

advantages and disadvantages of a diversified economy. Although there were

frequent and heated disagreements over what economic base would be most

profitable for the city; farmers, merchants, and manufacturers soon realized

that they were dependent upon each other. If the city were to prosper, no

one aspect of the economy could dominate any other. The struggle to estab-

lish a viable economic base for the city is the central theme of this study.

Cincinnati's early growth and prosperity were based primarily on its

strategic location and its enterprising merchants and farmers. An increas-

ing number of immigrants (from both Europe and the eastern states)

stopped there to buy supplies before moving into the interior of the John

Cleves Symmes Miami Purchase. Their business stimulated the expansion

of both trade and agriculture.1 Some of these new pioneers elected to re-

main in the vicinity of the city; others settled farther north and west. In

either case, once located, many of them still retained their dependency on

Cincinnati merchants. The small outpost rapidly evolved into the major

distributing center for the region, collecting the farmers' surplus produce

and, in turn, providing them with the merchandise they could not produce

for themselves. Some credit for Cincinnati's phenomenal success as a trad-