Ohio History Journal

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Internal-Improvement Projects in

Southwestern Ohio, 1815-1834




During the first three decades of the nineteenth century, merchants, farmers, and

manufacturers successfully established Cincinnati's economic prominence in the

West. Taking advantage of the city's strategic location, pioneer merchants supplied

the increasing number of immigrants from Europe and the eastern states with the

goods they needed before they moved up the valleys of the Great Miami and

Little Miami rivers. As farmers gradually settled this region, agricultural production

increased. Merchants began collecting farm surpluses and providing farmers with the

merchandise they could not produce for themselves. The availability of agricultural

surpluses helped to promote milling, brewing, distilling, and packing industries,

and these in turn created new demands for products from the fields and forests.

The resultant increase in farm production encouraged manufacturers to produce

tools, machines, and other items for households and farms. Together, the growth

of industries and expansion of agriculture stimulated trade.1

The city prospered as a result of the combined efforts of merchants, manufac-

turers, and farmers.2 Responding to the demands for locally made goods, manu-

facturing interests played an increasingly important role in the city's economy.

The value of products manufactured in Cincinnati in 1819 was $1,059,459, and

1,238 of the city's total population of over 9,000 were engaged in manufacturing

or related service industries. By 1830 the value of manufactured products had

reached $2,800,000, and more people were involved in manufacturing than in com-

mercial or service occupations.

Commercial transactions followed a similar pattern. In 1819 the city's exported

products, consisting chiefly of flour, pork, bacon, hams, lard, whiskey and tobacco,

were valued at $1,334,080. By 1829 the value and quantity of export items ex-

ceeded three million dollars. Agricultural products still headed the list, but such

items as hats, cabinet furniture, printing materials, clothing, casting machinery,

and tin and copperware appeared with greater frequency. Taking into account


1. For general discussions of the economic development of Cincinnati, see Richard C. Wade, The

Urban Frontier, the Rise of Western Cities, 1790-1830 (Cambridge, 1959); William F. Gephart, Trans-

portation and Industrial Development in the Middle West (New York, 1909); Randolph C. Downes,

"Trade in Frontier Ohio," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XVI (March 1930), 467-494.

2. The following evidence of economic growth in Cincinnati is taken from Richard T. Farrell,

"Cincinnati, 1800-1830: Economic Development Through Trade and Industry," Ohio History, LXXVII

(Autumn 1968), 111-129.


Mr. Farrell is assistant professor of history at the University of Maryland.