Capital and largest city in the state, Indianapolis pulses with the activity forged by its high-tech industries, governmental and educational sectors and sports and cultural institutions. Progress has been the catalyst behind its growth from a wilderness camp in 1820 to a Midwestern giant today.
Indianapolis owes its start to location. In 1820 state legislators in Corydon asked 10 commissioners to find a new site for the capital. The commissioners headed for the center of the state and decided on Fall Creek, then a swampy little settlement on the shallow White River. Alexander Ralston, assistant to Pierre L'Enfant in the designing of Washington, D.C., mapped the new town, and settlers began to arrive.
In 1825 the state government brought in many jobs and people, and the National Road (US 40) stimulated more growth when it came through in 1834. However, not until the Central Canal was built on the White River in 1836 did industry come to town. The canal provided the transportation link and water power needed to run factories, paper mills and sawmills. But the soft, muddy shores of the White River were too fluid to maintain the canal, and without a water supply, the mills and factories left.
With the arrival of the railroad in 1847 manufacturing concerns that did not have to rely on inexpensive water power or transportation also began to arrive. By the turn of the 20th century Indianapolis had become a sophisticated city with sidewalks, streetlights, streetcars, and musical and literary organizations.
A major new industry emerged as entrepreneurs set up factories to produce automobiles. In 1911 the first Indianapolis 500 was held, setting a Memorial Day tradition that has become the largest single-day sporting event in the world. Although it kept its race, Indianapolis eventually lost the automobile industry to areas that could provide steel and coal more economically—by water.
Since the World Wars Indianapolis' industrial progress has been in technology. Eli Lilly and Co., a pharmaceutical giant, more than 100 computer software companies, and several enterprises that specialize in automation equipment and robotics are based in Indianapolis. But with all of its technology, Indianapolis is still a Midwestern city, and as such it serves as one of the country's leading grain markets and a major livestock and meat processing center.
As notable as high-tech industries are the many academic institutions, the largest of which is Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. The Indiana University Medical School is one of the largest in the nation, and Purdue is noted for its research in the areas of computers and automation. Butler University, Marian College and the University of Indianapolis, all private colleges, also are part of the city's educational environment. Martin University was founded by Fr. Boniface Hardin in 1977. The institution was created to serve minorities and low-income groups.
The effects of explosive industrial growth have not always been positive. Indianapolis was proclaimed one of America's dirtiest cities in the 1960s. A major cleanup and revitalization project resulted, and by the late 1970s Indianapolis was considered one of the nation's cleanest urban centers. Of the country's 50 largest cities, it has one of the lowest crime rates. Urban blight has been counteracted by an unusual Unigov structure of government, a consolidation of city and county agencies that work cooperatively to perpetuate the city's renaissance.
A resurgence in the arts has accompanied this revitalization project. Home of a nationally acclaimed children's museum and an equally noted museum of art, Indianapolis also claims a respected symphony orchestra, ballet and opera companies as well as several theater groups. The headquarters of such organizations as the American Legion and Kiwanis International further define the metropolitan atmosphere.
The city also has grown into a major sports center. Both professional and amateur teams are supported, and Indianapolis is home to the national governing bodies of seven sports. World-class facilities, combined with a tremendous volunteer commitment, have helped bring success to both national and international sporting events. Indianapolis is still best known, however, as the home of the Indianapolis 500, the jewel in the automobile racing crown. On that one day in May the city becomes as central to the nation as it has always been to the state.