• Agriculture & Industry

    Agriculture & Industry

About the Collection

The museum’s collection represents Kalamazoo’s diverse agricultural and industrial history that has attracted many families to the region.

Kalamazoo’s Agricultural and Industrial History

Since the early settlement days, Kalamazoo County has boasted a strong farming economy. As early as the 1840s, a barge system was in operation that transported the county’s produce to the mouth of the Kalamazoo River. From there, it was transferred to larger vessels and sent east. The arrival of the railroad in Kalamazoo in 1846 further enhanced the county’s agricultural potential.
 
In addition to farming, the manufacturing and production industry has also been a strong force in the area’s economic development. As early as 1850, an iron furnace to smelt bog ore was established, and following the Civil War, paper manufacturers began constructing plants along the Kalamazoo River. In 1867, the Kalamazoo Paper Company opened its first mill and provided a training ground for paper makers. Kalamazoo’s proximity to Chicago, its excellent railroad network, and its large labor force further aided in the area and industry’s development. In 1885, a physician from Hastings named Dr. W. E. Upjohn developed the first readily dissolvable pill and soon after moved to Kalamazoo and founded the Upjohn Pill and Granule Company, which has become one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical firms.
 
Other diverse industries and farming opportunities attracted many families to the Kalamazoo and Southwest Michigan region. Kalamazoo’s carriage and windmill industries also benefited from the area’s hardwoods and convenient railroad network. By 1887, the city of Kalamazoo boasted 18 carriage firms, which produced over 87,000 buggies. According to the 1900 United States Census, over 400 farms in Kalamazoo County were cultivating more than 4,000 acres of celery. Kalamazoo became known as “The Celery City” because locally grown celery was being hawked at train stations, shipped to the world in bulk, and brewed into a wide variety of tonics and medicines. By the 1920s, “The Paper City” became the city’s mantra because of the large number of active mills in the region, making Kalamazoo the world’s leading producer of paper products. The mills also spawned a series of related businesses: wholesalers, chemical manufacturers, stationery and engraving. The rise of the modern industrial corporation created a huge demand for paper that local entrepreneurs rose to fill.
 
For years, Kalamazoo had been a crucible of innovation and invention, and as the 1950s arrived, the city boomed. In 1956, when Kalamazoo’s manufacturing employment was at a historic peak, companies making and shipping a wide range of goods worldwide included Gibson Guitars, Orthopedic Frame Company (later known as Stryker Corporation), Shakespeare Company, Nelson Archery, Ruud Manufacturing, Kalamazoo Canvas Boats, General Gas Light Company, St. Regis Paper, Atlas Press, Fuller Manufacturing, Kalamazoo Sled Company, Ihling Brothers Everhard Company and Checker Motors, to name a fair few.

Kalamazoo Valley Museum
General Admission Is Free

230 North Rose Street
Kalamazoo, MI 49007
800.772.3370 | 269.373.7990
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The Kalamazoo Valley Museum is operated by Kalamazoo Valley Community College and is governed by its Board of Trustees.

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2021 American Alliance of Museums.
All rights reserved.

2021 Kalamazoo Valley Museum.
All rights reserved.