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Fort Wayne: History


Miami Territory Opened as Frontier

In ancient times, North American Indians hunted the mastodon and other wildlife in a hostile environment after the retreat of the glaciers in the area where Fort Wayne now stands. Later, the Moundbuilders constructed an advanced civilization before mysteriously dying out around the time of the European Middle Ages. The Miami Native Americans ruled the lower peninsula region, fighting against the Iroquois who were armed by English colonists. In time, the Miami reestablished themselves in the Wabash Valley and built their principal village at the Lakeside district in Fort Wayne, which they named Kekionga, meaning "blackberry patch." Kekionga evolved into Miamitown, a large settlement of Native Americans who sided with the British during the American Revolution.

Auguste Mottin de LaBalme, a French soldier fighting for the colonists, captured Miamitown in 1780, only to be defeated by Chief Little Turtle, one of the most feared and respected Miami leaders, in his first major victory. After the revolution, the British encouraged the Miami to attack the new nation, and war parties were sent eastward from Miamitown, prompting President Washington to order armies into the center of Miami territory. Little Turtle defeated the army of General Arthur St. Clair, and President Washington turned to General "Mad" Anthony Wayne, the Revolutionary War hero, to quell the rebellious tribes. General Wayne defeated the Miami at Fort Recovery in Ohio and at Fallen Timbers. Wayne marched on Miamitown and built the first American fort there. Wayne turned the fort over to Colonel John Hamtramck on October 21, 1794, and Hamtramck named it Fort Wayne the next day, which is considered the city's founding date.

Two key figures in Fort Wayne's early history were Chief Little Turtle and Williams Wells, who was benefited as a child from his Kentucky family and raised by Little Turtle's family. Wells and Little Turtle signed the Treaty of Greenville, opening up the frontier, and Wells was appointed Indian agent. The two men provided leadership and stability until their deaths in 1812. Potawatomi and Miami factions then invaded Fort Wayne, and General William Henry Harrison's army was sent in to regain control of the city. At the conclusion of the War of 1812 British influence on Native Americans came to a close.

County Seat Becomes Industrial Center

Fort Wayne entered a new stage in its history with the arrival of Judge Samuel Hanna in 1819. Hanna built a trading post and a grist mill, earning himself the name "builder of the city." He was instrumental in realizing the Wabash & Erie Canal and securing Fort Wayne's first railroad. Hanna participated in organizing Allen County in 1824 and helped designate Fort Wayne as the county seat. In 1829 Fort Wayne was incorporated as a town.

Fort Wayne's growth as a Midwestern industrial center was helped along by the number of inventions conceived and developed there. In 1871 Dr. Theodore Horton introduced a hand-operated washing machine and later manufactured the first electrically powered domestic washing machine. Joseph and Cornelius Hoagland and Thomas Biddle developed a baking powder formula that proved successful. The Foster Shirtwaist Factory, capitalizing on the popularity of a boy's size-fourteen shirt among women, made the famous Gibson Girl shirtwaist. Other prominent inventions originating in Fort Wayne were the self-measuring pump designed by Silvanus Freelove Bowser and the "arc light" developed by James Jenney.

Electronics and Lincolniana

The first nighttime professional baseball game took place in Fort Wayne in 1883 under Jenney Arc Lights. George Jacobs' discovery of an economical means of coating electrical wiring, which gave rise to the magnet wire industry, made possible modern electrical-powered products such as radios, telephones, automobiles, computers, and appliances. Homer Capehart's company of engineers invented the jukebox, which was sold to the Wurlitzer Company. Philo T. Farnsworth, a pioneer in the invention of television, bought the Capehart Company in 1938, and in time began the mass production of televisions.

Fort Wayne gained a reputation as a city receptive to innovative companies. The Magnavox Company relocated in Fort Wayne in 1930, and became a world leader in acoustical engineering. During the 1920s the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company emerged as an innovative insurance company. The company established and endowed the Lincoln Library and Museum, which houses the largest collection of materials on one man other than a biblical personage.

In subsequent decades the city's economy continued to diversify. Fort Wayne has seen major growth in the service sector, especially in the health care field. Through its hospitals, Fort Wayne has become a medical center for the tri-state area. Tourism has grown, as visitors are drawn to the city's attractions, historical sites, festivals, and renowned dining options. Fort Wayne prides itself as a community with big city amenities and small town charm.

Historical Information: Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society, 302 East Berry Street, Fort Wayne, IN 46802; Indiana Jewish Historical Society, 2743 Wilkie Drive, No. 1, Fort Wayne, IN 46804; telephone (260)459-6862


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