Spread out across the prairies of north-central Indiana are dozens of towns and small cities whose streets and industrial parks once buzzed and hummed with the sound of automobile production. Over the highways and railroad tracks linking places like Muncie, Kokomo, and Marion to the industrial capitals of Detroit and Chicago there passed millions upon millions of loads of car bodies and parts to be processed and shipped to dealers around the world.
The auto towns of rural Indiana make up part of a constellation of production that was once a world center of industrial output—the area forms the geographical center of what was known as the “Factory Belt,” spanning westward into Illinois and Missouri and east to Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
The history of the rise and fall of the towns that now lie between highway I-65 and I-69 is typical of many small towns and major cities all over the United States. For this reason, sociologists from the 1920s onward made Muncie the subject of numerous academic studies of working class life. Researchers developed a term to refer to towns like Muncie: “Middletown.”