In 1978, Cleveland became the first American city since the Depression to default on its debts: with a rapidly shrinking population it was the embodiment of Rust Belt decline. Half a century earlier, it had been the ‘melting pot of nationalities’, the fifth largest city in the Union with a population topping 900,000. Its rise had been as meteoric as its later fall. In 1870, it had around 90,000 inhabitants, and early immigration was sedate, mainly from Ireland and Germany. Then, it began to fully exploit its proclaimed ‘best location in the nation’, a natural transport hub with access to a gamut of industrial raw materials. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil there, and its heavy industries were a magnet to new waves of migration. Czechoslovaks were first, establishing ‘Little Bohemia’. By 1930, Cleveland had the world’s largest single Hungarian expatriate community, and the acid test of economic vibrancy in 1930s America, its own Mafia war in ‘Little Italy’.
— OR —