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20 Facts about Indianapolis, Indiana

Updated on April 22, 2014
Indianapolis | Source

Indianapolis is the capital and largest city of Indiana and the seat of Marion county. Indianapolis is situated on the White River, about 150 miles (240 km) southeast of Chicago, and covers 405 square miles (1,049 sq km). The city is renowned for its three automobile races, for its successful program of urban renewal, and as a center of amateur sports. Laid out in a wheel pattern inspired by Washington, D.C., Indianapolis is known as the "Circle City."

1. In 1820 the sparsely populated, low-lying area was selected for the new capital because of its location in the center of the state and near the White River, which state leaders assumed would serve as a means of commerce. Ironically, the river proved not to be navigable, and the lack of dependable transportation routes limited the city's economic and population growth until the coming of the National Road in 1837 and railroads in the 1840s.


2. Indianapolis maintained a diverse and balanced economy after the 1840s. Reflecting the city's position in the Midwest farm belt, agriculture and food processing predominated until after World War I, and both retained their importance to the economy through the 1950s. After World War II the city became dependent on durable-goods manufacturing, which provided high-wage jobs through the 1960s but was vulnerable to recession, notably in 1979–1982.

3. To bring more balance to the local economy and to revitalize downtown, city leaders endeavored to make Indianapolis a center for amateur sports. From 1979 to 1989 the city and its private-sector allies spent $216 million building a sports infrastructure. Along the way Indianapolis acquired a National Football League franchise (Indianapolis Colts) and captured national college athletic contests, Olympic trials, and regional sporting events. Similar efforts continued after the 1980s.

4. By the early 21st century, the economy was fairly balanced, although the service sector was predominant. Major employers included government, health organizations, supermarket chains, and banks, followed by drug manufacturers, engine and transmission companies, and other manufacturing firms. More than $5 billion was invested in the downtown area of Indianapolis from 1990 into the early 21st century; ongoing projects are considered essential to downtown growth and economic health.

Downtown Indianapolis
Downtown Indianapolis | Source

5. Many of the revitalization efforts focused on sports, which, in turn, increased tourism; the number of visitors reached nearly 2 million by the mid-1990s. The most famous events continued to draw the largest crowds. The Indianapolis 500, Brickyard 400, and U.S. Grand Prix auto races had combined attendance figures approaching 1 million annually; that figure continued to climb.

6. Six interstate highways intersect Indianapolis. The city is served by Indianapolis International Airport, interstate bus lines, and railroads. Mass transit within the city is provided by the Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation, or IndyGo.

7. Southern and eastern settlers migrated to central Indiana during the 1820s, displacing the Native American population. Irish and German immigrants came in large numbers during the 1840s and 1850s either to help build canals and railroads or to escape revolution. These groups greatly influenced the city's culture, and they continued to migrate to Indianapolis in subsequent decades.

Indianapolis crowd
Indianapolis crowd | Source

8. The Civil War primed the Indianapolis economy, and the population soared to over 48,000 by 1870. Further growth was spurred by railroad construction in the 1880s, a local natural-gas boom in the 1890s, and the flight of African Americans from the rural South in the early 20th century. After the 1880s the city's growth owed more to internal migration and natural population increase than to immigration.

9. By 1910, African Americans constituted more than 9% of the population, the highest percentage of any city north of the Ohio River. Other cities, however, had a high percentage of immigrants, 35.7% in the case of Chicago. In contrast, only 8.5% of Indianapolis residents were foreign born at that time, a statistic that continued to shrink through much of the 20th century.

10. Manufacturing for World War II increased employment, and the city's population rose to 427,173 by 1950. In the 1960s Indianapolis experienced a flood of new arrivals from Appalachia, and by the next census 16% of the population had been born in the South. In 2010 the city's population stood at 820,445 (58.6% non-Hispanic white, 27.5% African American, 9.4% Hispanic, 2.1% Asian, and 0.3% Native American). Hispanic immigrants were the fastest-growing ethnic group and were quickly making their mark on the city's cultural life.

The Children's Museum of Indianapolis
The Children's Museum of Indianapolis | Source
Indianapolis Zoo
Indianapolis Zoo | Source
Indiana State Museum
Indiana State Museum | Source

11. The city's largest university is Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), which was established in 1969 by two state institutions based elsewhere. Other distinguished institutions of higher education located in the Circle City are Butler University, which features Clowes Memorial Hall, a noted venue for a variety of arts productions; Marian College; Martin University, a predominantly African American institution; the University of Indianapolis; and the Indianapolis campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. The city is served by 11 public school districts -the largest of which is the Indianapolis Public Schools system- and a considerable number of religious and secular private schools.

12. The artistic community can trace its beginnings to the late 19th century, a time considered the city's cultural golden age, when central Indiana artists and writers garnered national attention. Art and culture have, of late, experienced a rebirth.

13. The Cultural Districts Program, created in 2003, focused on supporting cultural development in five areas of the city; in 2004 the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission approved a sixth district proposal. The purpose of the program was to point out all the city has to offer to tourists as well as to residents; any boost to the economy of the surrounding businesses would be an added benefit. Several of the chosen areas had experienced urban decay but have since been revitalized.

14. The Heartland Film Festival is the most conspicuous of the newer cultural events that mark the city's calendar; the annual event draws independent filmmakers and Hollywood industry leaders as well. Other festivals held annually are the Indy Jazz Festival, the Indianapolis International Film Festival, the Theater Fringe Festival, and the Alternative Media Festival.

NCAA Hall of Champions
NCAA Hall of Champions | Source
Indianapolis 500
Indianapolis 500 | Source
Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral
Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral | Source

15. Older established events include Indiana Black Expo, featuring Summer Celebration, an 11-day event that attracts more than 300,000 people; and the Circle City Classic, a weekend of events surrounding a football game that highlights the best rivalries in black college football. The Indiana State Fair has been in existence since the mid-1800s and has had a permanent home in Indianapolis since 1892.

16. Museums, theaters, galleries, and public art can be found throughout Indianapolis. Unlike institutions in many American cities, most of Indianapolis's cultural groups are private, nonprofit organizations, including the zoo, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and music and theater groups.

17. One of the more notable places in Indianapolis is the Madame Walker Theatre Center, which emphasizes arts and culture from an African American perspective; it provides a forum that is aimed at cross-cultural appreciation.

18. Attractions and landmarks are numerous. Indianapolis has been described as a city of monuments. A five-block area contains the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, built to commemorate the Civil War; the War Memorial Plaza, which pays homage to America's wars since 1865; a glass wall dedicated to Medal of Honor awardees; and a memorial to the U.S.S. Indianapolis, a cruiser lost in the Pacific Ocean during World War II.

19. Among the city's sports complexes are the Conseco Fieldhouse, home to the Indiana Pacers (National Basketball Association) and the Indiana Fever (Women's National Basketball Association) and also the venue for other sporting and entertainment events; the Indiana University Natatorium, which has three pools and diving boards and is host to the U.S. Olympic Diving Trials; the Lucas Oil Stadium, home field for the Colts and future site of the 2012 NFL Super Bowl; the Major Taylor Velodrome, hosting international bicycle racing events; and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the only speedway to host an Indy Car, a NASCAR, and a Formula One race in the same calendar year.

20. Popular museums in Indianapolis are the Children's Museum, which is considered the largest of its kind in the world; Pres. Benjamin Harrison's home; the Speedway Museum; and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Several attractions can be found in or near the White River State Park complex, including the NCAA Hall of Champions, the Indiana Historical Society, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, and the Indiana State Museum. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra performs in the Hilbert Circle Theater. Popular-culture artists can be heard at the Verizon Wireless Music Center in nearby Noblesville, and various productions of plays and musicals can be seen at a number of different venues, including the Murat Theater.


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