A Center of Commerce and Manufacturing
Trade has always been vital to Louisville’s economy. The city’s location at the Falls of the Ohio led to its development as a dynamic river port. In the 19th century, steamboat traffic kept the riverfront in a perpetual uproar. With the rise of railroads, Louisville became a strategic crossroads between North and South, East and West. Negotiating the city’s position as a link between regions could be delicate, particularly during the tumultuous years of the Civil War. Two important groups that helped represent Louisville traders during such times were the Board of Trade and its offshoot, the Commercial Club. Established by Louisville’s merchants and industrialists, these organizations protected the city’s commercial interests and encouraged economic growth.
At the same time, downtown Louisville was home to a wide variety of manufacturing enterprises that helped put the city on the map. The manufacturing landscape of Louisville included everything from woodworking and cement factories to confectionaries and distilleries. Louisville was also home to several manufacturers of agricultural implements, which at one point made the city the world’s largest producer of plows. Main Street between Eighth and Twelfth Streets was known as the Tobacco District, serving for a time as the world’s largest tobacco market. Large factories for all sorts of industries took up blocks and acres of downtown real estate and served as the foundation for Louisville’s burgeoning economy.