Like many Midwestern communities, Muncie has both agricultural and industrial roots.
Muncie has been dubbed America’s Hometown. As is the case with many Midwestern Hometowns, Muncie has gone through phases of growth, decline and rebirth. Although Muncie was noted for significant achievements in industrialization during the 20th Century, the community has had to face a declining industrial base over the past decade. We now look to the innovations in information technology, higher education and healthcare.
Muncie owes its origins to a clan of the Delaware Indians that established a village located along the east fork of the White River. Munseetown was one of several villages located along White River. Prior to permanent settlement French traders and trappers, British soldiers and Moravian missionaries visited Munseetown.
Settlers made their way to the rich farmlands of the Indiana Territory in the early 1800’s.The land that is now Indiana was part of federal lands known as the Northwest Territory and was initially governed under The Northwest Ordinance of 1787.This ordinance excluded slavery and made specific provisions for civil liberties.It divided the lands east of the Mississippi and between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes into proposed states, counties, townships and sections, with specific instructions for the financing of public education.Many of these geopolitical boundaries still exist in Delaware County.The town of Muncie was founded in 1827 when Goldsmith C. Gilbert, a trader, donated land for the county seat.The city of Muncie was incorporated in 1865.
Industrial development was aided by the arrival of the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad in 1852 and the discovery of natural gas in the 1880’s. In 1888 the Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company,known for its glass canning jars, relocated from Buffalo, New York due to the abundance of cheap natural gas in the area. Although Ball Corporation moved to Colorado in 1998, the Ball family was instrumental in establishing both Ball State University and Ball Memorial Hospital, and continues to be supportive of Muncie’s standard of living through significant philanthropic efforts.
Warner Gear, in Muncie since 1901, pioneered the development of automobile transmissions throughout the 20th Century. Milestones include standardization of the industry's first manual transmissions as well as introduction of transmission synchronization and development of a self-contained overdrive. Warner Gear merged with several other automotive manufacturers in 1928 to form Borg-Warner Automotive. World War II’s jeeps were built with Warner Gear’s transmissions. The name Borg-Warner should be familiar to race fans, because the company commissioned the sterling silver trophy for the Indianapolis 500 in 1936.
Sociologists Robert and Helen Lynd chose Muncie as a typical Middle-American city. Their goal was “to study synchronously the interwoven trends that are the life of a small American city." Their publications included Middletown in 1929 and Middletown in Transition in 1937. In the same spirit, further surveys continue to be conducted by Ball State University’s Center for Middletown Studies.