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What Is the Rust Belt, & How Did It Get Its Name?

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top-end Cadillac LTS Detroit-Hamtramck

GM’s Detroit-Hamtrack plant

You’ve probably heard historians, news outlets, or even your parents mention the Rust Belt at some point. It’s a common term for Baby Boomers, but not everyone knows what areas it specifically refers to, or how the moniker even came about. Discovering that requires a look back at the history of manufacturing in America.

How the Manufacturing Belt Became the Rust Belt

Geographically, the Rust Belt refers to the area around the Great Lakes and some of the Northeast; anchor cities include Akron, Buffalo, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Toledo, and some of New Jersey. It stretches as far as West Virginia to Massachusetts to even Iowa.

The Rust Belt didn’t always bear that name. Back in the early 20th century when industrial manufacturing was at its peak, these booming metropolitan areas were called names like the Factory Belt or the Steel Belt to distinguish them from areas driven by other commerce, like agriculture and fishing. The population and development of these factory towns exploded due to market demands and waves of immigrants taking low-paying jobs.

What brought about that cynical nickname was the decline of the iron and steel industries in the 1960s-1970s, which resulted in widespread job loss, poverty, crime, and dilapidated buildings. What had been the hub of metal production had quickly “rusted” and become a derelict string of urban slums. Democrat Walter Mondale is generally credited with coining the term in his 1984 presidential campaign.

Sources: ThoughtCo.,