A history of Muncie’s blight + our work to build a sustainable future

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Natural gas lights Muncie’s fire

Muncie was much like any other Midwestern town until natural gas fields were discovered in Delaware County in the 1880s. The cheap, raw energy source brought businesses, including the Ball Family, which was producing 74 million jars a year in Muncie by 1905.

Other manufacturers that made Muncie home, included American Lawnmower, the Broderick Company, Frank Foundry, Westinghouse, Ontario Corporation, to name a few. The automotive industry was also well represented with BorgWarner Automotive, Delco Battery, and Chevrolet Muncie (which operated as a General Motors facility under other names).

Industry booms, then falls

These factories and plants took up millions of square feet and employed generations of thousands of families. Many believed the natural gas that sustained these industries to be unending. It was not, and it’s believed that upwards of 90 percent the natural gas in the fields was wasted. When the gas ran out in the 1900s, some industries left, while others—including the Balls—remained for the inexpensive land, water, and plentiful, hardworking workforce.

Ball canning piqued in the 1930s, with the family selling 190 million fruit jars—approximately 1.6 jars for every man, woman, and child in the United States. But by the end of that decade—with the Great Depression in full swing—sales for canning jars had plummeted, with the Ball’s achieving a profit of only $5,000 in 1938. But the innovative Ball brothers responded to the needs of the age and survived, making ammunition shells for WWII and aerospace products. The company realized its success was beyond Muncie’s boarders, and in 1962, the last Ball Jar was produced here. In 1998, the company moved its headquarters to Colorado.

Ball’s exit signaled a trend

The loss of Muncie’s only Fortune 500 company headquarters was a major blow. Other businesses fell in line, like dominoes. Delco shut its southside plant in 1998. Muncie’s Chevrolet closed in 2006, and BorgWarner in 2009.

More than 150 years after Muncie was established, the community continues to heal and innovate, with the workforce focused on medicine, education, and government or service industries. A handful of manufacturing companies remain, including Magna Powertrain, Maxon/Honeywell, Mid-West Metal Products.

A Sustainable future

ecoREHAB and other community-building organizations have been working together to rehabilitate deteriorating homes, educating neighbors about sustainable practices, and tackling smaller projects to help residents remain in their homes. Learn more about our work.

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