The working-class tradition of McKinley Park began "around 1836 when Irish workers on the Illinois & Michigan Canal took squatter's rights to small tracts of land." The completion of the canal a decade later, as well as the arrival of the Chicago & Alton Railroad in 1857, spurred further settling of the area, and the neighborhood's location near both the railroad and the river also prompted numerous industries to move into the area around this time as well. McKinley Park's rise as a neighborhood fit for industry was solidified after the Chicago Fire in 1871. "Within five years after the fire, 11 factories opened—most in iron and steel—along with 27 brickyards." The result of these types of operations moving into the area "was the creation of the solid working-class community that still exists today."
The working-class ethic was further strengthened in 1905 with the development of the Central Manufacturing District, which was the first planned manufacturing district in the United States. "By 1915, some two hundred firms were using the Central Manufacturing District," and the success of the site "spawned copycat developments such as the Clearing Industrial Park in 1909 and the CENTEX Industrial Park in Elk Grove in 1956."