"Most of Riverdale's swampy land was used or zoned for a wide range of manufacturing and industrial purposes" throughout most of its history. "Its largest industry began as the Calumet Paint Company" in an abandoned church, and by the beginning of the 1900s, "Sherwin-Williams had purchased the plant and turned it into one of America's largest paint manufactories." Jobs at that plant, along with those at Chicago Drop Forge, the Illinois Terra Cotta Works, and the Swift and Knickerbocker Ice plants "made Riverdale a place where far more people worked than lived until the end of World War II."
To this day, much of Riverdale's land is controlled by city, county, metropolitan, state, and federal agencies, and throughout history, their actions helped shape area's development. The Metropolitan Sanitary District constructed a sewage treatment plant in the area in the 1920s to service the growing communities nearby, part of the eastern side of Riverdale became part of the Beaubien Forest Preserve, and "governmental improvements on the Little Calumet and Lake Calumet and the construction of the Cal-Sag Channel shaped industrial development" in the community.