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Founded in 1827, Muncie, the county seat of Delaware County, grew slowly until the discovery of natural gas in 1886, when an economic boom ensued and the population increased from a few thousand inhabitants to tens of thousands. By the early twentieth century, depletion of the natural gas slowed growth, but Muncie’s central location, industrial capacity, and large workforce helped it to remain viable throughout the next century with various industries. Besides Ball canning jars and Ball State University, Muncie may be best known as “Middletown,” the typical American city that sociologists Robert and Helen Lynd studied and reported upon in the 1920s and 30s in an effort to understand life in middle America.
Jews were a small, but significant element in the story of Muncie’s development. Jews were present in Muncie at least as early as the 1850s, when brothers Lipman and Henry Marks opened a dry goods store in Muncie. The Jewish population of Muncie, even at its height, never exceeded 200 people. With an extremely small population, it was impossible for the Jewish community to support more than one temple, let alone a kosher butcher. Nevertheless, their impact and influence on the greater community as a whole was disproportionately greater then their numbers. By the turn of the century, Jewish entrepreneurs operated a large proportion of downtown businesses.