WHAT IS 'Rust Bowl'

Rust bowl is another name for rust belt, a geographic region that was formerly a manufacturing or industrial powerhouse, but is now in deep, seemingly irreversible decline. While a rust bowl can occur anywhere in the world, it is most commonly used to refer to the U.S. Northeast and Midwest, which were previously dominant in automobile and steel manufacturing. 


Rust bowl is a play on the term dust bowl, which is a term describing formerly prosperous farming regions in Oklahoma, Kansas and parts of Texas that underwent years of drought and became literally filled with dust. This coincided with the Great Depression, which accentuated the loss of farm production and income for farmers. The destruction and despair of the dust bowl entered the American consciousness through John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath.

Rust bowl as a term expresses the same loss and hopelessness as dust bowl, but for areas that boomed in the early and mid-1900s with heavy manufacturing. These areas, which formed a belt across the Midwest through Pittsburgh and up to Buffalo and concentrated areas in the Northeast, became prosperous during the post-World War II-era manufacturing boom. These areas produced heavy industrial materials and consumer products and developed the storage and transportation systems to distribute them to the rest of the country. Once manufacturing of these categories shifted to other areas, including Mexico and countries in Asia, these regions struggled to adjust. While some found new industries, most lost prosperity and spiraled into recession. They became known as the rust bowl, which had the same emotional resonance as the term dust bowl for Americans.

Rust bowl and rust belt were poignant and descriptive terms in the 1980s through 2000, but in the last few decades as the entire country has shifted toward service and information industries, these areas have begun to regain economic ground relative to the rest of the country.

Rust Bowl and Rust Belt

While both rust bowl and rust belt are names for types of regions that once flourished with manufacturing but became economically depressed with the loss of that manufacturing, rust bowl is most often used as a name of a type of place. Rust belt, or Rust Belt, usually refers specifically to the formerly-prosperous manufacturing centers across the Midwest, including Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit and Milwaukee, and sometimes including Pittsburgh and Buffalo. These were originally called the Steel Belt or Manufacturing Belt, so when they declined with the loss of manufacturing overseas, they became known as the Rust Belt.

  1. Calendar Effect

    The calendar effect is a collection of theories asserting certain ...
  2. Economic Blight

    Economic blight is the visible and physical decline of a property, ...
  3. Depressed

    Depressed is a state or condition of a market characterized by ...
  4. Lean Six Sigma

    Lean Six Sigma is a team-focused managerial approach that seeks ...
  5. Fake Claims

    The term fake claims refers to insurance claims that are made ...
  6. Manufacturing Cells

    Manufacturing cells are sets of machines that are grouped by ...
Related Articles
  1. Tech

    Are Super Bowl Ads Worth Their High Cost?

    Are Super Bowl ads worth the investment? A look at the cost and how they're received.
  2. Insights

    Super Savings for Your Super Bowl Party? Bet on It

    Prices for wings, avocados and TVs are all coming down, which will make your Super Bowl 50 festivities less costly.
  3. Insights

    These Free Super Bowl Ads Happened (BUD)

    The average 30-second Super Bowl cost marketers $5 million in 2016. But these companies benefited from free advertising during and after the game.
  4. Personal Finance

    9 Weird Companies That Hit The Big Time

    From shipwreck explorers to bowling lanes, just about any company can be publicly traded.
  5. Investing

    E*TRADE's Retirement Ads Highlight Stark Fact: Americans Aren't Saving Enough

    E*TRADE's Super Bowl commercial highlighted a stark reality: Americans aren't saving enough for retirement.
  6. Investing

    How Huge Is Super Bowl Sunday for Pizza Chains?

    During the big game, American eat a lot of pizza. That's not a surprise, given that the Super Bowl has become as much about having a party as it is watching the game. What may be a bit shocking ...
  7. Managing Wealth

    Investopedia's Oddest Business and Investing Terms

    The oddest business and investing terms found on Investopedia.
  8. Insights

    The Rise of Super Bowl Ticket Markets

    Buying a ticket for the Super Bowl is not easy, but technology is helping to make it easier.
  9. Insights

    Startup Cities Pose Dilemma for Trump's Jobs Plan

    Five U.S. cities host most of the country's startups which doesn't bode well for Trump's rural base.
  10. Investing

    Here's How T-Mobile Won the Super Bowl

    T-Mobile (NASDAQ: TMUS) went all in on the Super Bowl. The company aired three minutes of ads during the big game, poking fun at its big rivals, and touting its own decision to offer unlimited ...
  1. What raw materials do auto manufacturers use?

    Learn about some of the raw materials required for auto manufacturing, including iron for steel, aluminum, rubber, and petroleum ... Read Answer >>
  2. What caused the Stock Market Crash of 1929 that led to the Great Depression?

    Find out what led to the stock market crash of 1929, which in turn fueled the Great Depression, sparking a nearly 90% loss ... Read Answer >>
  3. What caused the American Industrial Revolution?

    Read about the causes of the American Industrial Revolution, from the first textile mill and through the rise of the corporation. Read Answer >>
  4. How does globalization impact comparative advantage?

    Learn how comparative advantage is becoming increasingly relevant due to globalization and how this has affected both advanced ... Read Answer >>
  5. Which commodities are the main input materials for the automotive sector?

    Explore the materials used by automakers to create modern cars and trucks. Find out more about the materials market as it ... Read Answer >>
Trading Center