The late 1870s and early 1880s saw more improvements for Kalamazoo. The first telephone line connected the Merrill and McCourtie Mill to its downtown offices in 1878. When sanitary and storm sewers were constructed during the early 1880s, the City Engineers had the foresight not to merge the two. In April 1884, the villagers of Kalamazoo voted to become a City. The largest village (16,500 citizens) in the United States became the City of Kalamazoo. Banker and entrepreneur Allen Potter was elected the City's first Mayor.
The industrial age was upon America and Kalamazoo was in the thick of it. Up to the turn of the century, Kalamazoo was known world-wide for the production of wind engines, carriages, pharmaceuticals, corsets, musical instruments, fishing reels, stoves, mint oils, cigars, playing cards, regalia, paper products, celery, beer and coffins.
The captains of industry also filled City Hall as Mayors and Aldermen. The electric light plant opened in 1886. Also that year Michigan's first Savings and Loan was created in Kalamazoo. The Chicago, Kalamazoo and Saginaw Railroad came to Kalamazoo in 1888. Borgess Hospital was founded in 1889.
Street cars, first horse-drawn and then electric, allowed workers to live farther from their jobs and urban sprawl was born along with some of Kalamazoo's finest neighborhoods. Kalamazoo boomed at the turn of the century with population growing an impressive 62% from 1900 to 1910.
Several local automobile manufacturers tried their luck at capturing the driving public's fancy, with none succeeding. Even the well-regarded Roamer, a luxury car, was defunct by 1928. As the carriage makers, cigar manufacturers, and celery growers declined, new industries were born. The paper industry reigned supreme with numerous mills turning out a variety of products.
Flinch, manufactured in Kalamazoo, was the world's favorite card game. The interurbans provided quick, cheap inter-city transportation. In 1903, Western Michigan University opened as the Western State Normal School educating future teachers. Bronson Hospital was founded in 1904. The Bijou motion picture theater debuted in 1906. Caroline Bartlett Crane advocated cleaner streets and more importantly hygiene for the meat packing industry.