50 Historical Photos of Chicago
Chicago is one of the most popular cities in the world because of its rich heritage. It is one of the largest cities in the United States and is known for its bold architecture, museums, and skyscrapers. It was founded in 1830 and quickly evolved into an industrial metropolis. There are many landmarks in the Windy City that millions of tourists visit every year.
Spray Paint Was Invented In Chicago
Aerosol cans had been around for a long time but no one ever thought to fill the can with paint. However, in 1947, Chicago resident Edward Seymour filled an aerosol can with aluminum-colored paint and pressed the button.
His wife suggested that he try it, and the result was a smooth, evenly-coated painted surface. His invention made painting easier and more portable; it was an instant commercial success. Sadly, the Chicago City Council banned the sale of spray paint in 1992 to crack down on graffiti.
Chicago Is Home Of The Twinkie
Jimmy Dewar worked as a manager at the Hostess Brands factory in Chicago, and he wanted to create a pastry that was filled with cream. He invented the Twinkie, which launched in 1930 and was named after an ad for "Twinkle Toe Shoes."
Originally, the Twinkie was filled with banana cream but was later replaced with vanilla cream during WWII because bananas were hard to come by. Thankfully, the vanilla-filled cakes became even more popular than the banana cream-filled cakes.
Chicago Is Home To The World’s First All-Color Television Station
After several months of hard work, Chicago's own NBC 5 Chicago/WMAQ television station became the first all-color station in the world in 1956. Then it became the city's first commercial station to broadcast in stereo in 1986.
At WMAQ-TV, April 15, 1956, it is known as 'C-Day,' and it was described as a daring breakthrough in the black and white curtain. Robert W. Sarnoff was the President of NBC in 1956, and the project cost more than $1,250,000, with the advertising alone costing $175,000.
The Chicago River Is The Only River In The World That Flows Backward
The Chicago River flows through downtown Chicago through various systems and canals. In addition, it is the only river in the world that flows backward. The reason for the river flowing backward was because of sanitation reasons.
There was raw sewage and other pollutants being dumped in the river, which was Chicago's primary source of drinking water. So, they needed to divert the sewage away from Lake Michigan's water supply. The eight-year reversal was recognized as being the largest public earth-moving project ever to be completed.
Home To The First US Blood Bank
In 1937, thanks to Dr. Bernard Fantus, Chicago became the first city to establish a blood bank in the United States. The cost to open the original blood bank was fifteen hundred dollars, and in its first year of operation, it saw 1,364 blood transfusions.
"Fantus was one of the country's foremost experts on pharmaceuticals and perfected the practice of candy-coating medicine for children. He also did work on hay fever, and in a less successful but noble attempt to stop Chicagoans' sneezing, he had city workers attempt to remove the ragweed in the area." ----- Cook County.
The First Open Heart Surgery Was Performed In Chicago
Daniel Hale Williams was one of the first black physicians in Chicago, and he graduated in 1883. In addition, he performed the nation's first open-heart surgery in Chicago at Provident Hospital in 1893.
James Cornish, the patient, was a young man with a knife wound to the chest after a barroom brawl and was able to fully recover in two months. Provident Hospital was the city's first interracial hospital, which Williams helped to found.
Chicago Has Several Nicknames
Chicago has had several nicknames throughout the years, including The Windy City, City of Big Shoulders, The Second City, The White City, and The City That Works.
In addition, Chicago's downtown area is known as The Loop. The Second City nickname came from the fact that Chicago had the second-largest metropolitan area in the US and to the rebuilding of the city after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
Chicago Became A City In 1837
In 1833, Chicago was incorporated as a town and then as a city in 1837, after its population reached four thousand. The city got its first telegraph and railroad in 1848. It is the most populous city in Illinois and the third-most populous city in the United States.
Chicago was also the youngest U.S. city to exceed a population of one hundred thousand. It is an international hub for culture, finance, commerce, education, industry, technology, telecommunications, and transportation.
Jean Baptiste Du Sable Was Chicago’s First Permanent Settler
Jean Baptiste Point du Sable was Chicago's first permanent non-indigenous resident. He was a black man from Haiti that came here via the Mississippi River in the 1770s. Jean's father was a French sailor, and his mother was an African slave.
He and his wife had a home at the mouth of the Chicago River. Jean is credited with building the trading post, which later turned into Chicago, where he settled with his wife Kittihawa.
The Great Chicago Fire In 1871
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 decimated thousands of buildings and caused more than two hundred million in destruction and damage. The fire burned for two days, and more than three hundred people were killed.
Unfortunately, the real cause of the fire is still unknown. Roughly seventeen thousand buildings were destroyed, and one hundred thousand people were left homeless. However, the people of Chicago picked up their heads and rebuilt their city.
Route 66 Began In Chicago
Route 66, also called Main Street of America or the Mother Road, begins in Chicago. It was established in 1926, starts at Grant Park on Adams Street, and is one of the U.S. Highway System's original highways.
It stretched over twenty-four hundred miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, CA. In addition, it ran through Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Parts of the highway have been designated as the Historic Route 66.
Chicago Is Home To Four Of The Country’s 10 Tallest Buildings
Chicago is home to four of the ten tallest buildings in the country. The tallest building is the Willis Tower, which is one hundred and ten stories tall, or 1,451 feet. The tower is located in the Chicago Loop and was completed in 1974.
The second, third, and fourth-tallest buildings in Chicago are the Trump International Hotel & Tower, St. Regis Chicago, and the Aon Center. In addition, Chicago leads the nation in the twenty tallest women-designed towers in the world.
The Adler Planetarium Was Built In 1930
Oscar von Miller commissioned Carl Zeiss Works in 1913 to design a mechanism that projects an image of celestial bodies onto a dome. The invention became known as the planetarium, and it debuted in 1923.
It is a public museum that is dedicated to the study of astronomy and astrophysics. It is located in Chicago and was the first planetarium in the United States. The Adler Planetarium's mission is to inspire exploration and understanding of the universe.
The Jardine Water Purification Plant Is The World’s Largest Water Purification Plant
The Jardine Water Purification Plant is located in Chicago and was constructed in the 1960s. The plant draws raw water from two of the city's water cribs far offshore in Lake Michigan and supplies two-thirds of Chicago's consumers.
It is the largest water purification plant in the world and pumps an average of one thousand and forty-eight million gallons per day. The plant provides water to more than five million people throughout Chicago.
Chicago Public Library Opened In 1873
The Chicago Public Library opened its doors in 1873 in a circular water tank that survived the fire. William Frederick Poole was elected as the librarian, and during its first twenty-four years, the library moved several times.
The Central Library building cost about two million and was designed by A.H. Coolidge. It took twenty-five draftsmen, one year, and about twelve hundred drawings to complete. In addition, they designed the building to be practically incombustible.
Wrigley Field Opened In 1914
Wrigley Field is a Major League Baseball stadium in Chicago and is the home of the Chicago Cubs. The field opened in 1914 as Weeghman Park for the Chicago Whales for one season, and then the Cubs played their first game in 1916.
William Wrigley Jr. took over the Cubs in 1921 and renamed the field Wrigley Field in 1927. There was actually another Wrigley Field ballpark in Los Angeles that opened in 1925.
Nuclear Power Began In Chicago
On December 2, 1942, a crew of men and women gathered under the viewing stands of the University of Chicago's Stagg Field to light a secret fire. It was the coldest day in Chicago in almost fifty years.
What happened was the first human-made self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was initiated in Cp-1 during an experiment led by Enrico Fermi. It was the Manhattan Project's first major technical achievement, and Fermi described the reactor as "a crude pile of black bricks and wooden timbers."
Walt Disney Was Born In Chicago
Elias Disney, Walt Disney's father, built a home in Chicago on the southwest corner of Tripp Avenue in 1891. It is a two-story, 18 x 28-foot wood cottage that cost eight hundred dollars to build.
His wife Flora drew the plans for the house, and Elias built it. Walter Elias Disney was born in 1901 on the second floor of the family home, but the family moved to Missouri in 1906. The house has since been designated as a historical landmark.
The First Gay Rights Group In The US Began In Chicago
In 1924, the Society for Human Rights was an American LGBT rights organization that was established in Chicago. Henry Gerber (pictured) was the founder and was inspired to create it by the work of German doctor Magnus Hirschfeld.
It was the first recognized gay rights organization in the United States, producing the first American publication for homosexuals, Friendship and Freedom. However, a couple of months after being chartered, the group ceased to exist but has been recognized as a precursor to the modern gay liberation movement.
The Ferris Wheel Was Introduced In 1893
The first Ferris Wheel debuted in 1892 in Chicago as part of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. The wheel featured thirty-six gondolas and stood at two hundred and sixty-four feet tall.
It was designed by George Washington Gale Ferris, and he wanted to rival the majesty of France's Eiffel Tower. Sadly, the original was destroyed by dynamite in 1906 and was replaced by another Ferris Wheel on the Navy Pier.
In The 1950s And 1960s, Chicago Was Hydraulically Raised
Chicago was originally only four feet above Lake Michigan and built on a swamp, which caused the streets to turn to mud, stranding horses, carriages, and humans. In addition, there were pools of standing water all over the city that caused hygiene and health problems, including the cholera outbreak in 1854.
As a result, over a couple of decades, buildings were lifted up using jackscrews and the occasional hydraulic lift. The process was gradual, which allowed businesses to continue to run.
Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo’s First Animal Was A Bear Cub
The Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago was founded in 1868, and it is the fourth oldest zoo in North America. The zoo's first animal was a bear cub that they paid ten dollars for, and other animals were soon donated to the park.
Animals that were donated were two elk, a puma, three wolves, eight peacocks, and four eagles. A historical fact about this zoo is that it's one of the only free zoos still operating in North America.
Chicago Is Home To The Most Complete Dinosaur Fossil In The World
Sue Hendrickson, an explorer and fossil collector, discovered the fossils of a Tyrannosaurus rex in 1990. The bones were in excellent condition, including the teeth still intact.
The dinosaur stands at thirteen feet tall and forty feet long, making it the largest T-Rex specimen ever discovered. In addition to it being the largest, it is also the most complete T-Rex ever found. It was named Sue after Hendrickson and can be seen at the Field Museum in Chicago.
Chicago Was Known For Its Gang Scene
Chicago already had a big gang scene by the 1980s with Irish gangs such as the Dukies and the Shielders. It was common for them to have politicians and businessmen as patrons who took the gangs and transformed them into 'athletic clubs.'
The most numerous gangs in Chicago in the early 20th century were Polish and Italian gangs, with the Polish gangs located in the Pojay area and the Italian gangs located in the Little Sicily area.
Chicago Was Named After Garlic
Long ago, wild onion or garlic used to grow around the Chicago River, which led to the name Chigagou, meaning onion field. The garlic grew in abundance on the wooded banks of the extensive river system, which bore the same name, chicagou.
The moniker was given to the city in 1830, therefore becoming Chicago. On April 19th, every year, National Garlic Day is observed. Chicagou is a local Indian word for the native garlic plant.
Chicago Is Home To Hull House And Social Work
In 1889, Ellen Gates Starr and Jane Addams founded Chicago's Hull House. It was to be a recreational site for immigrants, and it helped inspire a rich tradition of social work in Chicago. The Hull House enriched the lives of many but closed its doors in 2012.
Jane Addams was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, thanks to her support of immigrants and the poor. Today, the original Hull House is a U.S. National Historic Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places list.
The First Fair In Chicago Featured The First Carnival Rides At A World’s Fair
Chicago had the very first World's Fair with carnival rides. The fair in 1893 had the very first Ferris Wheel, and the fair in 1933 had the first Sky Ride. The Sky Ride had towers that were taller than any building in Chicago at the time.
The area for amusements was separated from the exhibition halls. After the first Exposition, the term midway became common. A midway is known as the location where carnival games, entertainment, rides, stores, events, exhibitions, and food booths.
Softball Originated In Chicago
The game of softball originated in Chicago in 1887. Sports fans gathered at the Farragut Boat Club to hear the results of a Yale vs. Harvard game in 1887. After the scores were announced, a fan threw a boxing glove at another fan, who grabbed a bat.
It is rumored that George Hancock yelled "play ball" as the first informal game of softball spontaneously broke out. George Hancock is credited with creating the popular game of softball.
Brownies Originated In Chicago
In 1893, Bertha Palmer invented the brownie at Palmer House. The brownies were introduced to the world at the first Chicago world's fair, the World's Columbian Exposition.
Bertha wanted to showcase a portable dessert to the crowds, so she invented the brownie. Bertha was a socialite and philanthropist who was known as a skilled musician, linguist, writer, and able politician. Her husband, Potter Palmer, built the Palmer House in 1871.
The First Cartoon Character Was Drawn In Chicago
The first cartoon character, Gertie the Dinosaur, made its debut in 1914. It was drawn by the imaginative cartoonists Wallace Carlson and Winsor McCay in Chicago.
Gertie the Dinosaur is an animated short film, and in addition to being the first cartoon character, it was also the first animated film to feature a dinosaur. McCay first used the film before live audiences as part of his vaudeville act, where Gertie did tricks at the command of her master.
Chicago Introduced The Nation To House Music
It has been said that House music was born in The Warehouse, a distinctive Chicago nightclub. House music was made to be played in clubs and features analog synthesizers and sequencers to create electronic music that is combined with other instruments.
It originated in the mid-1980s and combines disco, European synth music, soul music, and homemade beats. Black American Djs were its pioneers, and the most prominent include Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy, Mr. Lee, J.M. Silk, Jesse Saunders, and Larry Hears.
Chicago’s ‘L’ Train System Was The First Elevated Railway In The US
In 1892, Chicago had a traffic problem as the streets were so jammed with pedestrians, horses, carts, and streetcars. So, entrepreneurs tried a new way of getting around by building train tracks above the street.
Chicago chose elevated railways instead of subways because they were cheaper to construct and didn't require much digging. The first elevated train ran from 39th and State streets to Congress Parkway and Wabash Avenue. Eventually, it was expanded and is still part of the Green Line.
The First Automobile Race In America Was Held In Chicago In 1895
The first automobile race was held in Chicago in 1895 and was called the Chicago Times-Herald race. The race had six vehicles, four cars, and two motorcycles, and was created to foster the growth of the young auto industry in the United States and to boost newspaper sales.
The race's original course was to run from Chicago north to Milwaukee, but it was changed to run from Chicago to Evanston. Frank Duryea's Motorized Wagon finished first, completing the race in just short of eight hours. Oscar B. Mueller's The Benz finished the race in second. The race's success sped up the rate of automobile development by at least five years.
Chicago Is The Birthplace Of Electric Chicago Blues
During the Great Migration, large numbers of African Americans left the South, searching for jobs and equal opportunities. Chicago was known as the promised land. Thousands arrived in Chicago and brought with them the sounds of the Mississippi Delta.
The music blended with the bright lights of the city and transformed into something electrifying and symphonic. It was in Chicago that the Blues found its voice and began to spread its message around the world. The Rolling Stones even recorded a blues album in Chicago in 1964.
Chicago Is The Birthplace Of Modern Architecture
Chicago is also known as the birthplace of modern architecture after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Several architects came to the city for the opportunity to take part in the rebuilding efforts, including Frank Lloyd Wright.
Wright went to Chicago in 1887 and became one of the founding fathers of the Prairie School of Architecture. He was named the greatest American architect of all time, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio is now one of the most significant buildings in the history of American architecture.
The First Televised Presidential Debate Was Broadcast From Chicago
The presidential candidates' debate between Richard Milhous Nixon and John F. Kennedy was the first to be broadcast on television. It was broadcast from Chicago's CBS channel and was the first time two presidential candidates had ever squared off on live television. The debate aired on September 26, 1960, and it made it easier for citizens to feel updated and included.
"I was working at KHOU in Houston, just starting out in my so-called career. I had always been told, 'Wear a dark suit on television.' And there was John F. Kennedy, wearing a dark suit. Richard Nixon, on the other hand, was wearing a light gray suit. Kennedy kept his gaze straight ahead, engaging his TV audience. But Nixon kept looking from side to side, addressing the reporters in the studio." ----- Dan Rather.
Willis Tower Is The Tallest Building In The Western Hemisphere
Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, is one hundred and eight stories tall and overlooks four states at the top. It is the tallest building in Chicago and the second tallest building in the United States.
A popular feature of the Willis Tour is its glass observation deck, which actually cracked in 2014. It is one of Chicago's most popular tourist destinations and is considered a seminal achievement for engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan.
The Entire Chicago Shoreline Along Lake Michigan Is Man-Made
The entire Chicago shoreline is man-made and primarily used as parkland. In addition, there are twenty-four beaches in Chicago along the shores of freshwater Lake Michigan. Originally, the city's earliest sand beaches resulted naturally, but the beaches were dynamic and shifted and eroded.
Some beaches were funded by private entities such as hotels and private clubs. The beaches were formed from a combination of sand deposited by lake current and human deposited inland sand from nearby sandpits. The process of completing the shoreline took place over several decades.
The First-Ever Mcdonald’s Was Opened In Chicago In 1955
In 1955, the first McDonald's drive-in restaurant opened in Chicago. It featured red and white glazed tile exterior and exterior benches. The golden arches and "Speedee" logo were part of McDonald's early on, but indoor seating wasn't introduced until 1962.
Then, by 1959, several McDonald's restaurants were open nationally, and by 1965, more than seven hundred had been built. Today, there are more than fourteen thousand McDonald's around the United States.
100 Waiters Were Arrested In 1918 For Poisoning Bad Tippers In Chicago
In 1918, over one hundred waiters were arrested and taken into custody over the widespread practice of poisoning by waiters in Chicago. Whenever guests tipped poorly, they were given the 'Mickey Finn powder' in their drinks or food. The drug was considered to cause vomiting, headaches, dizziness, depression, and can even be lethal.
In addition, Stuart Wood and his wife were arrested for creating the powder. Another man named Jean Crones was believed to have been responsible for poisoning over one hundred people at a Chicago University Club banquet, where three people died.
In 1919, The First Major Aviation Disaster In The US Occurred In Chicago
In 1919, a blimp crashed into the Illinois Trust and Savings Building in Chicago. The blimp was transporting people from Grant Park to the White City amusement park. Ten bank employees, one crew member, and two passengers were killed in the accident, while another twenty-seven were injured.
For unknown reasons, the airship's flammable hydrogen caught fire while cruising at an altitude of twelve hundred feet over the Chicago Loop. The pilot Jack Boettner and mechanic Harry Wacker used parachutes to jump to safety before the blimp crashed.
Prohibition Began In 1919 In Chicago
From 1920 until 1933, alcohol was illegal in the United States, and the time period was called Prohibition. Prohibition was a result of a movement in reaction to the rise in alcoholism, but that didn't decrease the demand for alcohol.
In fact, illegal establishments, called speakeasies, began popping up all over, especially in Chicago. Famous gangsters like Al Capone and Bugs Moran caused Prohibition as they wreaked havoc on the city.
Al Capone Sold Over $60 Million Of Illegal Alcohol In 1927 In Chicago
Alphonse Gabriel Capone also called 'Scarface,' was a gangster who gained attention during the Prohibition era as the co-founder and boss of the Chicago Outfit. He reigned as a crime boss for seven years but joined the Five Points Gang as a teenager.
Later, Capone expanded the bootlegging business through violent means and reveled in attention. In 1931, Capone was convicted of five counts and sentenced to eleven years in federal prison; and died in 1947 of cardiac arrest.
The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Was In 1929 In Chicago
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre occurred in 1929 when Chicago's North Side erupted in gang violence. Seven men associated with the Irish gangster George 'Bugs' Moran were shot to death by several men dressed as policemen.
The men were lined up against a wall and executed. The massacre remained an unsolved crime and was never officially linked to Al Capone, but most considered him to be responsible for the murders.
The Busiest Airport In The US, The O’Hare Airport, Opened In Chicago In 1963
The Chicago Municipal Airport opened in 1926 after the city realized it needed more airport capacity. The O'Hare began as a manufacturing plant for Douglas C-54 Skymasters during World War II, and the site was known as Orchard Place.
Later, the Air Force used O'Hare as a fighter base, but by 1960, the need for O'Hare as an active duty fighter base was diminishing. O'Hare is now an international airport that has non-stop flights to two hundred and twenty-eight destinations.
The First Female Mayor Was Elected In Chicago In 1979
Jane Margaret Byrne was a politician and the first woman to be elected mayor of a major city in the United States. She was the fiftieth Mayor of Chicago from 1979 until 1983.
Until the inauguration of Lori Lightfoot in 2019, she was the only female ever to be mayor of Chicago. Prior to being Mayor of Chicago, she served as Chicago's commissioner of consumer sales from 1969 until 1977.
In The Mid-18th Century, Chicago Was Inhabited By The Potawatomi Tribe
From the seventeenth century until 1833, the Potawatomi inhabited the Chicago region and they played an important role throughout the early American period. Father Allouez described the Potawatomi as "a people whose country is about the lake of the Ill-i-mouek."
"They were warlike people, hunters, and fishers. Of all the people that I have associated within these countries, they are the most docile and affectionate toward the French. Their wives and daughters are more reserved than those of other nations. They have a kind of civility among them and make it quite apparent to strangers, which is rare among our barbarians."
In The 1800s, Chicago Became The Nation’s Railroad Hub
Chicago is often called the nation's railroad hub because of its numerous freight and passenger trains. In fact, more major railroads serve Chicago than any other U.S. city. The largest and most profitable railroads run through the Chicago area.
Chicago was an appealing place for railroads because of its location near fertile farmland and its access to Lake Michigan. In addition, the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program, or C.R.E.A.T.E., was created.
During WWII, Chicago Produced More Steel Than The UK
During World War II, Chicago produced more steel than the entire country of Great Britain. The history of Chicago's steel mills began in 1857, and in the 1870s and 1880s, people came from all over to find work in the blossoming steel industry.
Chicago's steel industry growth can be attributed to the city's close proximity to the Great Lakes and the Calumet River. It provided access to an immigrant workforce and easy transportation for raw materials and finished goods.