Explore Chicago, Usa

History of Chicago, Usa

Chicago was known as a fine place to find a wild onion if you were a member of the Potawatomi tribe, who lived in this area of Illinois before European settlers arrived. It was mostly swamps, prairie and mud long past the establishment of Fort Dearborn in 1803 and incorporation as a town in 1833. The city later undertook civil engineering projects of unprecedented scale to establish working sewers, even reversing the flow of the Chicago river to keep unclean water out of the city’s drinking supply, and stop buildings from sinking back into the swamps — and that was just the first few decades.

By 1871, the reckless growth of the city was a sight to behold, full of noise, Gothic lunacy, and bustling commerce. But on October 8th, Mrs. Catherine “Cate” O’Leary’s cow reportedly knocked over a lantern in the crowded immigrant quarters in the West Side, and the Great Chicago Fire began. It quickly spread through the dry prairie, killing 300 and destroying virtually the entire city. The stone Water Tower in the Near North area is the most famous surviving structure. But the city seized this destruction as an opportunity to rebuild bigger than before, even inventing the skyscraper in Chicago; which of course, would be picked up and utilized in cities worldwide in the modern day. In addition, several architects and urban planners of Chicago would go on to become legends of modern architecture.

During the late 1800s, Chicago was the fastest growing city in the world. At the pinnacle of its rebirth, Chicago was known as The White City. Cultures from around the world were summoned to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, which Chicago beat New York to host, to bear witness to the work of Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, and the future itself. Cream of Wheat, soft drinks, street lights and safe electricity, the fax machine, and the new invention called the Ferris Wheel bespoke the colossus now resident on the shores of Lake Michigan.

As every road had once led to Rome, every train led to Chicago. Carl Sandburg called Chicago the Hog Butcher for the World for its cattle stockyards and place on the nation’s dinner plate. Sandburg also called it the City of the Big Shoulders, noting the tall buildings in the birthplace of the skyscraper — and the city’s “lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.” But Chicago is a city in no short supply of nicknames. Fred Fisher’s 1922 song (best known in Frank Sinatra’s rendition) calls it That Toddlin’ Town, where “on State Street, that great street, they do things they don’t do on Broadway.” It’s also referenced by countless blues standards like Sweet Home Chicago.

Chicago is also known as The Second City, which refers to its rebuilding after the fire — the current city is literally the second Chicago, after the one that nearly burned down in 1871. The moniker has stuck as Chicago had long-held the position of the nation’s second-largest city. And many know the nickname from Chicago’s great comedy theater Second City located in Old Town which has supplied countless talent to television’s Saturday Night Live and many sitcoms.

During the Prohibition era, Chicago’s criminal world, emblemized by names like Al Capone, Baby Face Nelson, and later Sam Giancana, practically ran the city. The local political world had scarcely more legitimacy in a town where voter turnout was highest among the dead and their pets, and precinct captains spread the word to “vote early, vote often.” Even Sandburg acknowledged the relentless current of vice that ran under the surface of the optimistic city.

Chicago is also known as The Windy City. Walking around town, you might suspect that this nickname came from the winds off Lake Michigan which can, on occasion, make for some windy days. Truth be told, Chicago is far from being excessively windy. In fact, according to the United States National Climatic Data Center, Chicago does not rank high on the list of windy cities. The origin of the saying Windy City comes from politics; some saying it may have been coined by rivals like New York City as a derogatory reference; at the time the two cities were battling for the 1893 World’s Fair, which Chicago ultimately won. Others say that the term originated from the city’s strong political climate.

Finally, the city is also known as the ‘City that Works.’  As other manufacturing cities like Cleveland, Detroit, and Buffalo went into decline, Chicago thrived, transforming from a city of culture and manufacturing to a city of culture and finance. Chicago now houses the world’s largest future exchanges (the Chicago Mercantile Exchange).