Origins of Chicago & Fun Facts
Chicago was only 46 years old when Mark Twain wrote those words, but it had already grown more than 100-fold, from a small trading post at the mouth of the Chicago River into one of the nation’s largest cities, and it wasn’t about to stop. Over the next 20 years, it would quadruple in population, amazing the rest of the world with its ability to repeatedly reinvent itself.
“It is hopeless for the occasional visitor to try to keep up with Chicago. She outgrows his prophecies faster than he can make them.” – Mark Twain, 1883
And it still hasn’t stopped. Today, Chicago has become a global city, a thriving center of international trade and commerce, and a place where people of every nationality come to pursue the American dream.
Chicago for History Buffs
Chicago occupies a central place in the history of American politics, business, labor, civil rights, popular music, architecture, literature, transportation, education and sports.
Just stop and think of some of the people made their mark in Chicago: Jane Addams, Louis Armstrong, Richard J. Daley, Eugene V. Debs, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Michael Jordan, Carl Sandburg, Aaron Montgomery Ward, Ida B. Wells, Frank Lloyd Wright, the list goes on and on.
History buffs can spend weeks exploring historic buildings, cemeteries, homes and other well-marked points of interest. Two good places to start are the Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark St., and the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Pl. By the time you’re through, you’ll have a better understanding not just of Chicago’s past, but of America and its heritage.
DuSable Museum of African American History
740 E. 56th Pl., (57th St. and S. Cottage Grove Ave.) Chicago, IL 60637
The DuSable Museum of African American History is the first independent museum in the country dedicated to the African American experience. Founded in 1961, the goal of the Museum was to be a space to promote cultural understanding and harmony, while correcting the apparent institutionalized omission of Black history and culture in public education.
The Museum serves as a source of pride and inspiration to local, national and international audiences – presenting programs and exhibitions that address universal themes of freedom and opportunity through the eyes of the African American experience.
Being an inclusive museum and not an exclusive museum, our programs and exhibitions are geared to those who enjoy exploring new cultures and have a desire to know more of the multi-dimensional American and world history from the African and African American perspective.
Chicago History Museum
1601 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60614
For over 150 years, the Chicago History Museum has provided visitors and residents with the keys to the citys past, present and future. After an extensive renovation in 2006, the Chicago History Museum reimagined what a history museum could be interactive, colorful and exciting, just like the rough-and-tumble city it celebrates. With world-renowned exhibitions, programs and special events for kids and adults, visitors can explore all of the triumphs and trials that made Chicago one of the worlds greatest cities and the center of commerce and culture that it is today.
Chicago’s first permanent resident was a trader named Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a free black man apparently from Haiti, who came here in the late 1770s. In 1795, the U.S. government built Fort Dearborn at what is now the corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive (look for the bronze markers in the pavement). In the War of 1812, the fort was attacked and burned to the ground by Native American forces allied with the British. It was rebuilt after the war, and demolished in 1857.
A Trading Center
Incorporated as a city in 1837, Chicago was ideally situated to take advantage of the trading possibilities created by the nation’s westward expansion. The completion of the Illinois & Michigan Canal in 1848 created a water link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, but the canal was soon rendered obsolete by railroads. Today, 50 percent of U.S. rail freight continues to pass through Chicago, even as the city has become the nation’s busiest aviation center, thanks to O’Hare and Midway International airports.
The Great Fire of 1871
As Chicago grew, its residents took heroic measures to keep pace. In the 1850s, they raised many of the streets five to eight feet to install a sewer system – and then raised the buildings, as well. Unfortunately, the buildings, streets and sidewalks were made of wood, and most of them burned to the ground in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The Chicago Fire Department training academy at 558 W. DeKoven St. is on the site of the O’Leary property where the fire began. The Chicago Water Tower and Pumping Station at Michigan and Chicago avenues are among the few buildings to have survived the fire.
“The White City”
Chicago rebuilt quickly. Much of the debris was dumped into Lake Michigan as landfill, forming the underpinnings for what is now Grant Park, Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago. Only 22 years later, Chicago celebrated its comeback by holding the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, with its memorable “White City.” One of the Exposition buildings was rebuilt to become the Museum of Science and Industry. Chicago refused to be discouraged even by the Great Depression. In 1933 and 1934, the city held an equally successful Century of Progress Exposition on Northerly Island.
In the half-century following the Great Fire, waves of immigrants came to Chicago to take jobs in the factories and meatpacking plants. Many poor workers and their families found help in settlement houses operated by Jane Addams and her followers. Her Hull House Museum is located at 800 S. Halsted St.
Throughout their city’s history, Chicagoans have demonstrated their ingenuity in matters large and small:
- The nation’s first skyscraper, the 10-story, steel-framed Home Insurance Building, was built in 1884 at LaSalle and Adams streets and demolished in 1931.
- When residents were threatened by waterborne illnesses from sewage flowing into Lake Michigan, they reversed the Chicago River in 1900 to make it flow toward the Mississippi.
- Start of the “Historic Route 66” which begins at Grant Park on Adams Street in the front of the Art Institute of Chicago.
- Chicago was the birthplace of:
- the refrigerated rail car (Swift)
- mail-order retailing (Sears and Montgomery Ward)
- the car radio (Motorola)
- the TV remote control (Zenith)
- The first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, ushering in the Atomic Age, took place at the University of Chicago in 1942. The spot is marked by a Henry Moore sculpture on Ellis Avenue between 56th and 57th streets.
- The 1,450-foot Sears Tower, completed in 1974, is the tallest building in North America and the third tallest in the world.
Our sole female mayor, Jane M. Byrne, served from 1979 to 1983, and was succeeded by our first African-American mayor, Harold Washington, who served until his death in 1987. The longest-serving mayor, Richard J. Daley (1955-1976), presided over a public and private building boom that strengthened both downtown and the city’s neighborhoods. His son, Richard M. Daley, mayor since 1989, has reformed education and public housing, strengthened community policing and overseen construction of billions of dollars of schools, libraries, police stations and infrastructure, as well as the renovation of Soldier Field and the creation of Millennium Park. He has also spearheaded many environmental initiatives in his quest to make Chicago the Greenest city in America.
Chicago Fun Facts
Chicago is the third largest city in the United States, with a population of nearly three million people. Its scenic lakeside location, world-class cultural offerings and unique architecture are just some of the reasons why Chicago is a great place to live and visit.
Chicago is home to…
- 237 square miles of land
- An estimated 2,695,598 residents
- Dozens of cultural institutions, historical sites and museums
- More than 200 theaters
- Nearly 200 art galleries
- More than 7,300 restaurants
- 77 community areas containing more than 100 neighborhoods
- 26 miles of lakefront
- 15 miles of bathing beaches
- 36 annual parades
- 19 miles of lakefront bicycle paths
- 552 parks
- United States President Barack Obama
Did you know…
- More than 45 million people visited Chicago in 2007!
- Chicago was incorporated as a city in 1837.
- Chicago’s nicknames include: The Windy City, the City of Big Shoulders, the Second City, and The City That Works.
- The “Historic Route 66” begins in Chicago at Grant Park on Adams Street in front of the Art Institute of Chicago.
- The Chicagoland area contains nearly 10 million people in three states – Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana – and is the 22nd largest metropolitan area in the world.
- Chicago is home to eleven Fortune 500 companies, while the rest of the metropolitan area hosts an additional 21 Fortune 500 companies.
- McCormick Place, Chicago’s premier convention center, offers the largest amount of exhibition space in North America (2.2 million square feet).
- The first Ferris wheel made its debut in Chicago at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Today, Navy Pier is home to a 15-story Ferris wheel, modeled after the original one.
- Chicago’s downtown area is known as “The Loop.” The nickname refers to the area encircled by the elevated (‘L’) train tracks.
- The game of 16-inch softball, which is played without gloves, was invented in Chicago.
- In 1900, Chicago successfully completed a massive and highly innovative engineering project – reversing the flow of the Chicago River so that it emptied into the Mississippi River instead of Lake Michigan. Each year, the Chicago River is dyed green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
- The Art Institute of Chicago has one of the largest and most extensive collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in the world.
- Chicago was one of the first and largest municipalities to require public art as part of the renovation or construction of municipal buildings, with the passage of the Percentage-for-Arts Ordinance in 1978.
- The Chicago Cultural Center is the first free municipal cultural center in the U.S. and home to the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany dome.
- When it opened in 1991, the Harold Washington Library Center, with approximately 6.5 million books, was the world’s largest municipal library.
- The Lincoln Park Zoo, one of only three major free zoos in the country, is the country’s oldest public zoo with an estimated annual attendance of three million.
- The Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at 110 stories high.
- The Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower)elevators are among the fastest in the world operating as fast as 1,600 feet per minute.
- Four states are visible from the Skydeck Chicago (formerly the Sears Tower Skydeck). Indiana, Illinois, Michigan & Wisconsin.
- The first steel rail road in the United States was produced in 1865.
- The first mail-order business, Montgomery Ward & Co., was established in 1872.
- The world’s first skyscraper, the Home Insurance Company, was built in 1885.
- The original Ferris wheel was built on the midway of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.
- The Adler Planetarium became the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere in 1930.
- The nation’s first blood bank was established in 1937 by Dr. Bernard Fantus at Cook County Hospital.
- The first drive-in bank opened in 1946.
- Gwendolyn Brooks became the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1949.
- The remote control was invented in 1950.
- The first Democratic National Convention televised coast-to-coast was held in 1952 at Chicago’s International Amphitheater. (The first televised Democratic National Convention, in 1948, only reached viewers in the Northeast.)
- Maria Callas made her U.S. debut at the Lyric Opera in 1954.
- The first televised U.S. presidential candidates’ debate was broadcast from Chicago’s CBS Studios on September 26, 1960, between John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Richard Milhous Nixon.
- Sen. Carol Moseley Braun became the country’s first female African-American U.S. senator in 1992.
- The late Mayor Richard J. Daley and current Mayor Richard M. Daley became the first father-son team to head the United States Conference of Mayors in 1996.