Chicago has a wealth of nicknames--"Windy City, "City that Works" and "City of Big Shoulders" among them--and has the big personality to match. Ravaged by fire in 1871, the city eventually rose from the ashes to emerge as America's "Second City," trailing only New York in population and influence until the 1980s. Now home to nearly 3 million people, Chicago has the third-largest population in the United States. It is the birthplace of the country's first skyscrapers and the first elevated train system (the famous "El"), and boasts a glorious mix of architectural styles (Romanesque and Gothic Revival, Italianate and even exotic Moorish and Egyptian).
More to Explore
The 21st member of the union, Illinois lies within both the old industrial belt and the fertile agricultural heart of the U.S.
A guide to some historic destinations across America
New York City has a wealth of history and historic places to visit.
From the stately Victorian-era mansions to the bustling Fisherman's Wharf to one of the country's oldest Chinatowns, San Francisco's rich history is visible around every corner.
Located at 435 N. Michigan Avenue, the Tribune Tower is the product of an international design competition held in 1922; the object was to design "the most beautiful office building in the world." A tower complete with flying buttresses topped the winning entry by Raymond M. Hood and John Mead Howells, which was influenced by the famous cathedral in Rouen, France. More than 120 fragments of other famous structures from across the United States and around the world (including Bunker Hill, Fort Sumter, Westminster Abbey and the Taj Mahal) are embedded in the base of the Tribune Tower.
Built in 1914, this home to the Chicago Cubs is the second-oldest stadium in baseball's major leagues (after Boston's Fenway Park, built in 1912). It was originally known as Weeghman Park after its onetime owner, Charles Weeghman, and was built on the grounds once occupied by a seminary to be the home of Chicago's team in the Federal League, which folded in 1915. Weeghman then bought the Cubs, and in 1920 the stadium became known as Cubs Park. The Wrigley family (of chewing gum fame and fortune) later bought it from Weeghman, prompting another name change. Over the years since, Wrigley Field has been the scene of many historic moments in baseball, including the famous "called shot," when the iconic Babe Ruth allegedly pointed to the bleachers during a 1932 World Series game, then hit the next pitch for a homerun. Wrigley Field's bleachers and scoreboard were constructed in 1937, when the outfield area was renovated to provide improved and expanded seating. The original scoreboard remains intact, waiting--along with loyal Cubs fans--for the team to win its first world championship in more than 100 years.
Jane Addams-Hull House Museum
In 1889, in a run-down mansion built by the real estate developer Charles Hull, the pioneering reformer Jane Addams (along with Ellen Gates Starr) began what would become the most influential social settlement house in the country. Part of a movement to address the problems of growing urbanization, industrialization and immigration, social settlements aimed to attract native-born, educated, middle- and upper-middle-class volunteers to typically poor urban neighborhoods, where they would provide culture and education for their lower-income neighbors in the hopes of alleviating their poverty. Hull House, located in one of Chicago's immigrant neighborhoods, became the launching pad for a reform movement that led to the creation of a Federal Children's Bureau and child labor legislation by 1920. Today, the building on South Halstead Street is owned by the University of Illinois at Chicago and houses a museum dedicated to Addams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.
Frederick C. Robie House
This house, located in Hyde Park on Chicago's South Side, is the most famous of the more than 75 buildings that Frank Lloyd Wright designed in the Chicago area. Built in 1909-10, it was an outstanding example of the style of architecture that came to be known as the Prairie School, with sweeping horizontal lines mirroring the flat surfaces of the Midwestern plain. Its modern look was a striking departure from the more traditional residences of the period, as was its energy-efficiency: The house was designed to keep direct sunlight from the rooms, while at the same time not letting them get too dark. Devotees of Wright's groundbreaking work should also plan a visit to the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, where Wright built his home and studio around 1889.
This iconic building, the only one of the city's great railroad terminals still in use, stands as a symbol of Chicago's long reign as the railroad transportation hub of the country. Located on South Canal Street, in the West Loop, the Neoclassical station is also a must-see for those with an interest in architecture: Grand Roman columns sweep to the ceiling in the ornate Beaux-Arts "Great Hall," the station's main waiting room, which also boasts a grand vaulted skylight and interconnected lobbies, staircases and balconies.
Chess Records & Studio
In 1950, the Polish immigrant brothers Leonard and Phil Chess abandoned their nightclub, Club Macambo, to form a recording studio on Cottage Grove in the heart of the South Side's "Bronzeville." (The historically African-American part of Chicago, Bronzeville or the "Black Metropolis" had thrived during the 1930s and 1940s as a cultural, musical, religious and educational mecca in the style of New York's Harlem.) By 1954, Chess Records and a subsidiary blues label, Chess, had scored hits with such artists as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter, helping establish the influential new style of music known as rhythm and blues (or R&B). Later, as R&B in turn influenced rock and roll, Chess staked its claim with artists such as Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. After 1957, "Record Row" relocated from Cottage Grove to S. Michigan, where Chess Records & Studio made its home at Number 2120 and produced hits for Etta James, the Dells, the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, among others. Today, "2120" is home to Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation.
Off the Beaten Path: Pullman District
In a widely discussed social experiment, George M. Pullman (the inventor of the Pullman railroad sleeper car) built this company-owned neighborhood for his factory workers in the late 19th century. Located 14 miles from downtown Chicago, the carefully landscaped Pullman District included private residences and public buildings, such as the impressive Victorian-style Hotel Florence. The workers who lived there benefited from advanced conveniences, such as indoor plumbing and gas facilities. Pullman's experiment didn't end well, however, as an economic panic drove the factory owner to lower wages, sparking a bloody workers' strike in 1894. The district was later incorporated into the city of Chicago, and the residences began to sell to private owners in 1907. Much of Pullman's ideal "factory town" still stands today, available for guided tours or exploration throughout the year.
Glessner House Museum
The architect Henry Hobson Richardson designed this Prairie Avenue residence for John J. Glessner, an executive with the International Harvester Company, and his wife Frances; it was completed in 1887. Glessner House was part of a renaissance during the 1880s of the so-called Romanesque Revival style, marked by heavy exterior walls made of rough-cut granite, round arches, squat columns, recessed windows and turrets topped with pressed metal. A radical departure from the prevailing Victorian architecture of the day, the design helped inspire the young Frank Lloyd Wright. The Glessner family lived there for 50 years, during a time when the biggest and grandest mansions in Chicago (homes to such luminaries as Marshall Field, George Pullman and meatpacking giant Philip Armour) could be found on Prairie Avenue. Though many of the mansions were demolished by the mid-20th century, Glessner House and Clarke House, Chicago's oldest building, still stand to give a glimpse into the previous character of the neighborhood, now a historical district. Glessner House Museum offers guided tours of the house itself (nearly all of the original family furnishings are intact) and of Clarke House.
Famous & Infamous Residents
America's most infamous gangster, Al Capone, may have grown up in New York (where he sustained the injury that earned him his nickname, "Scarface," in a youthful skirmish) but he would make his mark in Chicago. In 1925, Capone took control of the city's organized crime syndicate, including gambling, prostitution and bootlegging rackets and the ruthless elimination of his rivals. Convicted of income tax evasion in 1931 and sentenced to 11 years in prison, Capone was released an invalid in 1939 and died eight years later.
One of history's most famous dreamers, Disney was born in Chicago in 1901. His father was a restless carpenter (he was said to have worked at the World's Exposition of 1893), contractor and farmer who moved his family to Kansas City and then back to Chicago, where Walt attended McKinley High School and planned to become a newspaper cartoonist. Disney later took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago on his way to a historic career.
One of Chicago's most famous residents, Oprah Winfrey, moved to the city in 1984 to host the struggling morning talk show "AM Chicago." Within months after Winfrey's arrival, the show shot to the top of the ratings, besting even the reigning Chicago talk-show king Phil Donahue. Renamed "The Oprah Winfrey Show," the program was syndicated nationally in 1986 and went on to become the highest-rated talk show in America. Winfrey is now one of the most powerful people in media and entertainment, with successful film and television production companies, a magazine empire and (as of 2010) her own television network.
Elected in 2008 as the nation's 44th president and the first African American to hold that office, the Hawaiian-born Barack Obama launched his political career in Chicago, where in 1985 he began working as a community organizer on Chicago's largely impoverished Far South Side. He later returned to the city, where he met and married South Side native Michelle Robinson. After teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago, Obama won election to the Illinois Senate in 1996; eight years later, he became the third African-American U.S. senator since Reconstruction. Obama's leading opponent for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, the former first lady and U.S. senator from New York Hillary Rodham Clinton (whom Obama appointed as secretary of state), also has an important link to the Windy City: She was born in Chicago in 1947 and grew up in Park Ridge, a Chicago suburb.
Chicago Fun Facts
The first building erected in Chicago, between 1803 and 1808, was Fort Dearborn, a military outpost designed for the colonists to defend themselves against Native Americans who refused to give up their land. Fort Dearborn was located on south side of what is now the Michigan Avenue Bridge, on the site of the current McCormick Tribune Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum.
Chicago is the birthplace of many important inventions, including the first steel-framed skyscraper, the first elevated train system, the first zipper, the first McDonald's restaurant, the first atomic reactor and the first Twinkie.
The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of only three major zoos in the country to offer visitors free admission, 365 days per year. Founded in 1868, it's also one of the country's oldest zoos. Annual attendance is around 3 million.
Historic World's Fair
In 1890, Chicago's population topped 1 million for the first time, and the U.S. Congress granted the city the right to host the World's Columbian Exhibition, honoring the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's voyage to America. After a delayed opening, the fair finally kicked off in 1893 in Jackson Park. The World's Exposition ran for six months, during which almost 26 million visitors flocked to Chicago. The most famous of its many attractions was the first-ever Ferris Wheel, a model of which is now displayed at Navy Pier.
Between 1860 and 1968, Chicago was the site of 14 Republican and 10 Democratic presidential nominating conventions (starting with the Republican nomination of Abraham Lincoln in 1860). In 1960, Chicago's CBS studios broadcast the first televised presidential candidates' debate, between Democratic candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. The 1968 Democratic National Convention was the scene of infamous riots, with police using strong-arm tactics enforced by Mayor Richard Daley on protesters in Grant Park.
Construction of Chicago's most famous skyscraper, now known as the Willis Tower, was completed in 1974. At 110 stories and 1,450 feet (442 meters), it was the world's tallest building until 1996, and it is still the tallest building in North America. On a clear day, visitors to the tower can see four states--Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin--from the skydeck.
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