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Chicago At A Glance

By Elizabeth Elstien

The big Midwest City of Chicago in the state of Illinois is a blend of everything from historic and contemporary architectures to its varied cultural makeup. The hub of the Midwest has two airports and a vibrant, diverse population of 2.7 million.

Brief History

Originally inhabited by various Native American tribes, such as the Miami, Sauk, Fox and later on the Patawatomi, the latter were forced to vacate the area as a result of the Treaty of Chicago in 1833. Begun as a small trading post located at the mouth of the Chicago River and incorporated as Chicago in 1837, the city quickly grew into the large metropolis it is today (population 2.7 million). Using the newly constructed Illinois and Michigan Canal waterway in 1848 and later the railroad system, Chicago grew as a trading center. In 1871 the buildings and streets were made of wood, so the infamous Great Chicago Fire of that year decimated about 4 square miles of the new city. Rapidly rebuilt by dumping the fire debris in Lake Michigan forming the base of what is now Grant Park, Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago, today the city is the busiest aviation area in the U.S. with two international airports: O'Hare and Midway.

Name Calling

Chicago got its name from the Miami-Illinois name for wild onion, "shikaakwa," and the French traders who mispronounced the name. Depending on the source, Chicago is nicknamed "The Windy City" because of either the heavy winds that come off Lake Michigan or the bragging from politicians and locals. Also known for its second nickname of "Second City," which stems from decades of duking it out with New York for population ranking (now third after New York and Los Angeles), along with where to hold the Columbian Exposition (world fair) in the late 1800s (Chicago won over New York). Best pizza, anyone?

Cultural Traditions

The Pawatomi Native American tribe formed the original based of the area until forcibly removed. Reportedly in the late 1700s, the first permanent non-native resident of the area was a free black trader from Haiti. Later influxes of immigrants brought Irish, Italian, Polish, Czech Jewish and other peoples to the city in the late 1800s. These cultures, along with the African Americans from the Southern U.S. who moved north to Chicago in the early 1900s, made up the working class populace. Even with racial tensions leading to violence, the Chicago Black Renaissance lead to inspiring works of art, literature and music by the city's African-Americans.

Economy Now And Then

Begun as a center for trade, Chicago still is a heavy player in commerce. Today, 50% of the rail freight in the U.S. comes through the city. Chicago was the heart of the printing industry in U.S. history until recent years and the city is still a longtime backbone of the meatpacking industry providing jobs to many throughout the decades. Sears Roebuck and Company was founded here in 1893 with people all over the U.S. buying their products through mail order and employing many people. These days, the bulk of jobs in Chicago are with city, county or federal government entities. Several large retail and transportation companies also are top employers.

Architectural Landmarks

Known for the Chicago School style of architecture, the city's has many architectural features, including the first modern skyscraper in 1884, now demolished. A few architectural landmarks are:

  • Ironically, the Chicago Water Tower and Pumping Station, designed by popular mid-1800s architect William W. Boyington, still remain after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 wiped out portions of the city.
  • Chicago Building, built in the early 1900s, is a fantastic example of the Chicago School style with its variations of its namesake window designs.
  • The 1,450-feet-tall Sears (now Willis) Tower was constructed in 1974 and is the tallest still-standing building in all of North America and the third tallest in the world.

Music and Sports

Chicago is home to a certain style of blues music originated by Muddy Waters called, of course, Chicago blues. Aside from Muddy Waters, a few notable Windy City musicians are Buddy Guy, Curtis Mayfield, and Bo Diddley.

Numerous sports teams call Chicago home, including the Cubs on the North side and the White Sox of the South, (baseball), Bears (football), Bulls (basketball) and Blackhawks (ice hockey). Historic Wrigley field was built in 1816 as home to the "lovable losers" Chicago Cubs.

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About The Author

Elizabeth R. Elstien has worked in real estate for over 15 years as a real estate...

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