55 Facts about Chicago that Will Leave You Intrigued

Being one of the most popular cities, not just in the United States but also in the entire world, it goes without saying that there are hundreds of thousands of interesting facts about Chicago. Owing to its rich heritage, which includes its history, architecture, gastronomy, culture, science and much more, there is a lot that you can learn about the Windy City, both as a local and as a tourist.

The following are 55 facts about Chicago that you will undoubtedly find fascinating:

Historical/ General Facts about Chicago

A bust of Jean-Baptiste du Sable
A bust of Jean-Baptiste du Sable
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1. Before getting into facts about Chicago, let’s see where the name comes from and what it means. The word Chicago actually comes from “Chicagou” or “Shikaakwa,” which are Algonquin words, and means either a “wild garlic” or an “onion field.”

2. The city has actually come to be known by a few nicknames, some of which include the famous “The Windy City,” “The Second City,” “City of Big Shoulders,” “The City That Works” as well as “The White City.”

3. Once its population surpassed 4,000, Chicago was incorporated as a town in 1833 and then as a city in 1837.

4. Jean Baptiste du Sable from Haiti, a merchant and trapper, became the city’s first permanent settler in 1779. He has been credited with building the trading post which later turned into Chicago where he, along with his wife Kittihawa, settled.

Route 66 beginning in Chicago
Route 66 beginning in Chicago
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5. The city witnessed what came to be known as The Great Chicago Fire in 1871, which left one-third of the city destroyed and the origins of which are still unknown. Some of the only pre-fire buildings still standing include City Gallery and Lookingglass Theatre (former Chicago Water Tower and Pumping Station).

6. Route 66, often known as the “Main Street of America” or the “Mother Road,” begins in Chicago; it starts at Grant Park on Adams Street, opposite the Art Institute of Chicago. One of the U.S Highway System's original highways and one of the most popular roads was established in 1926.

7. Not only is Chicago the largest city in the state of Illinois, but it is also the third most populated city in the whole of the U.S, with a population of over 26 lakhs, preceded only by New York (over 83 lakhs) and Los Angeles (over 39 lakhs).

8. The Grant Park, which was built in the 19th century, was expanded in 1871 following The Great Chicago Fire with ash and debris from the fire being used to fill in certain Lake Michigan portions.

9. Chicago is often called the United States of America's railroad capital since it has over 1,300 trains that carry passengers and goods to and from the city daily.

The Chicago Transit Authority Orange Line
The Chicago Transit Authority Orange Line
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10. There was a Great Removal Project undertaken in Chicago in the 1850s. Many older buried bodies were dug out and moved to some of the newly constructed cemeteries to make space for the living people.

Architectural Facts about Chicago

The Chicago River flowing backwards
The Chicago River flowing backwards
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11. The Chicago River, which is about 156 miles long, actually flows backwards and empties into the Mississippi River and not Lake Michigan due to a major public works effort to avoid waterborne diseases resulting from the latter’s sewage contamination.

12. The Windy City is also known as the “Home of the Skyscraper” since the concept of constructing tall buildings developed here, and at the moment, Chicago is home to 4 of the country’s 10 tallest buildings.

13. Tacoma Building, one of the first skyscrapers to be constructed, was built in Chicago in 1889 and was 13 storeys tall. It was also the first building supported by a riveted steel frame and not by the walls.

14. For all those who love the beach, the city has about 26 miles of public beaches, including Foster Beach, North Avenue Beach, Oak Street Beach, Columbia Beach, South Shore Beach etc.

The Chicago
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15. You would find that locals refer to Chicago’s rapid-transit rail system, the fourth-largest in the country, as the “L” instead of the Subway since the entire system is “elevated.” The “L” actually comes from “el,” which is an abbreviation of the word elevated.

16. In the 1950s and the 1960s’ the whole of Chicago, with all its streets and buildings, was raised on jackscrews to carry out its piecemeal raising. This project received both public funds as well as those from private property owners. 

17. Chicago is home to the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere which happens to be Willis Tower. It was the tallest building till 2014 when the One World Trade Center in New York was constructed. Moreover, the tower also has some of the fastest elevators in the world.

18. Downtown Chicago is known for its multi-levelled streets, with Wacker Drive being one of the most famous ones. It offers people an upper-level riverfront boulevard, and a lower-level roadway meant for traffic and commercial use.

19. The Pedway, which is the city’s underground pedestrian system, comprises about 5 miles of tunnels and overhead bridges and connects40 blocks in the Central Business District.

The popular Willis Tower
The popular Willis Tower
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20. If you go atop the Willis Tower on a clear day, you would most likely be able to see free states from there; Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana.

Gastronomical Facts about Chicago

The well-known Twinkies
The well-known Twinkies
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21. One of the most interesting facts about Chicago is that the famous Twinkie was created here. In 1930, Jimmy Dewar, the Hostess Brands manager, invented the cream-filled pastry named Twinkie after seeing an ad for “Twinkle Toe Shoes.”

22. A fun fact about Chicago is that the brownie was invented (at the Palmer House), when Bertha Palmer, wife of the millionaire Potter Palmer, wanted a new dessert to serve at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.

23. Chicago is well-known for its deep-dish pizza was invented in the 1940s, by Ike Sewell, Pizzeria Uno's founder.

24. Home to the popular Chicago-style hot dogs, the city is home to over 2,000 hot dog stands, much more than McDonald’s, Burger Kings and Wendy’s.

The famous deep-dish pizza from Chicago
The famous deep-dish pizza from Chicago
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25. Nabisco, earlier known as the National Biscuit Company, has its largest bakery in Chicago, which is also the largest globally. It has over 1,200 workers and is estimated to make about 320 million pounds of snack foods each year.

Scientific/ Technological Facts about Chicago

A set of spray paints
A set of spray paints
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26. It was in Chicago that the spray paint, also known as aerosol paint, originated.  In 1949, Edward H. Seymour, a paint salesman, added paint to a spray to show an aluminium paint he had made upon his wife’s suggestion. 

27. Thanks to Dr Bernard Fantus, the United States had its first blood bank in 1937 at the Cook County Hospital. Blood banks, which are crucial in medicine development, were introduced in the country by this doctor, and they began to come up in other states soon.

28. When it comes to television, the NBC 5 Chicago/ WAMQ station became the world’s first all-colour station in 1956, after a lot of hard work. Soon after, in 1986, the station also became the city’s first commercial one to broadcast in stereo.

29. Technological advancements about the television allowed people in 1960 to witness the Presidential Debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. It was on Chicago’s CBS channel that it was broadcast, and it enabled people to know about the country’s politics from within their homes.

Daniel Hale Williams from Provident Hospital
Daniel Hale Williams from Provident Hospital
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30. In 1893, Provident Hospital became the first hospital in the country to have open-heart surgery, with Daniel Hale Williams being the one to perform it. He happened to be one of the few black physicians in Chicago and graduated from Northwestern University.

31. Nuclear science took a major leap in 1942 when Nobel Prize winner Enrico Fermi conducted a self-sustaining, controlled nuclear chain reaction, the first in the world, at the University of Chicago, under its football field.

32. The fact that over one-fifth of the doctors in the country have undergone some form of medical training in Chicago and that it houses the country’s first and largest medical centre led to it being known as the medical centre of the U.S.

33. The Adler Planetarium was set up in 1930 by Max Adler and was the first planetarium to be founded in the Western Hemisphere.

34. The zipper debuted at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 but wasn’t successful. It was in 1913 that Gideon Sundback from New Jersey developed the modern zipper.

Adler Planetarium built in 1930
Adler Planetarium built in 1930
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35. The Jardine Water Purification Plant or the Central District Purification Plant constructed in the 1960s is the world’s largest water purification plant globally.

Entertainment/ Educational Facts about Chicago

The Art on theMART installation
The Art on theMART installation
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36. Art on theMART, at the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago, is the longest-running and permanent art installation in the entire world.

37. When it comes to entertainment and learning, Chicago is home to over 200 art galleries, 20 neighbourhood art centres, 60 museums, 225 music venues, 250 theatres, 200 dance companies, 7,300 restaurants, 30 food festivals, 400 neighbourhood festivals and so much more.

38. The very famous Walt Disney, or Walter Elias Disney, known for his contributions in American animation, was born in Chicago in 1901 and studied at the McKinley High School and the Art Institute of Chicago.

39. Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History is home to SUE, or FMNH PR 2081, the world’s largest and most extensive Tyrannosaurus rex specimen discovered in 1990 by Sue Hendrickson.

Harold Washington Library Center's facade
Harold Washington Library Center's facade
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40. The New Classical and Postmodern style Harold Washington Library Center was built in 1991 and is the city’s Public Library System's central library. It was the largest municipal library in the world at the time of its construction.

41. Several celebrities were born in the Windy City, including Benny Goodman, Quincy Jones, Robin Williams, David Schwimmer, Harrison Ford, Melissa McCarthy, Raquel Welch, Jennifer Hudson, etc.

42. At the Art Institute of Chicago is the largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings outside France. Some of the artists featured here include Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Gustave Caillebotte etc.

43. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the schools in  Chicago have mandatory desegregation, meaning that the policy of ending racial segregation ended here only towards the end of the 20th century.

44. On Thanksgiving in 1985, the Chicago Times-Herald sponsored the country’s first automobile race which had a 54-mile course between downtown Chicago and Evanston.

The outside of the Art Institute of Chicago
The outside of the Art Institute of Chicago
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45. The Electric Chicago Blues originated in the 1940s and 1950s, having been influenced largely by the Delta Blues. This form of the blues is performed in an urban style.

Miscellaneous Facts about Chicago

The Viking Ship at the 1893 World’s Fair
The Viking Ship at the 1893 World’s Fair
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46. In the 1960s and 1970s, there were efforts to ban pay toilets in the city, with Steve Froikin, a graduate from the University of Chicago, and a few other friends founding the Committee to End Pay Toilets in America. Chicago ultimately became the first US city to do so in 1973.

47. An entirely random fact about the city is that a woman named Jennifer Fitzgerald once left her car at the O’Hare International Airport for a couple of years beginning 2009 and was met with a whopping 678 tickets and a fine of USD 105,000. It was in 2013 that she cleared her dues.

48. There is a bizarre story linked to the Lincoln Park Zoo, wherein an elephant named Princess Alice was owned by the politician Ald. "Bathhouse John" Coughlin, fell ill in the year 1902 and was fed whiskey to help feel better. This finally resulted in the elephant tuning into an alcoholic!

49. For true crime enthusiasts, Al Capone or “Scarface” who was one of the most notorious gangsters in Chicago, made about USD 60 million in 1927 selling nothing but hooch, an alcoholic drink mostly illicitly made.

The Chicago River on St. Patrick's Day
The Chicago River on St. Patrick's Day
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50. The Chicago River has been subjected to quite a lot, with the Plumbers Union dying the water bright Irish green every St. Patrick’s Day. Simultaneously, the summertime brings about a rubber duck race due to a fundraiser hosted by the Special Olympics.

51. The 1893 World’s Fair or the Columbian Exposition has a decent number of peculiar exhibitions, including a US map made of pickle and a suspension bridge made of soap and the first Ferris wheel in the entire world, was designed by George Washington Gale Ferris.

52. Interestingly, Chicago did not get its nickname “The Windy City” simply because of its breeze but because a newspaper reporter called out most of the Chicagoan politicians for being profit-centric, or being “full of hot air.” 

53. It was in Chicago in 1924 that the Society for Human Rights, the country’s first recognised gay rights organisation, was established, founded by Henry Gerber. However, owing to several members' arrest, the Society ceased to exist soon after its inception.

54. With over 12,000 officers and 1,925 other employees, the Chicago Police Department or Chicago PD under the City Council is the country’s second-largest municipal police department. It is second to the New York Police Department.

A Chicago Police Department car
A Chicago Police Department car
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55. In 1919 in Chicago the country witnessed its first aviation disaster, with the Wingfoot Express crashing into the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank. 27 people were injured while 13 lost their lives.

With it being one of the largest cities in the United States and having been the centre for several scientific, architectural, entertainment, historic, gastronomic, and other activities, there are undoubtedly countless facts about Chicago. Once you are done going over this list, make sure to look up online for others interested in knowing the city even better.

This post was published by Arushi Bhowmick

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