Fun and interesting facts about Chicago

Windy City facts that might blow you away

Photo credit Jorge Romero

August 5th, 2019

By Julia Rose – Chief SEO Geek at Chicago SEO Lyfe

In the words of legendary singer Frank Sinatra, “Chicago is my kind of town”.   As natives of the greater metropolitan Chicago area, the team at Chicago SEO Lyfe make extra trips to the gym just so we can chow down on Chicago style hotdogs and the tastiest deep-dish pizza on earth!   With landmarks like the bean sculpture, our social profiles are filled with insta-worthy photos.   

 

Walking down Chicago city or suburban streets locals and visitors alike are greeted with Midwestern hospitality and values.  And there’s certainly no shortage of summer festivals and entertainment to enjoy in our great city.

 

Surviving the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, our city rebuilt and thrived with diversity.  As a heavyweight architectural influencer, Chicago is the birthplace of the skyscraper and considered the most influential architectural city of the 20th century by many.  Chicago’s skyline is among the world’s tallest and densest and it’s the second most visited city in the United States, behind New York City.  The Chicago skyline boasts buildings such as Willis Tower (known as Sears Tower if you're old enough) and Trump International Hotel.  Chicago is no slouch in the financial world either and is home to the highest research doctoral universities in the United States. 

 

Chicagoans are proud and avid sports fans.   We’re generally united in our enthusiasm for Chicago Bears Football, even though they’re often the “bad news bears” - except for 1985 when we did the Superbowl shuffle along with Ditka, Paton, and McMann.  We love the Chicago Bulls (even post-Michael Jordan), and the Chicago Blackhawks (but we miss coach Q).  But when it comes to major league baseball, our great city can be intensely divided.  South siders tend to be Chicago White Sox fans.  And hardcore Sox fans usually hate all Chicago Cubs, fans – the Northsiders.  Conversely, even before the 2016 Cubbies finally broke the more than 100-year-old “Billy goat curse” and won the MLB World Series, Cubs fans were less venomous and more indifferent to Sox fans.   Cubs fans will even cheer for the White Sox as long as it isn’t when they are playing each other in what’s known as the “Crosstown Cup”.   Note – any self-respecting Sox fan will NEVER cheer for the Cubs under any circumstance.

 

Chicago has an impressive history of famous inventors, & notable celebrities.  Some stars are true Chi-town natives, born and raised in the streets of the Windy City, while others found their fame while living in Chicago.

 

This A-list of Chicagoans includes Oprah Winfrey, Robin Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Louie Armstrong, Pat Sajak, Bernie Mac, Vince Vaughn, Kenya West, Walt Disney, Barrack Obama, Bill Murray, Jennifer Hudson, Rodger Ebert, Jack Canfield, John Malkovich, William H. Macy, W. Clement Stone, John Hughes, Hugh Hefner, Jenny McCarthy, Melissa McCarthy, Tina Fey, Jim Belushi, Seth Meyers, Bob Newhart, Harrison Ford, John Cusack, Betty White, Chance the Rapper, Al Capone and more. 

 

What you might not know, however, are some of the other crazy fun facts about this city.   You can test your Chicago knowledge with these fun Chicago facts below.

39 Fun Chicago Facts

General Chicago Stats:

  • Named a town in 1833 and a city in 1837

  • 3rd Largest City in the U.S.

  • Illinois is home to 36 fortune 500 companies – Making it 4th in U.S. behind NY, Texas, and California

  • Nicknames include:  Windy City, Chi-town, Second city, City that works, City of big shoulders,

  • Population

  • About X million people live in the city alone

  • 237 square miles of land in the city

  • 26 miles of lakefront

  • The 570 parks make up 8.2% of the total land acreage  

  • 200+ Neighborhoods (according to Wiki)

  • 200+ theaters

  • 200+ art galleries

  • Nearly 11,000 restaurants

  • 23 Annual parades 

  • 200 miles of protected bike paths (including 18.5 miles on the lakefront)

  • Nearly 58 millions tourists a yearca

To put things in perspective this chart illustrates the population of greater metropolitan Chicago by county.

chicago population infograph by Chicago

1. Chicago got its name from an onion

There are several theories on the specific words that the name was derived from because the Native Americans had several words that were pronounced similar to Chicago.  The generally accepted theory states that the name was derived from a Miami-Illinois word “shikaakwa” or the “smelly onion.” The Miami-Illinois Indians named natural landmarks after the plants found nearby and the river banks were filled with onion plants.

2. Nicknamed “The Windy City” because of politics, not weather conditions

If you assumed that Chicago earned its nickname as the Windy City from the chilly gusts coming off Lake Michigan, you‘d be wrong. According to most local legends, the city earned its nickname because of the hot air bellowing from politicians in the 19th century.  The Windy City is not a nickname Chicago gave itself, but rather something that the city has embraced over time.

Windy city politics by Chicago SEO Lyfe

Selfie destination Cloud gate in Chicago

3.  Chicago is fast becoming a place for tech startups

With companies like Groupon and Share A Sale having made3 their start in the windy city. Chicago has a developed itself as a place for tech innovation supported by places like 1821 which is a tech incubator environment.

4.  Our precious cell phones wouldn’t exist without this Chicagoan

Chicago inventor Martin Cooper invented the first cell phone.  Chicago born Martin "Marty" Cooper (born December 26, 1928) invented the first handheld cellular mobile phone while at Motorola in the 1970s and brought it to market in 1983.   He is also cited as the first person in history to make a handheld cellular phone call – which he made to his competitor.

5.  We have unique places to take selfies

Chicago inventor Martin Cooper invented the first cell phone.  Chicago born Martin "Marty" Cooper (born December 26, 1928) invented the first handheld cellular mobile phone while at Motorola in the 1970s and brought it to market in 1983.   He is also cited as the first person in history to make a handheld cellular phone call – which he made to his competitor.

6.  The “Viagra triangle” is a city nightlife hot spot

The intersection of streets in the gold coast which house famous restaurants such as the original Gibson’s Steakhouse, Carmines and Tavern On Rush is affectionately known to locals as “The Viagra Triangle”.  Rush street, State Street & Bellevue intersect to create the triangle-shaped Mariano Park.  And the popular restaurants and night life are seen to be a place that attracts wealthy older men with attractive younger women.  I’m not so certain this is the case as of late, but the name has still stuck.

7.  Famed graffiti artist Banksy might not have ever existed without this Chicago invention

Street artists like Banksy might never have existed without the invention of spray paint. Chicago paint salesman, Ed Seymour, was created with this unique invention when his wife suggested using aersol like deodorant to easily demonstrate his aluminum coating for painting radiators.   The Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago is where you can see some very cool urban graffety art often created with spray paint.

Graffiti in Chicago and Rush street in Chicago

Navy peir ferris wheel in Chicago by Chicago SEO Lyfe

8.  Cold Chicago winters would be a lot tougher without the invention of the zipper  (1851)

A super useful invention that debuted at the Chicago World’s Fair is the zipper. Credit for this clever piece of zipping technology goes to Chicago’s very own Mr. Whitcomb Judson who marketed it as a Clasp Locker in 1893. It was a complicated hook-and-eye shoe fastener that debuted at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

9.  World's First Ferris Wheel (1893)

The world’s first Ferris wheel made it’s debut in 1893 at the World’s Fair in Chicago. And it was huge: it had a 2,160 person capacity. The largest ferris wheel today is the London Eye with a capacity of only 768.  The Chicago ferris wheel was built to rival the Eiffel Tower at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. Bridgemaker George Ferris built the immense contraption that carried people in train car-sized boxes around on the wheel.  The Ferris wheel in the above picture is the one at the end of Navy Pier in Chicago. It was installed in 1995 and has a 240 person capacity

10.  Home of the Cubbies - and the Twinkie (1930)

The Twinkie was invited in Chicago during The Great Depression. Invented in Schiller Park in 1930, these yellow sponge cakes used to be filled with banana cream, but it was changed to vanilla when bananas became scarce during World War II.  Chicagoan Jimmy Dewar worked as a manager at the Hostess Brands factory. During that time, Dewar wanted to create a pastry that was filled with cream. His invention, the Twinkie, launched in 1930 and was named after an ad for ‘Twinkle Toe Shoes’ that Dewar came across.

11.  Home of MLB Hall of Famer Ernie Banks

Nicknamed "Mr. Cub" and "Mr. Sunshine", Banks was an 11-time All-Star and Hall of Famer who starred in Major League Baseball as a shortstop and first baseman for the Chicago Cubs between 1953 and 1971  A beloved Chicago icon, Banks became the first player in Cubs history to have his number (14) retired.  Not only was Ernie the first African-American player in Cubs history (1953), but after his playing career, Banks became the first African-American to manage in the Major Leagues (1973). Banks is the Cubs' all-time leader in games played (2,528), at-bats (9,421), home runs (512), total bases (4,706) and extra-base hits (1,009).

This is a photo of Ernie Banks with Julia Rose (Chicago SEO Lyfe Founder) at Chicago’s Four Seasons Hotel.  We later had dinner together at RL (Ralph Lauren restaurant in Chicago).

Argonne National Laboratory in Burr Ridge IL

Chicago rive:  Photo by Chicago SEO Lyfe

12.  Nuclear power was invented in Chicago (1942)

13.  Chicago has the only river in the world that flows backwards (1900)

The  Chicago River run is the only river in the world that flows backwards.  The reversal was engineered for sanitation reasons to divert the sewage and industrial waste away from Lake Michigan’s water supply, which to this day is still used for city drinking water.  In 1900 this 5-year $3 million project was successfully completed so that the flow of the Chicago River reversed and would empty into the Mississippi River instead of Lake Michigan. This was considered a hugely difficult and innovative engineering project.  It was also recognized as the largest public earth-moving project ever completed. The reversal caused the city's typhoid death rate to drop by 80%, but also resulted in lawsuits from surrounding states and Canada, as it was feared the reversal would cause a drop in the water levels of the Great Lakes.

Every St. Patrick’s Day, the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers dye the Chicago River green.

14.  Chicago’s WMAQ was the first all-color television station (1956)

15.  First televised presidential debate was in Chicago between Kennedy and Nixon (1960)

The first televised U.S. presidential debate was broadcast from Chicago's CBS Studios on Sept. 26, 1960, between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.  This political breakthrough made it easier for citizens to feel updated and included.

First televised Presidential debate was in Chicago between JFK and Nixon.

First African American president Barack Obama was from Chicago

16.  Chicago is the home of the first black president of the United States (2009-2017)

Having previously served as a U.S. senator from Illinois Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States and the first African American to be elected to the presidency.

17.  The founding father of Chicago was African-American

Chicago’s first permanent settler was businessman and trader, Jean Baptiste du Sable, an African-American man who was from what is now Haiti.  Du Sable was from St. Marc, Sainte-Domingue [now Haiti].  His father was French-born and moved to Haiti where he met and married his mother who was a black woman.

18.  Largest collection of impressionist artwork outside of Paris, France

The Art Institute carries the largest collection of Impressionist paintings outside of Paris. Founded in 1879 and located in Chicago’s Grant Park, the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States and most intriguing and visited in the world.  The collection of various masterpieces range from early cultural art to modern American art. The Art Institute carries various recognizable and famous works by artists such as Claude Monet and Van Gogh and is recognized for its curatorial efforts.  Speaking of art, Chicago is home to over 700 public artworks and more than 125 art galleries.

19.  Biggest outdoor food festival - The Taste of Chicago

Chicago is home to the world's largest free outdoor food festival, the Taste of Chicago.  Chicago loves to provide a taste of its excellent food and summer atmosphere. Visitors gather from all around the world to indulge in Chicago style flavors. This impressive event attracts more than one million visitors annually.

Chicago Art Institute Impressionist artwork by Monet

Chicago is headquarter to iconic brand McDonald's

20.  Home to the first McDonald’s franchise (1955)

21.  First Deep Dish Pizza (1943)

Chicago is famous for its deep-dish pizza. Italian immigrants have been coming to Chicago since the 1850s and by the 1940s there was a significant population of Italians living in the Windy City. A man named Ike Sewell created the deep dish pizza in 1943 at his restaurant named Pizzeria Uno which is still popular today. In fact, his pizzas were so popular that soon he had to open a second restaurant, appropriately called Pizzeria Due

22.  Amazing FREE outdoor workout

23.  The first animal purchased by the Lincoln Park Zoo was a cubbie bear.

One of America's last free zoos, Lincoln Park bought its first animal in 1874 – a bear cub for $10 from the Philadelphia Zoo. It became good at escaping its cage and was known to roam the neighborhood at night.  Maybe this is where the Chicago Cubs (founded in 1876) got their name?

Bear cub at Lincoln Park zoo in Chicago

Walt Disney is a Chicago native just like Chicago SEO Lyfe Founder Julia Rose

24.  Walt Disney was born here. (1901)

Walt Disney was born in Chicago.  What more do we need to say? Walt Disney is responsible for just about every cartoon you or your children probably grew up with. Family save up for treasured vacations to one of his incredible amusement parks and resorts.  He was born in December of 1901 in the neighborhood of Hermosa.

25.  Birthplace of the Playboy Bunny (1953)

Hugh Hefner started the publication of Playboy in Chicago in 1953. In 1960, the first Playboy Mansion was opened in Chicago’s Gold coast and featured Playboy Bunnies.  Playboy Enterprises stayed headquartered in Chicago until 2012. 

26.  Chicago has the 2nd largest film studio outside of L.A.

27.  Chicago is Home to late American Film Director John Hughes

John Hughes is an iconic film director that spent the majority of his life growing up in a suburb of Chicago and even attended Glenbrook North High School. Many of the films Hughes later went on to direct were shot in and around the Windy City, including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) and Sixteen Candles (1984). In Home Alone (1990) the church, Trinity United Methodist and the pharmacy are still available to see in Chicago today. The Breakfast Club (1985) was all filmed in Maine North High School, which is now a government building. If you’re in these areas, stop by and see the landmark places where filming took place.

Filmmaker John Huges produced most of his 80's classics in Chicago

Jazz Festival in Chicago's grant park

28.  Batman’s hometown was modeled after ours.

It's an actual fact that Gotham city is based architecturally on Chicago. They’ve even filmed many of the movies here.  Additionally, Gotham City license plates were designed to look like Illinois plates so that they would be consistent with other plates while filming car-chase scenes in the city.

29.  Not only the Birthplace of gospel but the term “Jazz” originated here

The term “jazz” originated in Chicago in 1914. Today, there are more than 25 theaters and 225 music venues in the city. Chicago is also the birthplace of gospel, electric blues, house, juke, footwork, and drill. The unique sounds born in Chicago continue to resonate around the world. We’re also the home of renowned artists including Louis Armstrong, Jennifer Hudson, Earth, Wind and Fire, Chance the Rapper, Common, Smashing Pumpkins, Rise Against, Muddy Waters, and Kanye West. Chicago is a city music of festivals, celebrating every music genre. Experience Chicago’s most notable music festivals including the Chicago Blues Festival, the Chicago Jazz Festival, Lollapalooza, Pitchfork Music Festival and Riot Fest.  The House of Blues in Chicago hosts a popular weekly Gospel brunch.

30.  Infamous gangster, Al Capone sold over $60 million of illegal alcohol in one year alone (1927)

31.  The first U.S. woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize was from Chicago

Chicago resident Jane Addams, founder of the Hull House, was the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.  Jane Addams was known her humanitarian work. She built a home for immigrants and was a huge proponent of women's rights and a leader in women's suffrage. She is known as the "mother" of social work.

Hull House was home to another Chicago first and female Nobel peace prize winner

Chicago gay pride parade

32.  The first gay rights group in the United States began here

The first gay rights organization, the Society for Human Rights, was founded in Chicago in 1924. German immigrant, Henry Gerber came to America in 1913 and was appalled by the way homosexuals were being treated in the Chicago area. He was temporarily placed in a mental institute due to his sexuality, and in 1924 founded the Society for Human Rights in Chicago. It published the first documented gay rights publication in the U.S.  Today, Chicago hosts an annual Gay Pride Parade in June.

33. Neo-Nazis' attempted to march in Skokie (1978)

The Chicago area has the 3rd largest jewish population behind Warsaw and New York.

In 1978 when the NSPA petitioned to exersice their first amendment rights of freedom to speech and have a peaceful demonstration of white supremecy by marching in the streets of Skokie, it was rumored to have "the largest number of Holocaust survivors outside of Israel".  One estimate cited in a court filing from the time said that roughly 40,500 of Skokie’s 70,000 residents were Jewish. 

 

In 1977 Frank Collin was the leader of the National Socialist Party of America (NSPA) which was headquarted in Marquette Park where they regularly hold demonstrations which were later banned by the city of Chicago.  Rather than fight a long legal battle with the city Collins wrote sent out letters to several park districts of the North Shore suburbs of Chicago, requesting permits for the NSPA to hold a white power demonstration.  While some suburbs chose to ignore their letter, Skokie chose to respond.   At first, the Skokie mayor and Village Council intended to allow the NSPA to demonstrate and their tactic was to ignore them to give them as little publicity as possible.  This did not sit well with residents and a court battle insued between Skokie and the NSPA which eventually lead to Collins and the NSPA withdrawing the petition in favor of marching in Chicago yet again. 

 

Keep in mind, this was not that long after World War II and lots of people, across the country, were GIs. The thought that Nazis could be high-stepping down a major street in an American city was something that caught a lot of attention. 

 

In the end only 20 Neo-Nazis showed up for the march which was hugely overshadowed by the 2000+ counter protesters.  The demonstration lasted only about 10 minutes but the incident was not forgotten.  Skokie Vs NSPA set significate legal preseicence, and the story became a movie called, “Skokie”.  I was actually 14 at the time and lived in Skokie since I was 4.  While I was not Jewish, many of my friends were.  I remember the outrage and shock by many residence of the audacity of the NSPA’s attempt to puff their chests in a town that so many jews and holocost survivors called home

Skokie, Chicago NorthShore suburb and home to Chicago SEO Lyfe founder Julia Rose

Skydeck at Willis Tower in Chicago IL

34.  Four states can be seen from the Skydeck of Chicago’s Willis Tower

35.  The Great Chicago Fire (1871)

The initial spark of the Great Fire of 1871 is unknown, although it is commonly believed that a cow belonging to Catherine O' Leary kicked over a lantern starting the fire, but this story is thought to be unlikely. The fire was able to spread quickly due to the overwhelming number of wooden structures, sidewalks, and streets. The fire department also initially travelled in the wrong direction before finally arriving at the out of control blaze.

The Great Fire of 1871 burned over three and half square miles, destroying 18,000 structures and taking the lives of over 300 people.  Trash and debris from the Great Fire of 1871 was used to fill in a portion of Lake Michigan to expand Chicago's Grant Park.  The Chicago Public Library was created directly from the ashes of the great Chicago Fire.

36.  Chicago was once hydraulically raised

37.  Chicago is the U.S. railroad capital

Chicago is known as the United States railroad capital, with over 1,300 trains carrying freight and passengers arriving and departing from the city each day.  Additionally, the world's first elevated railway was installed in Chicago in 1892. The popular transit is often known as the "L," which is short for "elevated."  Downtown Chicago is known as "the Loop," referencing the shadow the elevated train tracks create in the area.

Chicago elevated train tracks

Route 66 Chicago IL, by Chicago SEO Lyfe

38.  Route 66 begins in Chicago

Historic Route 66 began in Chicago.  This historic road begins in downtown Chicago at E Adams Street just west of Michigan Avenue. It runs through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and California, ending in Santa Monica and spanning 2,448 miles in total.

Route 66, which is also known as "the Main Street of America," begins in Chicago  The famous US highway Route 66 begins in Chicago in front of the Art Institute of Chicago.  The first Ferris wheel was invented in 1893 for the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. The ride was over 264 feet tall and featured passenger cars that weighed over 1,200 lbs and were roughly the size of a city bus. Although the original was demolished in 1906, a 15-story replica can be found at Navy Pier of Chicago.

39.  Chicago had the only post office in the world you can drive through

With an average speed of 7.3 mph Frank Duryea (a bicycle mechanic with a passion for invention who along with his brother Charles actually produced the first American automobile) won a 5 car race on a  snowy Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1895. The race was sponsored by the Chicago Times-Herald and ran a 54-mile course from down-town Chicago to Evanston, Il and back.  The car Frank raced was second car they have developed with a two-cylinder engine.  Although Duryeas journey was riddled with numerous breakdowns and repairs, a little over 10 hours later he took home the $2,000 prize.  1 hour 35 minutes later the only other car to finish (a German Muller Benz), was driven across the line by the umpire, after it’s driver collapsed from fatigue.

Some favorite places to visit for Chicagoans and tourists of our great city include:

Millennium Park 

Navy Pier 

Navy Pier is a 1,010 meter (3,300-foot) -long pier on the Chicago shoreline of Lake Michigan. It is located in the Streeterville neighborhood of the Near North Side community area. The Navy Pier currently encompasses more than fifty acres of parks, gardens, shops, restaurants, family attractions and exhibition facilities and is the top leisure destination in the Midwestern United States, drawing nearly nine million visitors annually. It is one of the most visited attractions in the entire Midwest and is Chicago’s number one tourist attraction.

Millennium Park by Chicago SEO Lyfe

Chicago water tower on Michigan Ave by Chicago SEO Lyfe

Michigan Avenue 

The Chicago Riverwalk 

An award-winning $108 million, 1.25-mile promenade along the south bank of the Chicago River downtown. Future expansion will extend the Riverwalk south an additional 1.8 miles from Lake Street to Ping Tom Memorial Park in Chinatown.  If you’ve never done an architectural riverboat tour of Chicago it’s a must – interesting, relaxing and informative all at the same time.

Lincoln Park 

Lincoln Park, on Chicago’s North Side neighborhood, attracts 20 million visitors annually. They come to see the nation’s oldest zoo and one of the world's last free zoos.to explore exotic plants at the grand Victorian glass conservatory, enjoy plays at the outdoor theater, row along the canal, stroll through the North Pond Nature Sanctuary and Butterfly Conservatory, picnic on the playing fields, and frolic on North Avenue Beach. 

Museum Campus

There are 56 museums in Windy City.  The John G. Shedd Aquarium is home to the oldest aquatic animal in a public aquarium in the world, an Australian lungfish named Granddad, who is at least 85 years old.  Talk about old, Chicago's Field Museum owns the world's most complete T-Rex, which has been named Sue.  The Adler planetarium is also a part of music campus which still on the south loop lakefront and is accessible by water taxi as well as nearby parking and of course Uber.

Shedd Aquarium in Museum campus by Chicago SEO Lyfe

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