May 2004

This was my first visit to Chicago, and it all started with a wedding invitation.  Several friends from college live there, including my classmate Kevin, who got married last year.  Since then, he and his wife Kerri have had four or five wedding receptions for various groups of friends and family.  Although I wasn’t able to make it to the wedding, I planned to attend the May 2004 reception party.  This was a good excuse to stay a few days and see the city.

I purchased my airfare and hotel reservations as a package from; flying America West and staying at the Tremont Hotel at 100 E Chestnut, just a block away from the Magnificent Mile and John Hancock tower.  I wasn’t keen on flying through Phoenix instead of direct, but it was a good deal.  I flew there on a Thursday, and flew back to Portland the following Tuesday.

A Brief History of Chicago

The first Europeans to arrive in the Chicago area were Canadian Louis Jolliet and French Jesuit Jacques Marquette, in 1673.  The first permanent non-native settler was Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, born in Haiti to a French sea captain father and slave mother.  Following his education in France, he worked as a seaman for a few years.  After putting ashore in New Orleans to heal an injury, he sailed up the Mississippi River to the Peoria area of Illinois.  He married a Pottawatomie Indian woman, and in 1779 headed north to explore the area they called Checagou.  In 1781, Jean and his family set up a farm and trading post on the mouth of the Chicago River as it emptied into Lake Michigan.  After much success, in 1800 he sold everything to Canadian-born John Kinzie and moved to Missouri.  Three years later, Fort Dearborn was established near the trading post.

In 1833 Chicago was incorporated as a town, and then in 1837 as a city of 4170 people.  In 1848 the Illinois and Michigan Canal opened a shipping route through Chicago connecting the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.  The first railroad through Chicago opened the same year, and Chicago was on its way to becoming the transportation hub of America.

The marshlands and prairie bogs that covered most of the region caused a lot of problems for early residents of Chicago, including diseases, contaminated water, and streets so muddy that horses were stuck waist deep.  In the 1850’s the city streets were raised several feet to cover new sewage pipes.  To provide cleaner drinking water, the city dug tunnels two miles under Lake Michigan to bring in water that wasn’t so polluted from Chicago industry and shipping.  Unfortunately, spring rains sent sewage from the Chicago River out that far into Lake Michigan.  So in 1871, the Army Corps of Engineers set about reversing the direction of the Chicago River.

By the time the Great Chicago Fire decimated the city in 1871, the population was over 300,000.  Chicago set about rebuilding in a determined frenzy, and the downtown skyline began to rise.  After William Le Baron Jenney developed the steel structural frame for buildings in the 1880’s, Chicago became the birthplace of the skyscraper.  The Chicago School style emphasized larger windows between the relatively small steel columns and beams.  Chicago also played a role in the development of the International Style of Modern architecture.

In 1893 Chicago hosted the World Columbian Exposition, held to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of the New World.  Almost twenty-six million people visited the fair to see exhibits from forty-six nations.  Two notable attractions at the Exposition included the first amusement wheel by George Ferris, and the electrical exhibits featuring Nikola Tesla’s alternating current.  Tesla and Westinghouse won the bid to light the Exposition for half a million dollars, beating the $1 million direct current proposal by Thomas Edison and General Electric.

Chicago again hosted a world’s fair in 1933 with the Century of Progress, which was a success despite the Great Depression.

The 1920’s and 1930’s also saw the rise of organized crime in Chicago, including the infamous Al Capone, mostly in response to Prohibition.

Another development in the 1930’s was from a hosiery business called Coopers, when they designed a new style of men’s underwear called the brief, and introduced it at the Marshall Fields department store in Chicago.  They sold six hundred packages of Jockey Shorts the first day, and thirty thousand pair within three months.  Hey, you didn’t expect to read about underwear in a brief history of Chicago, did you?