Chicago in a Nutshell
The third largest city in the US, after New York and Los Angeles (by population), Chicago lies on lake Michigan, one of the five Great Lakes of North America.
With an impressive architectural skyline and rich cultural offerings of theaters, museums, public art, live music, and culinary, this city has a great combination of nature and urban vibe.
The Foundation of the City
The first permanent residents of Chicago were Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a free black man from Haiti, and his Native-American wife Kittihawa of the Potawatomi.
In the late 1770’s the couple established a trading post and a farm on the north shore of the Chicago River, near Lake Michigan. That little settlement grew to be a city, officially incorporated in 1837. At the same time that the city was founded, its oldest business, which is still in operation, was established, a jewelry shop: C.D. Peacock. There are many theories as to the origin of the city’s name.
The most popular explanation is that “Chicago” comes from the Native American word Shikaakwa, meaning “Stinky Onion”, and referring to the garlic plants along the Chicago River.
Currently the city’s population is one of the most diverse nationalities. About 20% of the city’s residents have Italian ancestry – a trace of the Italian immigrants who started settling in Chicago in search for work since as early as 1850.
The community was working in a variety of professions, but became most famous for their contribution to the city’s food industry. The historical Italian neighborhoods were relocated despite residents’ protests, due to new town planning projects, most notable is the example of “Little Italy” which was controversially converted into a campus of the University of Illinois, costing 2,000 families their land.
In the popular imagination, nationally and internationally, Chicago is associated with organized crime. During the Prohibition, many immigrants searching for work got involved in the profitable business of selling illegal alcohol.
At the heart of the colorful mafia stories stood crime-celebrities with catchy nicknames. Chicago’s most notorious gangster was Al Capone who arrived in town in the 1920’s and remains one of its memorable residents long after his death.
Today, the crime rates decreasing, and are lower than many other US cities, but the image insists on staying around. Some tourism entrepreneurs capitalize on the stereotype, and various crime\mob tours offer to see “Chicago’s underworld” with guided visits to historic murder scenes.
Architecture and Art
The legacy of the founding father of Chicago, and the rich African-American History that followed him in the city, is celebrated at DuSable Museum. It is one of the many museums the city has to offer – ranging from social history, to science, and many art museums – among them is the nation’s first black-art gallery, and South Side Community Art Center.
Architecture and art are part of the reasons to visit the city, although it is also well-known for its green parts and nature landscapes. Since the city’s location is bordering the lake, it is providing Chicago with water and great beaches. The Chicago River runs through the city, connecting between the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan, position Chicago in a strategically important location, at the top of the state of Illinois.
Chicago has branded itself as an architectural destination since it quickly rebuilt itself after The Great Fire of 1871, which destroyed 17,000 buildings.
After less than two decades, the city was home to the nation’s first skyscraper – Home Insurance Building – which was only the 10-story high. Soon after, architects around the world became familiar with the term “Chicago School”, which became synonymous with innovative technologies and aesthetics, mainly within commercial design.
In 1974 Chicago aimed for an international record when launching 108-story Willis/Sears Tower, which was the tallest building in the world for 25 years.
It is no wonder that the number of visitors to Chicago is increasing every year (55.2 million tourists came in 2017), as the social history of Chicago includes unique stories of Black empowerment and Female activism, spiced with gangster action tales.