The Potawatomi called the place Chikagou. The word, according to local talk show interviewer Irv Kupcinet, means "aynything powerful or great." Another famous Chi-cagoan, author Studs Terkel, says its meaning is less highfalutin. His translation: "city of the big smell."
This conundrum is typical, according to yet another local celebrity, writer Nelson Algren, who portrayed Chicago as a city of opposites and contradictions. Algren wrote, "Chicago — forever keeps two faces, one for winners and one for losers; one for hustlers and one for squares — One face for Go-Getters and one for Go-Get-It-Yourselfers — One for poets and one for promoters — One for early risers, one for evening hiders."
The city is a mix of the erudite and the profane, the respected and the feared, the admired and the reviled. It is the city of world-famed architects Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mies van der Rohe. Ernest Hemingway and Hillary Clinton grew up in Oak Park. Carl Sandburg, Theodore Dreiser, Ben Hecht, Saul Bellow, and Richard Wright all lived in and around the city, as did others in Chicago's Writers Hall of Fame: Willa Cather, Vachel Lindsay, Sherwood Anderson, and Edgar Lee Masters, who at one time was a law partner of the esteemed Clarence Darrow, the city slicker at the Scopes trial.
Chicago has been home to reformers Jane Addams, Billy Sunday, Adlai Stevenson, and Eliot Ness as well as to world-class gangsters John Dillinger, Bugsy Moran, and Al Capone and the dangerous bartender Mickey Finn, whose drink could put you out for three days and nights.
Flo Ziegfeld and Mike Todd were Windy City inhabitants, as were Little Egypt, who created the hoochie-kootchie dance during the Columbian Exposition of 1893, and Sally Rand, who unveiled her fan dance at the Century of Progress Exposition in 1933. When Rand was prosecuted for lewdness, the presiding judge, who ruled in her favor, commented, "Would you put pants on a horse?"
The judge wasn't the only comedian in town. Steve Allen comes from Chicago, and famous members of the Second City comedy troupe — John and Jim Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and John Candy to name a few — either came from Chicago or formed emotional ties to the place.
Chikagou, an Indian town, was a dangerous place to live. Commerce consisted of trade in pelts, guns, furs, hatchets, blankets, and whiskey, with Indians the chief buyers. In 1832, Chikagou still had only 350 residents.
Then, on September 26, 1833, after years of massacres and skirmishes, western expansion fueled the desire of the Pilgrims' descendants to get rid of the perceived cause of the danger: the Indians. The U.S. government got tough. Seventy-six Indian chiefs from the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi tribes were assembled to sign a peace treaty that ended all Indian claims to lands in Illinois territory. Under the treaty, the Indians would be given land west of the Mississippi. Shortly thereafter, Indians were seen no more around Chikagou town.
One eyewitness to the uneasy relationship between the White Man and the Potawatomi Indians was Adrian "Cap" Anson, who would later become a Chicago institution. Anson grew up in Marshalltown, Iowa, which was about 130 miles from Illinois across the far banks of the Mississippi. Anson, who was born in 1852, was about fifteen when the displaced Indians from around Chikagou gave him the scare of his young life.
ADRIAN ANSON: "I remember one little occurrence in which I was concerned those early days that impressed itself upon my memory in a very vivid fashion — .
"The Pottawattamics |sic| were to have a war dance at the little town of Marietta, some six or seven miles up the river, and of course we boys were determined to be on hand and take part in the festivities. There were some twelve or fifteen of us in the party and we enjoyed the show immensely, as was but natural. Had we all been content to look on and then go home peacefully there would have been no trouble, but what boys would act in such unboyish fashion? Not the boys of Marshalltown, at any rate. It was just our luck to run up against two drunken Indians riding on a single pony, and someone in the party, I don't know who, hit the pony and started him to bucking.
"Angrier Indians were never seen. With a whoop and a yell that went ringing across the prairies they started after us, and how we did leg it! How far some of the others ran I have no means of knowing but I know that I ran every foot of the way back to Marshalltown, nor did I stop until I was safe, as I thought, in my father's house.
"My troubles did not end there, however, for along in the darkest hours of the night I started from sleep and saw those two Indians, one standing at the head and one at the foot of the bed, and each of them armed with a tomahawk. That they had come to kill me I was certain, and that they would succeed in doing so seemed to me equally sure. I tried to scream but I could not. I was as powerless as a baby. I finally managed to move and as I did so I saw them vanish through the open door-way and disappear in the darkness."
Immediately following the evacuation of the Indians in 1833, Chicago began to grow. A year later 150 buildings were built. In 1847 the city's first industrial giant, Cyrus McCormick, opened his reaper plant.
The city began to bustle with the arrival of two groups of polar-opposite peoples: pious, decorous, beer-shunning Yankees from New England and beer-loving emigre Germans, who flowed from the East by stagecoach and by steamboat on the newly opened Erie Canal.
Early on, the battle for the heart and soui of Chicago was joined between the wets and the drys. The German community opened dozens of beer gardens. The English temperance bloc countered by charging that beer drinking was foreign and un-American.
In 1853 the Spiritual Bank opened, refusing to lend money to anyone who drank, smoked, or wanted money to pay gambling debts.
It became a political issue when two years later Mayor Levi Boone raised the liquor license fees six hundred percent. He ordered the saloons closed on Sunday. That first Sunday two hundred barkeeps were arrested.
A trial was held on April 21, 1855. A mob scene formed in the courtroom. A riot in the streets followed. After shooting began, the militia was called out.
When the first temperance organizations were founded, 2,000 of the 7,500 Chicago citizens signed up to battle sin. The battle between the drinkers and the temperance crusaders continues to this day.
Through the mid-1800s, Chicago industry boomed. Trains, boats, and the wireless turned Chicago into the Heart of the West. In 1859 the Galena and Ogden began laying rails. A few years later the Michigan Southern opened, followed by the Illinois Central. By the end of the next decade Chicago was the nation's most important rail center.
About the same time, the Illinois and Michigan Canal allowed travel from Chicago to New Orleans. Chicago would become the world's leading inland port, handling more traffic than the Panama Canal. When telegraph lines were strung as far as New York, Chicago became connected to the East Coast.
In 1850 the population was 30,000. By 1860, it was 93,000. That year the city hosted the Republican National Convention, starring Illinois's number one son, Abraham Lincoln. Republican Senator William Seward, who later helped the United States buy Alaska from the Russians, was the favorite for president, but he was considered a radical: He wanted to abolish slavery.
Chicago Tribune editor Joseph Medill feared that the Republicans could not beat Democrat Stephen Douglas unless a westerner was nominated. His choice was Lincoln, who was espousing a more moderate line on slavery. With Medill's support, Lincoln was nominated by the Republicans at the Chicago convention and was elected president. Five weeks later the Civil War began.
Like the rest of America, the city became torn. While most German Chicagoans supported the North, the other large group of immigrants, the Irish, were mostly Democrats who supported the Southerners and celebrated every rebel victory.
After Lincoln delivered his Emancipation Proclamation, Chicago's divisions intensified. Even the Democrats who had supported the war felt that Lincoln had betrayed them. The Chicago Times was so anti-Lincoln and anti-abolitionist that 20,000 protesters marched in front of the Times building. Union General Ambrose Burnside threatened to send troops to seize it.
As an indication of Chicago's divided yet passionate nature, when Lincoln was assassinated right after the end of the war, 125,000 pro-Lincoln Chicagoans turned out to see the funeral train on its way to the president's final resting place in Springfield.
After the war Chicago's boom continued unabated. The Union Stockyards opened Christmas Day, 1865. Philip Armour, a Yankee packer who foresaw the end of the Civil War, that year sold pork "short" and cleared somewhere around a million dollars profit. After the war Armour moved to Chicago and along with Gustavus Swift started the city's huge meat-packing industry.
The Civil War also brought gaming to Chicago, as gambling dens sprung up on Randolph Street. Keno was very popular in Chicago during the war. By 1869, Chicago was described in the St. Louis Democrat as a town of "fast horses, faster men, falling houses, and fallen women." Chicago boasted just about everything: wealth, gambling, prostitution — everything but a baseball team. That year the Red Stockings of Cincinnati, the only recognized professional team in America, won all fifty-seven of their games. Their stars, Harry and George Wright, were famed throughout the land, and their success made other cities, including Chicago, insanely jealous.
The Chicago Tribune wrote an editorial calling for a baseball team in Chicago, "a representative club; an organization as great as her enterprise and wealth, one that will not allow the second-rate clubs of every village in the Northwest to carry away the honors in baseball."
To show that Chicago was serious about its baseball, leaders raised $20,000 to organize a strong team. They placed ads soliciting top-rated players. They built a ballpark on Lake Michigan. The Chicago team, called the White Stockings, was successful, talented enough in 1870 to defeat the legendary Cincinnati Red Stockings, whose ninety-two-game winning streak had been broken earlier by the Brooklyn Atlantics. The White Stockings became so popular that after the players returned from a road trip, one hundred thousand fans came out to cheer them.
The Red Stockings' loss to Chicago changed the history of the game. With that loss, the men controlling the Red Stockings' purse strings fired free-spending president A. B. Champion, a local lawyer and the brains behind one of baseball's legendary teams.
Champion had known how to build a team and how to keep his players happy. The moneymen knew only that Champion was spending too much money. Angry that their ballplayers were staying at the best hotels and riding to games in fancy carriages, the bean counters got rid of their most valuable employee and replaced him with a flunky whose primary job was to tighten the operating budget.
The Cincinnati stockholders became the first group of wealthy businessmen in the history of our National Pastime to learn just how easy it is to kill the Golden Goose. Their shortsightedness also demonstrated to the public that in baseball, management can care more about saving money than the won-loss record.
The results were catastrophic. At the end of the season Cincinnati's two best players, Harry and George Wright, whose one-year contracts had expired, left to sign with Boston. The dynasty in Cincinnati was over. Other disgruntled players also departed. A year later the franchise would fold. There would be no beans left to count.
When the Wrights quit, there was a shift of power from West to East, as Boston soon would become the reigning powerhouse.
On March 17, 1871, St. Patrick's Day, Chicago was one of eight cities represented when the National Association of Base Ball Players, the first organized baseball league, was founded at a meeting at Collier's Cafe on Broadway and Thirteenth Street in New York City. The other originals were Boston, Brooklyn, New York, Troy, and Philadelphia in the East and Cleveland, Fort Wayne, and Rockford along with the White Stockings in the West. Philadelphia had the best record that initial season.
Baseball games were rowdy affairs back in 1871. Ulysses S. Grant was president, and following the general's reputation, booze was imbibed freely across the land.
At amateur baseball games in the Chicago area it was common for a keg of beer and a dipper to be placed alongside third base. Any player who reached third was entitled to a dipperful of what Chicagoans called "the German disturber."
According to historian Fred Lieb, in the ballparks of the professional teams "liquor vendors went through the stands selling some of the potent illicit potions of the Grant Administration." Liquor selling was so prevalent "as to make scenes of drunkenness and riot of every day occurrence, not only among the spectators, but now and then in the ranks of the players themselves. Many games had fist fights, and almost every team had its iushers.'"
By 1871, Chicago had three hundred thousand residents, most of whom lived in two-story wooden houses. There had been little rain that year between July and October. Sunday the 8th of October was warm. Around nine at night flames began to flicker from the cow barn of Patrick and Catherine O'Leary on DeKoven Street. Twenty-four hours later, a raging inferno encompassing most of the city continued to burn. The new ballpark was reduced to ashes. Seventeen thousand homes were destroyed, and more than a hundred thousand people were left homeless. The Sons of Temperance from Urbana, a hundred miles to the south, expressed the sanctimonious belief that the fire was God's answer to Chicago's failure to close its saloons on Sunday.
Almost miraculously Chicago recovered from the disaster as the rest of America pitched in to help. Relief trains flowed into the city with goods for the desperate citizens. President Grant sent $1,000 of his own money.
The city furiously rebuilt itself. Wooden structures were forbidden in the business district. Soon iron buildings known as skyscrapers would make their first appearance in America.
From the ashes, the city became reborn. Potter Palmer made a fortune in the dry goods business and then sold out to Marshall Field, who got even richer. John Montgomery Ward, another dry goods merchant, prospered from his Chicago base, as did the team of Richard Sears and Alva Roebuck, who sold throughout the country by catalog. George Pullman based his railroad-car-building empire in Chicago.
Because of the Great Conflagration, the Chicago White Stockings had to finish the 1871 season on the road and did not field a team in 1872 and 1873. Chicagoans had to sit on the sidelines as the Boston team, led by George and Harry Wright, dominated the game.
Making Boston's success even less tolerable to Chicagoans was that its star pitcher, a youngster named Albert Spalding, was from Illinois. Discovered pitching for Rockford in 1867 by George Wright in a game against the powerful Washington club, Spalding in 1870 shocked the baseball world when, pitching for Chicago, he defeated Cincinnati. After hearing of that performance, Harry Wright signed him to play for Boston beginning in 1871. In five years Albert Spalding won 207 games for the Boston Red Stockings (the Wrights fled Cincinnati and took the nickname too), including an incredible 57–5 record in 1875.
In 1876, during America's centennial, momentous events were transpiring. On March 10, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. On June 25, George Armstrong Custer was wiped out at the Little Bighorn. In August, in Deadwood in the Dakota Territory, Wild Bill Hickok was shot in the back while playing poker.
That same year Albert Spalding shocked the baseball world by deserting Boston and returning to his beloved Illinois to pitch for Chicago. Spalding would embark on a course that would make him rich and forever change the nature and the course of the game of baseball.
Mumsey's magazine once called Chicago "the city of the big idea." From this great city came the skyscraper, the refrigerator car, the mail-order store, the packinghouse, and equally important, baseball's first professional league, the brainchild of Albert Goodwill Spalding.