What does the word “Chicago” mean?
The official origin is that “Chicago” is the French version of the Miami-Illinois word shikaakwa (“Stinky Onion”), named for the garlic plant (not onion) Allium tricoccum common along the Chicago River.
However there have been many theories over the years, and here are some of them:
Che-cau-gou – Indian tribe
Chicagoua – Miami and Illinois word for “skunk”
Chi-cago – Indian word for “thunder”
Chicagou – Jesuit mission and French army post at the site of Marquette`s 1675 camp along the south branch
Shecaugo – playful waters
Chief Chicagou, also known as Agapit Chicagou – Native American leader of the Mitchigamea
Though Chicago is widely known as the “Windy City”, it is not the windiest city in the United States; while Brockton, Massachusetts actually is. An explanation for Chicago being a naturally breezy area is that it is on the shores of Lake Michigan. Chicago is not significantly windier than any other U.S. city. For example, the average annual wind speed of Chicago is: 10.3 mph; Boston: 12.4 mph; New York City, Central Park: 9.3 mph; and Los Angeles: 7.5 mph.
The following “windy city” explanation is from the Freeborn County Standard of Albert Lea, Minnesota, on November 20, 1892:
Chicago has been called the “windy” city, the term being used metaphorically to make out that Chicagoans were braggarts. The city is losing this reputation, for the reason that as people got used to it they found most of her claims to be backed up by facts. As usual, people go to extremes in this thing also, and one can tell a stranger almost anything about Chicago today and feel that he believes it implicitly.
But in another sense Chicago is actually earning the title of the “windy” city. It is one of the effects of the tall buildings which engineers and architects apparently did not foresee that the wind is sucked down into the streets. Walk past the Masonic Temple or the Auditorium any day even though it may be perfectly calm elsewhere, and you will meet with a lively breeze at the base of the building that will compel you to put your hand to your hat.
A Windy City Exposition, A Century of Progress, 1934
At the end of the nineteenth century, Cincinnati and Chicago were two cities in a bitter rivalry. Since the 1840s, Cincinnati had been known for its meatpacking trade, proudly touting the somewhat unsavory moniker, Porkopolis. In the early 1860s Chicago overtook Cincinnati in meat production and started bragging that they were indeed the Porkopolis of the United States. This obviously incensed the people of Cincinnati to no end.
The baseball inter-city matches were especially intense. The 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings were the pride of all of baseball, so Chicago came up with a rival team called the White Stockings to defeat them. “Windy City” often appeared in the Cincinnati sporting news of the 1870s and 1880s. Chicago’s White Stockings were short-lived as the Great Chicago Fire consumed their uniforms and did not return to competition till 1874.
Four of the first known citations of “Windy City” are from 1876, all involving Cincinnati:
Cincinnati Enquirer, May 9, 1876, headline:
“THAT WINDY CITY. Some Freaks of the Last Chicago Tornado.” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 13, 1876:
“Only the plucky nerve of the eating-house keeper rescued the useful seats from a journey to the WINDY CITY.”
Chicago Tribune, April, 20, 1876, headline:
“The WINDY CITY Jay-Rollers La-Crosse Team Wins Inaugural Game against Cincinnati Nannies.”
Chicago Tribune, July 2, 1876:
“The Cincinnati Enquirer, in common with many other papers, has been waiting with great anxiety for the fulfillment of its prophecy: that the Chicago papers would call the Whites hard names when they lost. Witness these scraps the day after the Whites lost to the Athletics: There comes a wail to us from the WINDY CITY.”
For the Cincinnati papers, “Windy City” had meant a Chicago that was full of bluster.
Chicago’s new nickname stuck—and spread. In 1890, several U.S. cities were bidding for the privilege to hold a World’s Fair that would not only celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus, but outdo the extravagant fair that took place in Paris in 1889. Even though people thought New York City had it in the bag, Chicago kept bragging, day in and day out, that they were the perfect metropolis for the fair. Charles A. Dana of the New York Sun, tired of Chicago’s bluster, wrote:
Don’t pay any attention to the nonsensical claims of that windy city. Its people could not build a World’s Fair even if they won it.1
Chicago’s “Hawk” Wind
Chicago’s wind is often called “The Hawk”. This term has long been popular in African American Vernacular English. The Baltimore Sun‘s series of columns in 1934, attempted to examine the origin of the phrase, “Hawkins is coming”, for a cold, winter wind. The first recorded Chicago citation is in the Chicago Defender, 20 October 1936: “And these cold mornings are on us—in other words ‘Hawkins’ has got us.”
The first line of Steve Goodman’s song, “Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request”, is “By the shores of old Lake Michigan / Where the Hawk Wind blows so cold…”
The introduction of Lou Rawls’ “Dead End Street” explains “The Hawk” pretty well.
I was born in a city that they call
“The Windy City”
And they call it the Windy City because of “the Hawk”
The Almighty Hawk
Takes care of plenty business
‘Round winter time
The place that I lived in
Was on a street that uh
Happened to be one of the dead-end streets
Where there was nothing to block
The wind the elements
Nothing to buffer them for me
To keep ’em
From knockin’ my bed down d’y’hea’m
I mean really sockin’ it to me
When the boiler would bust and the heat was gone d’y’hea’m
I had to get fully dressed before I could go to bed
Course I couldn’t put on my “goulashes” ’cause they had buckles on ’em
And my folks didn’t play that
They said “don’t you tear up my bed clothes wit’ dem boot hushies on”
But I was fortunate
Soon as I was big enough to get a job and save enough money
Get a ticket
Catch anything I split
And I said “one day I’m ‘onna return
And I’m gonna straighten it all out”
And I’m ’bout ready to go back now
So I thought I’d tell you about it
Songwriters: Sly Dunbar / Ewart Everton Brown / Herbert Harris / N. Barnett / Clifton Dillon / B. Jordan / R. Shaw.
© Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Wind bracing was recognized as a necessity for the first time in the the Manhattan building (1890) which was the city’s first 16 floor building, In the north half of the Monadnock (1891), the first attempt was made at a portal system of wind bracing. The first use of knee bracing, an adaption of the portal system which has since became popular, was in the Isabella building (1892).
The Big Snow 1967
The Blizzard of ’79 1979
New Year’s Day Blizzard 1999
For decades, Chicago was second to New York in city population rankings and New Yorker magazine writer Abbott J. Liebling used the term as a title for his 1950s tongue-in-cheek book titled, Chicago: The Second City. The book was not well received. Today, Chicago is actually the third largest city in the United States following New York and Los Angeles.
Liebling, however, did not originate the Chicago nickname. Chicago was often referred to as the “second city” during the battle with New York as the selection for the site of the Columbian Exposition. At that time Chicago annexed a large portion of the south side and her population was approaching New York levels. New York responded by combining all five boroughs and never looked back. Los Angeles surpassed Chicago’s in 1984.
But, there is another way of looking at the term. Chicago burned in 1871 and it provided the residents an opportunity to build a new and better constructed city – this time, not of wood. To Chicagoans, the Great Fire meant a “do-over.” Thus, Chicago today, is the second city, the first being pre-fire. And, many historians separate Chicago’s history into pre and post fire. In Mayer’s and Wade’s 1969 The Growth of a Metropolis, a chapter was entitled “The Second City” enforcing this theory.
1While both the Chicago Public Library and Chicago Historical Society claim that this how the term was popularized, the Dana editorial has actually never been found and the first known reference to it is four decades later in a June 11, 1933 Chicago Tribune article “Chicago Dubbed ‘Windy’ In Fight For Fair of ’93” purporting to explain how the city got the nickname. The Dana editorial is nowhere to be found, and no one can prove it was ever written. Etymologists say it’s just a myth.