< --Previous Up Next–>
Chicago has been called the “Windy City” throughout most of its history with the earliest reference as far back as the 1850-60’s when Cincinnati and Chicago were fighting for meat packing bragging rights. This article is not about when the nickname was first used, but about the origin of the New York Sun’s Charles Dana alleged quote:
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.
The above quote has been called by many modern day Chicago historians1 as an early reference to Chicago being the Windy City due to excessive bragging.
Because Mr. Dana’s actual editorial has never been found it has been declared an urban legend in David Wilton’s 2004 book Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends. But Mr. Wilton claims only that Mr. Dana’s editorial did not exist. He was almost right.
To start, here are a few uses of the term “Windy City” from the editorial pages of the New York Sun during 1887-1888:
New York Sun, April 7, 1887
Finally Sheedy returned to Chicago where he had always been known as a Republican in politics and after Grover Cleveland received the nomination for the Presidency he became a Mugwump and one of the hardest local\ workers Mr Cleveland had had in the Windy City.
New York Sun, June 21, 1888
The Hon. Albert Griffin, the head, body, and feet of that funny imaginary organization, tho Anti-Saloon Republicans, is in Chicago striving to have the platform makers put In such a tomperanco plank that Prohibition Republicans and even confirmed Prohibitionists can stand upon it with joyous confidence. The editor of our esteemed Prohibitionist contemporary, The Voice, is also sojourning in the Windy City, watching with horrified oyes the saloons, that are Just now swarmed with delegates, heelers, and howlers, and waiting to see whether the resolution men of the Convention will have resolution enough to spite the saloon men and mollify the Drys.
New York Sun, October 8, 1888
Hers is the top score against Chicago and it is only surpassed by her own last year’s exploit, when, while occupying sixth place, she won twelve games from the Windy City and lost only five.
The term was used primarily to describe Chicago, but it only suggested Chicago’s braggadocio. Mr. Dana had written a lengthy editorial stating his opinion on the then remote possibility of Chicago winning the World’s Fair competition due to her citizens’ loud and bragging voice. Note that the “Windy City” phrase was not used once.
New York Sun, September 17, 1889, Editorial, Charles Dana
It Shall Not be Brought to Naught.
The effort which Chicago is making to secure the great Exhibition of 1892 is noisy and persistent. Some of the citizens actually seem to have worked themselves up to a feeling of hopefulness, if not confidence, that all this brag and bluster will prove irresistible, and that the celebration of the discovery of America will take place in that somewhat inchoate town.
But they are blind and mad. They demand that the country shall intrust to them the organization and administration of a grand cosmopolitan exhibition, and yet in their manner of making the demand, and in the tone and character of the arguments with which they press it, they are displaying a provincial and parochial narrowness of view which convinces sane and sensible men of their utter unfitness for the management of an undertaking of so great im,portance and magnitude. Because of its mere bigness and because it would advertise Chicago and bring money to the bustling town, Chicago rushes and pushes forward to claim the Exhibition as its own. The great fair and celebration are a secondary consideration. The glory and profit of Chicago stand first and foremost always.
Yet no greater calamity could befall Chicago than to succeed in securing the object of its presumptuous desire and pursuit. An exhibition might be held there, but it would not be a World’s Fair. As a celebration of the discovery of America it would be about as adequate as a cattle show in Texas or a patchwork quilt exhibition in Maine. The world would refuse to pay heed to it. It would not even attain anything like a representative display of our own products. More than half of the Union would be utterly indifferent to it, and the attendance from abroad would be perfunctory and insignificant.
The Chicago exhibition would be so poor and mean, so obscure, and of so little consequence to the world, that the mortification of the bustling, hustling, grasping, and bragging people of the town would command and deserve sympathy from all compassionate natures. The lesson would be valuable, but it would be terribly painful. Chicago could hardly recover from its humiliation before a generation had passed, and during all that time it would be the butt of its merciless rivals. An event of supreme importance, appealing to the interest and stimulating to the whole world, would be so celebrated that it would be brought into universal ridicule, and the whole Union would suffer because of the abortive effort to enrich and glorify Chicago.
If Chicago should succeed in its game of brag and bluff all that gives dignity to the project for celebrating the discovery of the New World would speedily pass away. Outside of Chicago itself there would be little or no enthusiasm over the undertaking. The grandeur of the conception would be destroyed. It would not be a jubilee of mankind in commemoration of the opening up of the western hemisphere to civilization, but a local, provincial, and parochial enterprise for self-glorification only. it would not be a celebration of American civilization before the eyes of all the world, but a boastful and futile display of Chicago. Beside the Exposition of Paris it would be so crude, and so far lacking in comprehensiveness that it would never be admitted to rank with the series of great international exhibitions held during the last forty years.
All this is obvious. Yet Chicago keeps on with its pretensions as if it really expected to get the great Exhibition! But it s as sure to be disappointed in its preposterous assumption as it would be mortified if it attained the object of its vain desire. The people will not let the glorious project of celebrating the discovery of America be brought to a ridicule and shameful failure.
The Chicago Tribune’s response to the above editorial was made on September 21, 1889:
Chicago Tribune, September 21, 1889
DANA’S PARTING SHOT AT CHICAGO
Mr. Dana (right) has gone to Europe to see if he can find a site for a New York exposition, but before leaving he prepared an editorial to be fired off against Chicago after his departure. It is a violent and ill-tempered attack on the city and owes its infusion of gall, no doubt, to the fact the the Sun fears New York is beaten by its western rival. Hitherto the Sun has had much to say of the audacity of Chicago, but its remarks were moistened with the milk of human kindness. But now, being scared, it becomes abusive. It has dropped joking and taken to railing. That does no harm. It merely encourages Chicagoans, for it shows them the other fellows are on the run.
It is of no use. for Mr. Dana to tell the people of this city that an exposition held here would be such a failure that they would not get over the mortification of it for a generation. They are willing to run the risk, and if they are New York has precious little to say about it. As for the assertion that were the exposition held here half the union would be profoundly indifferent to it, that is simply another illustration of the insularity of the Manhattanese. There they dwell, year in and year out, on their little isle, sometimes making distant excursions to what was once Coney Island, or Staten Island, or the remote regions of Westchester. They know nothing of the United States and think their island is about all there is of it. Because they are the gateway of the country they have come to think they are the country—the door fancying itself the house. Manhattan island is the place where Uncle Sam inspects foreign goods and foreign immigrants, a port of entry.
There is but little in New York for the foreigner to see except the Brooklyn bridge, the French Goddess of Liberty statue down the bay, the docks and wharves, the place for Gen. Grant’s tomb, then unbuilt Greeley statue, and the talked of memorial arch. A day is enough to see them in. But the coupon clipers and speculators of New York, the Sages, Goulds, Clews, Huntingtons, Cammacks, etc., who take millions for themselves but give not a cent for charity, think these things are far more interesting than that great America on the fringe of which they live and of which Chicago is the hub. Foreigners think differently and so do Americans, as the millions who will attend the Chicago exposition of 1892 will show Mr. Dana and his New York millionaires.
Some forty years later as Chicago was hosting its second World’s Fair, James O’Connell Bennett2 was made aware of how Charles Dana had stated quite frankly that if Chicago won the 1893 exhibition, it would be due to its bragging, but that Chicago would not be able to produce a successful venture if it did win. This conclusion was stated quite clearly in Mr. Dana’s September 17, 1889 editorial.
Mr. Bennett proceeded to write a small article to that effect and used creative license to paraphrase the large article into one sensational sentence:
Excerpted from Chicago Tribune, June, 11, 1933
BY JAMES O’DONNELL BENNETT.
That the illustrious Columbian Exposition of 40 years ago was held in Chicago resulted from our victory in a savage competition fought by four cities—New York, Washington, Chicago, and St. Louis.
It is one of history’s cheerful ironies that the idea of the Exposition, which did more to dignify and glorify Chicago than any other event in its annals, was first taken up by merchants and bankers of New York City.
The acerbity of that competition fixed on us our nickname, “the Windy City.”
“Don’t pay any attention,” wrote Charles A. Dana day in and day out in his New York Sun, “to the nonsensical claims of that windy city. Its people could not build a World’s Fair even if they won it.”
Hence the phrase was not, as most persons believe, a characterization of our meteorology but of our citizens. It was derisive.
That I learned last evening from the veteran journalist, Charles H. Dennis3. From a man less careful in statement I would not readily have accepted it.
Reading the passage carefully suggests that Mr. Bennett did not mean for Dana’s quote to be taken as a verbatim quote from one of Mr. Dana’s New York Sun editorials. No reporter, let alone an Editor/Owner, would write the same sentence “day in and day out.” The author of the phrase, therefore, was either James O’Donnell Bennett or Charles Dennis, who provided Mr. Bennett the reference.
Nevertheless, the “quote” was simply a summarization of Mr. Dana’s views on Chicago during the Columbian Exposition competition based on an editorial he published on September 17, 1889. Using the actual words of Mr. Dana, this would transform the sentence to:
The Chicago exhibition would be so poor and mean, so obscure, and of so little consequence to the world, that the mortification of the bustling, hustling, grasping, and bragging people of the town would command and deserve sympathy from all compassionate natures.
Mr. Bennett’s (or Mr. Dennis’) paraphrasing added “Windy City” simply to paint Chicago as a braggadocios and that a Chicago fair would be a failure.
It wasn’t until after this editorial that the term “Windy City” came to be used to describe Chicago’s aggressive tactics. And that other New York papers would routinely use “Windy City” in reporting the latest updates on the competition.
It took only one Chicago researcher to interpreted the quote as verbatim, and once the reference had been made, it simply snowballed.
The “Windy City” phrase had been used a few times prior to the editorial, but that usage went viral only after the New York Sun article was published.
Here are several examples of ways the New York press used the “Windy City” moniker afterwards:
The New York Daily Tribune September 18, 1889
BLASTING THE WINDY CITY’S HOPES.
Chicago, Sept. 17 (Special),—The Chicago real estate men, who have been conducting the World’s Fair scheme, are dismayed at unexpected opposition in the great agricultural and legislative centre of the State. The Daily Monitor, the most influential paper published at the capital of the State, is making a vigorous fight against Chicago. The old-time hostility between the capital city and Chicago politicians will prevent any compromise, and the capital city of Illinois will doubtless declare for St. Louis or New York. On all matters Southern Illinois follows the lead of Springfield.
The World, September 25, 1889
Chicago comes to the front again; this time with a man who was tiring of hia wife sold her to a friend for $10 Great, indeed, is the Windy City.
The World, October 1, 1889
A circular-letter dated at Chicago, addressed to the State of Ohio and signed “Charles E. Blinls. President of the Ohio Auxiliary of Chicago, “was reeclved by Major Grant.
It sets forth a lot ot alleged reasons why the Fair should be located in the Windy City, and winds up by saying that Chicago was once a part of Wayne County, O., and that it is because of this fact that it is the liveliest town on earth, though it was long ago cut out of the Buckeye State by the formation of the States of Indiana and Illinois. It is a sample of the gusts that are emulating just now from the Windy City.
The World, October 10, 1889
The Chicago News murmurs this:
With both the great National political conventions and the World’s Fair in 1892 Chicago will be the scene of considerable activity three years hence.
It is indeed a Windy City.
The World, October 15, 1889
SPECIAL TO THE EVENING WORLD
Washington. Oct. 15.—Chicago haa a Boomer’a Committee on hand to undertako the boosting of tbe Windy City’s prospects for the World’s Fair of 1892.
The Committee has its headquarters at Willard’s Hotel.
The idea is that unwary Congressmen may be lured to this lair and, by a judicious application of cigars and Chicago liquor, hypnotized into the idea that of all places whero a World’s Fair might bo Chicago Is tho placo where it should be.
Always will the Commltteo’s room. Its cigar-boxes and its demijohns be open to visitors who
have a seat in the House or a pull with the members.
Always will the eloquence of the boomer be on draught to aid the subtle influences that come from the companion sources.
A very network of wires is being laid, ready for pulling at the proper moment, and there will be a place for the Congressmen when once the session and the boomers get again togather.
The New York Sun, November 2, 1889
In view of Chicago’s pretensions to the possession of the Columbus Fair, it may be as well to recall the fact:
That in 1838 a letter to an inhabitant of the Windy City was addressed to him at “Chicago, near Alton, Illinois.
The World, November 12, 1889
THE TIME IS PASSING.
Chicago has loaded its guns and is now ready to assault Congress with a view to getting the World’s Fair. In the bill which the Windy City has framed for presentation at the coming session is the primary proposition that Chicago doesn’t want a dollar of loan or appropriation from the Government for World’s Fair purposes.
It is the money that talks now. And New York is yet lingering in the neighborhood of the three-milllon mark. That will never,never do. Open your pocketbooks, you Croesuses, right away, if you don’t want this show ruined by sending it to Chicago.
The New York Sun, November 29, 1889
WASHINGTON, Nov. 28.—Ex-First Assistant Postmaster General A. E. Stevenson of Illinois arrived in this city this morning and is at the National. Gen. Stevenson says his mission here is not political this time, but in the interest of doing what he can to have the World’s Fair located in Chicago. Gen. Stevenson will remain in Washington three or four weeks booming the Windy City and its several attractions. Said he this evening:
The marvel of the universe is Chicago. Just think of it! In 1820 it had just forty inhabitants. Now it has a population of 1,100,000, and still growing rapidly. Where do we propose to locate the exposition? Why, sir, we have plenty of room. The whole State of Illinois can be made a cam,ping ground for it. New Yorkers advance the argument that Europeans would not go as far as Chicago to see the exposition no matter what its attractions might be. That is absurd. It is only a ride of twenty-four hours from New York to Chicago, and no European who cares to come to this country on a sightseeing expedition, would mind a few days’ ride to see such marvel as Chicago is able to present for their edification. We expect to impress upon Congress all of these facts and many more that at present lie concealed about the persons of the committee that I am here with, and we expect to be not only successful in convincing Congress that the five millions of dollars subscribed for the Fair is in sight and that we mean business, but we intend to be successful in our mission.
Accompanying Mr. Stevenson was George Royal Davis, a Chicago politician, and Edwin Walker, a prominent lawyer.
The World, February 24, 1890
Now, there’s this little ditty:
Chicago Tribune, May 27, 1939
“Windy City” Traced Back to the ’70s.
I have been a reader of THE TRIBUNE since the seventies, and am familiar with the origin of the term, “Windy City.” About the middle of the seventies, Chicago began to be called the Windy City, without arousing the ire of the citizenry. This was long before the erection of the Masonic Temple.
The appellation came from the boastful volubility of Chicagoans. Chicago was the biggest, largest, widest, deepest, richest city in the world, etc.
When Chicago, by hook and by crook, got the world’s Columbian Exposition away from New York, trouble arose. Dana of the New York Sun, who used vitriol instead of ink, excoriated Chicago and all her works. He referred to the Windy City as “a dingy aggregation of disgraceful hovels situate in a dank and foul morass, disgracing a noble sheet of water; the air polluted not only by natural decay but also by the dense effuvia arising from Chicago’s crude and filthy habits.”
Tradition says that the most frothy of the Chicago boosters were finally shipped to what B. L. T. called “Los Anglaize.”
C. M. Conradson.
1 Lost Chicago, By David Lowe, 1975
The Sun Shines for All: Journalism and Ideology in the Life of Charles A. Dana, By Janet E. Steele, 1993
Chicago’s Great World’s Fairs, By John E. Findling, 1994
Navy Pier: A Chicago Landmark, By Douglas Bukowski, 1996
A Natural History of the Chicago Region, By Joel Greenberg, 2002
The Devil in the White City, By Erik Larson, 2003
Chicago, By Marc Tyler Nobleman, 2005
The Areas of My Expertise, By John Hodgman, 2005 (eBook)
Chicago 2008, By Fodor’s Travel Publications, 2007
Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends, By David Wilton, 2008
It Happened in Chicago, By Bob Halloran, 2009 (eBook)
Extreme Weather and Climate, By C. Donald Ahrens, Perry J. Samson, 2010
Chicago Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff, By Scotti Cohn, 2011
Right Here I See My Own Books: The Woman’s Building Library at the World’s Columbian Exposition (Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book, by Sarah Wadsworth and Wayne A. Wiegand, 2012
Kup’s Chicago: A many-faceted and affectionate portrait of Chicago. By Irv Kupcinet, 2012
Chicago’s Greatest Year, 1893: The White City and the Birth of a Modern Metropolis, By Joseph Gustaitis, 2013
2 James O’Connell Bennett was an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune and wrote a series of articles in 1929 exposing the Chicago Gangland and its Boozedom empire.
3 Charles H. Dennis (1860-1943), Managing Editor, Chicago Daily News. In 1882 Mr. Dennis joined the staff of the Chicago Daily News which was owned by Melville Stone and Victor F. Lawson. When Lawson became sole owner of the News in 1891, he made Dennis the managing editor of the morning edition known as the Chicago Record. When that newspaper was sold in 1901,
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.