This exterior shot of the Soldier Field west colonnade at night appears to have been taken just after its completion in 1924.
The first recorded football game in Chicago took place in 1879 at the White Stockings Park between Racine College and the University of Michigan, played under the soccer rules of the day. As the game evolved to allow running with the ball and scrimmage play, high-school students founded the Cook County Football League in 1885. Shortly thereafter, a group of former Ivy League players from Chicago formed an all-star team for an annual series of games with Cornell, the start of an east-west rivalry that extended beyond the football field. The new University of Chicago opened in 1892 and it sustained the eastern rivalry as it also vied for regional supremacy with Michigan, Wisconsin, and Northwestern. Chicago high-school teams claimed the national championship after defeating New York squads in successive years (1902 and 1903), 105–0 and 76–0.
By the turn of the century the YMCA, ethnic athletic clubs, and religious groups began fielding their own teams, bringing disparate factions somewhat closer in a common purpose. A neighborhood team from Normal Park, founded in 1898, evolved into the professional Chicago Cardinals by World War I. By that time numerous independent sandlot, or “prairie league,” teams, semipros, and professional teams proliferated in Chicago and the surrounding area. The Chicago Park District reported 196 games in 1914, and the Chicago Football League of 1919 included teams from Joliet and as far as Dubuque, Iowa. Some teams were sponsored by politicians, employers or businessmen who saw value in promoting their names or products. The Staley Manufacturing Company’s team, under George Halas, moved from Decatur, Illinois, to Chicago in 1921, and became the Bears the next year.