Hear from author Joe Gustaitis as we discuss how World War I transformed Chicago from a strongly German city into a modern metropolis.
In American history, we were taught that pioneers and homesteaders moved from east to west settling the continent in the greater pursuit of “Manifest Destiny” — killing and obfuscating the First Nations peoples’ way of life. However, another American pattern often overlooked is the migration from south to the north. Starting less than a century after a Black man of Haitian decent named Jean Baptiste Point DeSable became Chicago’s first non-indigenous settler; African Americans in large numbers began leaving southern States and moving to the north, which historians now call “The Great Migration”.
Their motives were that of people everywhere seeking jobs, opportunity, and a better life. Northern States offered jobs and a relief from the weight of Jim Crow. For many Chicago had became a beacon of hope as Black-owned newspapers and in particular the “Chicago Defender”, distributed by Pullman Porters, gave hope to generations of former slaves, farmers, and sharecroppers.
Beginning as early as the 1880s and then from approximately 1910 to the 1970, rural southern Blacks by the thousands made their way north throughout these decades. And, just as the journey changed them, their music, culture, and customs changed Chicago.
Northern cities, and Chicago in particular, were not always welcoming, as decent housing was scarce as restrictive covenants and red-lining forced African Americans to live in “The Black Belt”. This tightly constrained strip of blocks on the city’s south side, initially between 22nd and 31st Streets, later extending south to 39th and eventually to 95th Street and roughly sandwiched between the railroad tracks of the Rock Island on the west and Illinois Central to the east. But even with forced segregation, many black businesses thrived, and a sense of place was established creating Bronzeville and its famous “Stroll”.
Join the Windy City Historians as we delve into the Great Migration with Dr. Charles Brahnam, author and professor, and the perfect guide to take us on a journey into the Great Migration. A trip populated by famous brave and fearless black Chicagoans such as Ida B. Wells, Oscar DePriest, and Robert S. Abbott and into a better understand of this massive cultural shift for the nation and Chicago in particular.
Links to Research and Historic Sources:
- “The Long-Lasting Legacy of the Great Migration”, by Isabel Wilkerson for Smithsonian Magazine, Sept. 2016
- Great Migration from Encyclopedia of Chicago website
- Dr. Charles Russell Branham interview on C-Span
- Steve Green story from the Arkansas Encyclopedia website
- Illinois Gov. Len Small from Wikipedia (Please note in our interview we say he was governor, but at the time of the Steve Green story he was involved in Illinois politics but not yet governor.)
- Ida B Wells: WTTW Chicago Stories
- Ida B. Wells biography from the Black Past website
- Ida B. Wells-Burnett biography from the Women’s History website
- Ferdinand Lee Barnett’s biography from the Black Past website
- Robert S Abbott biography on Wikipedia
- Oscar Stanton De Priest biography on Wikipedia
- Edward Herbert Wright biography on Wikipedia
- Jesse Binga biography on Wikipedia
- Carter G. Woodson biography on Wikipedia
- Chicago Race Riot of 1919 on Wikipedia
- Jim Crow laws from Wikipedia
- “History of Lynching in America” from the NAACP website
- A recommended book, THE DEFENDER: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America From the Age of the Pullman Porters to the Age of Obama By Ethan Michaeli
- Boll weevil devastation from Wikipedia
- Pullman Porters from Wikipedia
- The Jones Boys, “From Riots to Renaissance: Policy Kings” from WTTW’s website
- The Incredible History and Cultural Legacy of the Bronzeville Neighborhood from Chicago Detours website
- Explore Bronzeville from the Blueprint for Bronzeville website
- Booker T. Washington biography from Wikipedia
- The South Side’s Last Remaining Jazz Landmarks article from Chicago Magazine
- Thomas A. Dorsey from the Gospel Music Hall of Fame website
- Mahalia Jackson
- Mahalia Jackson performs at the March on Washington, August 28th, 1963 on YouTube
- Muddy Waters biography on Wikipedia
- King Oliver biography on Wikipedia
- Louis Armstrong biography on Wikipedia
- Music Samples in this Episode:
- Olivet Baptist Church in Chicago from the Black Past website
- Olivet Baptist Church from it’s own website
In 1909 Chicago changed dramatically both physically and intellectually. Having grown through fits and starts via annexation and experiencing the most rapid population growth of any city in history, to that point, the Chicago City Council approved a new street and address system in 1908. The new address system took effect in 1909 and employed the Philadelphia and furlong systems to renumber, rename, and rationalize street names and addresses across the city.
1909 also ushered in a momentous intellectual shift in perceptions of what Chicago was and could be. Authored by architects Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett The Plan of Chicago offered an idyllic and revolutionary vision for Windy City that still resonate. Join us in this episode as we interview cartographer, historian, and geographer Dennis McClendon to delve into these concrete and esoteric plans that forever changed the physicality and vision of Chicago. Plans and improvements that are still relevant and reverberate acros Chicago’s streets, city planning, development and architecture to this day.
Links to Research and Historic Sources:
- More about cartographer, historian, & geographer Dennis McClendon
- History of 3-principal mapping companies in the U. S.: Rand McNally, H.N. Gousha, and General Drafting
- Edward Brennan, author of Chicago’s street renaming and renumbering system
- Philadelphia Street Numbering system explained
- Furlong system explained
- Overview of the “Roads and expressways in Chicago” in Wikipedia
- “Old Addresses” article on the pre-1909 addresses from the Forgotten Chicago website
- Chicagoland Books & Files including the Chicago Street Renaming & Renumbering Directories of 1909 from the Living History of Illinois website
- Milwaukee’s Street Renaming & Renumbering from the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee website
- Overview of The Plan of Chicago from the Chicago Architecture Center website
- Biography of Daniel Burnham from the Chicago Public Library website
- “Who was Edward Bennett? And why has he been overshadowed for a century by Daniel Burnham?” by Patrick Reardon on the Burnham Plan Centennial website
- Wacker’s Manual as described by the Chicago Architecture Center website
- “‘Big Bill’ Thompson: Chicago’s unfiltered mayor,” by Ron Grossman, Chicago Tribune article Feb. 5, 2016
- Chicago’s Midway (formerly Municipal) Airport history from the Encyclopedia of Chicago
- “Chicago’s Municipal Pier,” (#2, now Navy Pier) from Chicagology website
- Northerly Island from the Chicago Architecture Center website
- “Displaced: When the Eisenhower Expressway Moved in Who Was Moved Out?” by Robert Loerzel from the WBEZ website
- McMillan Plan for the Washington D.C. “mall” from Wikipedia
- Chicago’s Millennium Park from Wikipedia
The path to riches is not often associated with journalism, but in the case of George Ade, writing for Chicago newspapers was his road to wealth and fame. Ade, (1866-1944) who was born and raised in Kentland, Indiana, attended Purdue University and then came to Chicago to work as a reporter in the heydays of newspapers.
Today George Ade is rarely remembered, with his books out of print, and decades since his musical comedies were performed. But from the 1890s to the early 20th century, he was compared to Mark Twain, a friend of his, and had not just one, but two hit plays on Broadway at the same time. Ade earned so much money from his successful books, plays and syndicated newspaper columns, he built an English Tutor on a 400-acre estate in Indiana, named Hazelden. There Ade threw big parties and was visited there by U.S. Presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Calvin Coolidge. In fact, Taft began his Presidential campaign of 1908 from Hazelden.
Ade’s name lives on through his philanthropy, like the donation of 65 acres, with fellow alum David E. Ross, to Purdue University, for a football stadium in 1924, which is now known as Ross-Ade Stadium.
What was true then about Ade’s writing is also true now, and that is Ade’s stories are hilarious. His final book “The Old Time Saloon” (1931) is laugh-out-loud funny and a recent edition from the University of Chicago Press is annotated by Bill Savage.
Bill Savage, Ph.D. is a professor of English at Northwestern University and our guide through not only the work “The Old-Time Saloon: Not Wet – Not Dry, Just History” and this podcast. Dr. Savage paints a picture of the Chicago Ade knew from the high-class Saloons downtown to the more seedy establishments frequented by his friend, Finely Peter Dunne, whose literary bartender, Martin T. Dooley, delighted a nation with his quips.
Writers like Ade and Dunne started out as journalists, and along the way captured the rhythms of speech and the vernacular of the working man, and in doing so gave birth to a new type of literature. A style practiced later by authors such as James Farrell, Nelson Algren, Mike Royko and Stuart Dybek. We hope you will enjoy this dive into Chicago’s literary and drinking past.
Links to Research and Historic Sources:
- The book, The Old-Time Saloon by George Ade
- Chicago writer and author George Ade (1866-1944)
- Ross-Ade Stadium at Purdue University
- Northwestern Professor of English Bill Savage, Ph.D.
- Hazelden (George Ade House) in Brook, Indiana
- Chicago writer and author Peter Finley Dunne (1867-1937)
- Mr.Dooley on the Immigration Problem (1898) adapted from the writings of Finley Peter Dunne, performed by Alexander Kulcsar.
- “Who’s Your Chinaman?”: The Origins Of An Offensive Piece Of Chicago Political Slang By Monica Eng
- Era of “Hinky Dink” Kenna and “Bathhouse John” Coughlin from the Encyclopedia of Chicago
- “Mickey Finn: The Chicago Bartender Who Infamously Drugged And Robbed Patrons With Laced Drinks,” By Natasha Ishak Published September 24, 2019
- The Everleigh Club from Wikipedia
- Chicago Daley News Building (Riverside Plaza) from Wikipedia
- Douglas Copeland’s novel “Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture”
- Straw Hat Ettiquette from the Vintage Dancer website
- Liz Garibay’s website: History on Tap
- “The Dry Season” by Steve Rhodes, published June 22, 2007 in Chicago Magazine
- The book, The World Is Always Coming to an End: Pulling Together and Apart in a Chicago Neighborhood (Chicago Visions and Revisions) by Carlo Rotella (2019)
- Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap from the Chicago Bar Project website
- American novelist and journalist, Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) in Wikipedia
- Writer, poet, and author, Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)
- The book Native Son by Richard Wright (1908-1960)
- Studs Lonigan: A Trilogy by James T. Farrell (1904-1979)
- American novelist and short story writer Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941) in Wikipedia
- American writer Nelson Algren (1909-1981) in Wikipedia
- Chicago: City on the Make by Nelson Algren (1951)
- The book, Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago by Mike Royko (1988)
- The book, The Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybek (2004)
- German-American business man and philanthropist Charles Wacker (1856-1929) in Wikipedia
- “Back to School with Bill Savage: Class of ’80” by Bill Savage in the Chicago Reader, Aug. 25, 2011
- The restaurant Al’s Beef
For 150 years, Chicago has remained the country’s busiest rail hub at the center of the nation’s rail network. In all, 40 railroads provide services from Illinois to every part of the United States and all seven of the major North American freight railways converge in Chicago to make it the largest US rail gateway. Moving anything coast-to-coast by rail is almost guaranteed to pass through Chicago. In 2011, Illinois ranked first in the US for rail freight volume accounting for 490.4 million tons. Today, the state is the world’s third most active rail intermodal hub with 25% of U.S. freight rail traffic and 46% of all intermodal traffic beginning, ending or traveling through Chicago. Each day, nearly 500 freight trains and 760 passenger trains pass through the Chicago region, moving the goods and people that are the life blood of the national economy.
In this episode we talk with retired train engineer and rail historian David Daruszka to discuss Chicago’s rail history from its founding in 1848 to its peak in the 1940s and on into today’s operations. Though the waterways established Chicago the railroads soon became a key connector and transfer link to the continent from east to west and north to south. The development of Chicago from a frontier town into a world-class city could not have happened as it did without the railroads. Chicago became and arguably still is the greatest railroad center in the world. We hope you enjoy this journey into Chicago’s railroad history.
Links to Research and Historic Sources:
- “Transportation that Built Chicago: the importance of the railroads” from the Curbed Chicago website
- Chicago’s Grand Crossing neighborhood and railroad crossing in Wikipedia
- Pullman Porters from the History Channel website
- C-Span Book Talk with Larry Tye author of the book Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class (2004)
- “Why Was Casey Jones an American Folk Hero?” from the History Channel website
- Samuel Insull history and bio on Wikipedia
- Relocating the tracks at Midway Airport from the Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal
- Chicago Railroad Fair narrated 1948 home video on YouTube
- Chicago Railroad Fair Color Home Movies 1948
- Film of “Wheels A Rolling” musical history of trains from the Chicago Railroad Fair of 1948/49 on YouTube
- Operation Lifesaver offers school and community group presentations on RR crossing safety
- “Stand by Me” (1986) movie clip of the Train bridge scene
- Article on Chicago’s last roundhouse “NKP’s Calument Yard, Coaling Tower, Roundhouse, Turntable” on the Industrial History website
- Chicago Railroad Stations from Chicagology.com
- Link to railroad historian Fred Ash’s book Chicago Union Station
- Freight Rail Overview from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration website
Native Americans held great respect for natural systems while also managing the landscape to support their people and way of life. As “civilization” came to this area Chicago became a military outpost, village, city and metropolis and its residents were confronted with the elemental and reoccurring issue of controlling water — both fresh and waste water. Managing this cycle of use and renewal the city has over the decades repeatedly invested millions into various projects to drain the land, process waste, and modify the waterways for both sanitation and navigation. These major projects have included altering waterways, building canals, tunnels, and water works and treatment facilities to make the greater Chicago area livable and comfortable on a day-to-day basis for the millions of residents and annual visitors each year.
In this episode we will discuss how Chicago came to not only reverse the Y-shaped river running through its downtown, but also the precedents and solutions to regulate fresh water, sewage, flooding, and growing needs of the population. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) formerly known as The Sanitary District was created in 1889 to manage the area’s water resources and was tasked with building the Sanitary & Ship Canal to protect Lake Michigan and our source for drinking water. Toward this end we speak with Dick Lanyon who is an author, historian and retired MWRD engineer to explain this amazing story of political power and engineering genius that created the evolving regional system of water management for Chicagoland.
Links to Research and Historic Sources:
- Books by retired MWRD engineer and historian Richard Lanyon
- History of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District from their website
- Biography of engineer Elis S. Chesbrough from the ASCE website
- History of the Chicago Water Cribs from the Industrial History website posted Feb. 3, 2016
There is one story well-known throughout the world about the Windy City and a cow kicking over a lantern that set the Great Chicago Fire in motion. The fact that the story of Catherine O’Leary’s cow is totally false seems not to matter, as this wrong-headed legend continues to perpetuate itself with the general public. As the newspaper editor Dutton Peabody says in the 1952 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
And so it is, a hundred and fifty years later, Mrs. O’Leary and her cow live on in popular culture.
The events of the evening of October 8th, 1871 would be the culmination of a prolonged hot, dry summer in the Midwest, and when Chicago began to burn, there were fires burning in several other places as well. However. Chicago and the legend of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow eclipsed the reporting of the other fires, and stuck in the popular imagination.
The Great Chicago Fire became the second star on the flag of Chicago, a marked tragedy, as approximately one-third of the residents lost their homes and the more than 300 who lost their lives. But the fire was also considered a beginning for Chicago, a reset, a blank slate — that would allow the city’s business leaders and architects to imagine a new and better Chicago to rise from the ashes like a great phoenix.
In this episode, the Windy City Historians interview William Pack, a historian and author of “The Essential Great Chicago Fire” (2015) to recount the events of that faithful Sunday night when smoke was spotted southwest of the city center, near the intersection of Jefferson and DeKoven Streets. It is an illuminating story of mistakes, delays, human error, and heroism, and a transformative event for the young city on the prairie that became the “City on the Make” as later chronicled by Nelson Algren. Two days after the fire co-owner and managing editor of the Chicago Tribune Joseph Medill wrote, “We have lost money, but we have saved life, health, vigor and industry. Let the watchword henceforth be Chicago shall rise again!” In December of that year Medill would be elected mayor of the City of Chicago as a candidate of the “fireproof” party serving two terms from 1871 to 1873.
Links to Research and Historic Sources:
- Presenter, magician, and interviewee William Pack’s Educational Programing
- Draft of the Emancipation Proclamation Signed by President Abraham Lincoln destroyed in the Chicago Fire
- Chicago History Museum’s online collection about the Great Chicago Fire
- Out of the Ashes: The Birth of the Chicago Public Library
- “My Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather’s Greatest Challenge: The Chicago Fire” by Caroline Thompson, Chicago Magazine, Oct. 10, 2017
- The release of prisoners and a “Fragile note illuminates city’s great fire,” by Mark Lebien, Chicago Tribune, Oct. 2, 1998.
- The documentary, Chicago Drawbridges we pull a segment from for this podcast courtesy of co-producers Stephen Hatch & Patrick McBriarty
- The 1938 Movie “In Old Chicago” looks at life in pre-fire Chicago and the calamity of the Great Fire
- “The Legend of Mrs. O’Leary,” by Margaret Carrol, Chicago Tribune, Oct. 10, 1996
- “Whodunit? The Mystery of Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow,” by Richard F. Bales, Chicago Public Library, Sept. 30, 2014
- “Catherine O’Leary, the Irishwoman blamed for starting the Great Chicago Fire,” by Eoin Butler, The Irish Times, Feb. 24, 2017
- “Mrs. O’Leary, Cow Cleared by City Council Committee,” by Steve Mills, Oct. 6, 1997
- “When the sky exploded: Remembering Tunguska,” by EarthSky and Paul Scott Anderson in EARTH|SPACE, June 30, 2020.
- Chelyabinsk Meteor, CNN coverage on YouTube, Feb. 17, 2013
- Chelyabinsk Meteor Shockwave Compilation, YouTube, Feb. 18, 2013
In the Spring of 2020, one of the first cracks in the American economy with Covid-19 was the closing of several meatpacking plants in the United States. The nature of the process with workers stationed in close proximity to one another, poorly ventilated spaces, and often arduous work conditions and practices became a breeding ground for the virus and created Covid hot-spots around the country. Meanwhile, the White House exercising its executive authority via the Defense Production Act ordered slaughterhouses to remain open for fear of disrupting of the nation’s meat supply.
This underbelly of the food chain is often overlooked, yet for more than a century Chicago was largely identified with wholesale slaughter and meat processing thanks to the Union Stock Yard & Transit Company, which opened on Christmas Day 1865. Stockyards and the downstream processing operations would soon become a ubiquitous presence in the economy of the growing metropolis of Chicago, the commerce of the United States, and the world.
The Union Stock Yard & Transit Company led Carl Sandburg to coin the dubious moniker for Chicago, “Hog Butcher to the World.” Yet these operations provided an important testing ground for great ideas and smart solutions employing many great minds, including civil engineer Octave Chanute (1832-1910) and the architect Daniel Burnham (1846-1912). The Stockyards were a prime tourist attraction in Chicago for the general public and people of note such as authors Rudyard Kipling, who was shocked by it, or Upton Sinclair, who based his novel “The Jungle” on the conditions and worker experiences there. The Yards as locals referred to it spurred additional innovations — for instance the butchering disassembly line inspired Henry Ford to reverse the process to build automobiles which ultimately made them affordable to average Americans.
The Union Stock Yard created huge fortunes and dynasties with names like Armour and Swift, often on the back of worker exploitation, which prompted strife and conflict and influenced the development of labor unions. Great gusts blowing across the prairie turned small fires into great conflagrations on several occasions, and yet the Yards survived for more than a century before meeting its demise to the gradual shift of economic winds. However in its heyday, the Yards was the place to be. Join us in this episode to hear some more great Chicago history as we interview historian Dominic A. Pacyga, author of Slaughterhouse: Chicago’s Union Stock Yard and the World It Made.
Links to Research and Historic Documents
- WTTW Chicago Stories: The Union Stockyards
- American Heritage: 1800s Chicago Union Stockyards
- Collection of images of the Union Stock Yard & Transit Company from the Industrial History website
- Author Dominic Pacyga and his books from the University of Chicago Press
- Dominic Pacyga Shares History of Chicago’s Stockyards in ‘Slaughterhouse’ November 23, 2015 on WTTW
- 1910 Union Stock Yards Fire on Chicagology website
- 1934 Union Stock Yards Fire on Chicagology website
- Chicago Public Art: Union Stockyard Gate
- Packingtown Museum at The Plant in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago
- “The Jungle” a novel by Upton Sinclair based on the stockyards
- Octave Chanute civil engineer and aviation pioneer