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Welcome to Chicago, Illinois

Skyline of City of Chicago

Nickname: "The Windy City", "The Second City", "ChiTown", "Hog Butcher for the World", "City of the Big Shoulders", "The City That Works"

Chicago is the largest city in the state of Illinois and the largest in the Midwest. With a population of nearly 3 million people, Chicago is the third largest city in the United States. It is the anchor of the Chicago metropolitan area, commonly called Chicagoland, which has a population of over 9.7 million people in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, making it the third largest metropolitan area in the U.S.[1] Rich in history and renowned for its historically-innovative and influential architecture, Chicago is classified as an alpha world city.

The City of Chicago is almost entirely located in Cook County, with a small portion of O'Hare Airport overlapping into DuPage County, while the metropolitan area extends over several counties. Located at the site of a portage between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed, Chicago was incorporated as a city in 1837. It rapidly became a major transportation hub, as well as the business, financial, and cultural capital of the Midwest. Since the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, it has been regarded as one of the ten most influential cities in the world.


The name Chicago is the French rendering of the Miami-Illinois name shikaakwa, meaning “wild leek”. Etymologically, the sound /shikaakwa/ in Miami-Illinois literally meant "striped skunk", and referred to wild leek, or the smell of onions, metaphorically. It was initially applied to the river, and came to denote the site of the present city later. The sound "Chicago" is the result of a French mis-transcription of the original sound.

Chicago in its first century was one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Within the span of only forty years, its population grew from slightly under 30,000 to over 1 million by 1890. In the next forty years the population tripled to over 3 million.  By the close of the 19th century, Chicago was the fifth largest city in the world and the largest of the cities that didn't exist at the dawn of the century.

During the mid-18th century the Chicago area was inhabited primarily by Potawatomis, who took the place of the Miami and Sauk and Fox people. The first settler in Chicago, Haitian Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, arrived in the 1770s, married a Potawatomi woman, and founded the area’s first trading post. In 1803 the United States Army built Fort Dearborn, which was destroyed in 1812 in the Fort Dearborn Massacre. The Ottawa, Ojibwa, and Potawatomi later ceded the land to the United States in the Treaty of St. Louis of 1816. On August 12, 1833, the Town of Chicago was organized with a population of 350, and within seven years it grew to a population of over 4,000. The City of Chicago was incorporated on March 4, 1837.

Starting in 1848, the city became an important transportation center between the eastern and western United States. Chicago’s first railway, Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, opened. The Illinois and Michigan Canal allowed steamboats and sailing ships on the Great Lakes to connect through Chicago to the Mississippi River. A flourishing economy brought many new residents from rural communities and Irish American, Polish American, Swedish American, German American and numerous other immigrants. The city’s manufacturing and retail sectors dominated the Midwest and greatly influenced the American economy, with the Union Stock Yards dominating the meat packing trade.

Artist's rendering of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
Artist's rendering of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Beginning in 1855, Chicago constructed the first comprehensive sewer system in the U.S., requiring the level of downtown streets to be raised as much as 10 feet (3 m). However, the untreated sewage and industrial waste flowed from the Chicago River into Lake Michigan, polluting the primary source of fresh water for the city. The city responded by tunneling two miles (3 km) out into Lake Michigan to newly built water cribs. Nonetheless, spring rains continued to carry polluted water as far out as the water intakes. In 1900, the problem of sewage was largely resolved when Chicago undertook an innovative engineering feat. The city actually reversed the flow of the river with the construction of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal leading to the Illinois River which joins the Mississippi River.

The Chicago Water Tower, one of the few surviving buildings after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
The Chicago Water Tower, one of the few surviving buildings after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed a third of the city, including the entire central business district, Chicago experienced rapid rebuilding and growth.[8] During Chicago's rebuilding period, the world's first skyscraper was constructed in 1885 using steel-skeleton construction.

In 1893, Chicago hosted the World's Columbian Exposition on former marshland at the present location of Jackson Park. The Exposition drew 27.5 million visitors, and is considered among the most influential world's fairs in history. The University of Chicago had been founded one year earlier in 1892 on the same location. The term "midway" for a fair or carnival referred originally to the Midway Plaisance, a strip of park land that still runs through the University of Chicago campus and connects Washington and Jackson Parks.

The city was the site of labor conflicts and unrest during this period, which included the Haymarket Riot on May 4, 1886. Concern for social problems among Chicago’s lower classes led Jane Addams to be a co-founder of Hull House in 1889, the first of what were called settlement houses. Programs developed there became a model for the new field of social work. The city also invested in many large, well-landscaped municipal parks, which also included public sanitation facilities.

Chicago City Hall just before its completion in 1911.
Chicago City Hall just before its completion in 1911.

The 1920s brought notoriety to Chicago as gangsters, including the notorious Al Capone, battled each other and law enforcement on the city streets during the Prohibition era. The 1920s also saw a major expansion in industry. The availability of jobs attracted African Americans from the South. They arrived by the tens of thousands in the Great Migration.

In 1933, Mayor Anton Cermak was assassinated while in Miami with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

On December 2, 1942, physicist Enrico Fermi conducted the world’s first controlled nuclear reaction at the University of Chicago as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project.

The Sears Tower, at 110 Stories, stands as Chicago's tallest building since its completion in 1973 and is the tallest building in the nation.
The Sears Tower, at 110 Stories, stands as Chicago's tallest building since its completion in 1973 and is the tallest building in the nation.

Mayor Richard J. Daley was elected in 1955, in the era of machine politics. Starting in the 1960s, many upper- and middle-class citizens started leaving the city for the suburbs, as was the case in many cities across the country, leaving impoverished neighborhoods in their wake. (Since the 1990s, the city has undergone revitalization where some lower class neighborhoods were transformed into pricey neighborhoods.) The city hosted the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention, which featured physical confrontations both inside and outside the convention hall, including full-scale police riots in city streets. Major construction projects, including the Sears Tower (which in 1974 became the world’s tallest building), McCormick Place, and O'Hare Airport, were undertaken during Richard J. Daley's tenure. When he died, Michael Bilandic was mayor for three years. His loss in a primary election has been attributed to the city’s inability to properly plow city streets during a heavy snowstorm. In 1979, Jane Byrne, the city’s first female mayor, was elected. She popularized the city as a movie location and tourist destination.

In 1983 Harold Washington became the first African American to be elected to the office of mayor, in one of the closest mayoral elections in Chicago. After Washington won the Democratic primary, racial motivations caused Democratic alderman and ward committeemen to back the Republican candidate Bernard Epton, who ran on the slogan Before it’s too late, a thinly veiled appeal to fear.[10] Washington’s term in office saw new attention given to poor and minority neighborhoods. His administration reduced the longtime dominance of city contracts and employment by ethnic whites.

Current mayor Richard M. Daley, son of the late Richard J. Daley, was first elected in 1989.



Landsat image of the Chicago area.
Landsat image of the Chicago area.

Chicago is located in northeastern Illinois at the southwestern tip of Lake Michigan. Chicago's official geographic coordinates are 41°53′0″N, 87°39′0″W. It sits on the continental divide at the site of the Chicago Portage, connecting the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes watersheds. The city lies beside Lake Michigan, and two rivers—the Chicago River in downtown and the Calumet River in the industrial far South Side—flow entirely or partially through Chicago. The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal connects the Chicago River with the Des Plaines River, which runs to the west of the city.

When Chicago was founded in the 1830s, most of the early building began around the mouth of the Chicago River, as can be seen on a map of the city's original 58 blocks.[11] According to the U.S. Census Bureau, which analyzes the city using 77 official community areas, Chicago has a total area of 234.0 square miles (606.1 km²), of which 227.1 square miles (588.3 km²) is land and 6.9 square miles (17.8 km²) is water. The total area is 2.94% water.

The city is built on quite flat land. The average land elevation land is 579 feet (176 m) above sea level. The lowest points are along the lake shore at 577 feet (176 m), while the highest point at 735 feet (224 m) is a landfill located in the Hegewisch community area on the city's far south side ( 41°39′18″N, 87°34′44″W).

Lake Michigan

An aerial view of the Chicago area with Lake Michigan to the right.
An aerial view of the Chicago area with Lake Michigan to the right.

The history of Chicago is closely tied to that of Lake Michigan. Since before Chicago was founded, ships were bringing people and supplies from all points on the compass. Lake Michigan is the third largest of the Great Lakes, with a maximum depth of 925 feet (282 m) and a size slightly greater than the country of Croatia. The average depth off Chicago’s shore averages 15–35 feet. To reach greater depths, one must travel several miles out in the lake, or head north to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The lake bottom off Chicago’s shore is littered with shipwrecks, ranging from schooners and tugboats to car ferries and even World War II airplanes. Scuba diving is a popular recreation for local residents, as are lakefront cruises. Zebra mussels, an invasive foreign species brought on the hulls of cargo ships, were discovered in Lake Saint Clair in 1988, and soon spread throughout the Great Lakes, impacting the ecosystem. The Round Goby is another invasive species, introduced through ballast water in cargo ships from Eurasian areas.


The city lies within the humid continental climate zone (Koppen Dfa), and experiences four distinct seasons. In July, the warmest month, high temperatures average 84.9 °F (29.4 °C) and low temperatures 65.8 °F (18.8 °C). In January, the coldest month, high temperatures average 31.5 °F (−0.3 °C) with low temperatures averaging 17.1 °F (−8.3 °C). According to the National Weather Service, Chicago’s highest official temperature reading of 105 °F (41 °C) was recorded on July 24, 1934. The lowest temperature of −27 °F (−33 °C) degrees was recorded on January 20, 1985.

Chicago’s yearly precipitation averages about 34 inches. Summer is the rainiest season, with short-lived rainfall and thunderstorms more common than prolonged rainy periods.[13] Winter is the driest season, with most of the precipitation falling as snow. The snowiest winter ever recorded in Chicago was 1929–30, with 114.2 inches (290 cm) of snow in total. Chicago’s highest one-day rain total was 6.49 inches (164 mm), on August 14, 1987.

Weather averages for Chicago, IL
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year avg.
Avg. high °FC) 32 (0) 35 (2) 46 (8) 59 (15) 70 (21) 81 (27) 85 (29) 83 (28) 76 (24) 64 (18) 48 (9) 36 (2) 60 (15)
Avg. low °F (°C) 17 (-8) 21 (-6) 29 (-1) 40 (5) 50 (10) 60 (16) 66 (19) 65 (18) 56 (14) 45 (7) 33 (1) 22 (-5) 42 (6)
Rainfall in (mm) 1.8 (4.9) 2.31 (59) 3.13 (80) 3.46 (88) 5.30 (135) 3.92 (100) 2.43 (62) 2.17 (55) 2.65 (67) 4.65 (118) 2.61 (66) 2.53 (64) 37.1 (942)
Source: Illinois State Climatologist Data[14] Jul 2007


Chicago Skyline stretching from Shedd Aquarium to Navy Pier taken from Adler Planetarium.

Chicago Skyline stretching from Shedd Aquarium to Navy Pier taken from Adler Planetarium.


View of present day Chicago from the John Hancock Center.
View of present day Chicago from the John Hancock Center.

The outcome of the Great Chicago Fire led to the largest building boom in the history of the nation. Perhaps the most outstanding of these events was the relocation of many of the nation's most prominent architects to the city from New England for construction of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition. Many architects including Burnham, Root, Adler and Sullivan went on to design other well known Chicago landmarks because of the Exposition.

The Near North Side with the Wrigley Building, John Hancock Center, and the Tribune Tower.
The Near North Side with the Wrigley Building, John Hancock Center, and the Tribune Tower.

In 1885, the first steel-framed high-rise building rose in Chicago ushering in the skyscraper era.[15] Today, Chicago's skyline is among the world's tallest.[16] Downtown's historic buildings include the Chicago Board of Trade Building in the Loop, with others along the lakefront and the Chicago River. Once first on the list of largest buildings in the world and still listed sixth, the Merchandise Mart stands near the junction of the north and south river branches. The three tallest in the city are the Sears Tower (currently the tallest in the Western Hemisphere), the Aon Center (previously the Standard Oil Building), and the John Hancock Center. The city's architecture includes lakefront high-rise residential towers, low-rise structures, and single-family homes. Industrialized areas such as the Indiana border, south of Midway Airport, and the banks of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal are clustered.

One Prudential Plaza, Two Prudential Plaza and the Aon Center from Millenium Park.
One Prudential Plaza, Two Prudential Plaza and the Aon Center from Millenium Park.

Future skyline plans entail the supertall Waterview Tower, Chicago Spire, and Trump International Hotel and Tower. The 60602 zip code was named by Forbes as the hottest zip code in the country with upscale buildings such as The Heritage at Millennium Park (130 N. Garland) leading the way for other buildings such at Waterview Tower, The Legacy and Momo. Other new skyscraper construction may be found directly south (South Loop) and north (River North) of the Loop.

Every kind and scale of houses, townhouses, condominiums and apartment buildings can be found in Chicago. Large swaths of Chicago's residential areas away from the lake are characterized by bungalows built either during the early 20th century or after World War II. Chicago was a center of the Polish Cathedral style of church architecture.

Parks line Lake Shore Drive; a few of the more notable include Grant Park, Millennium Park, and Lincoln Park. Burnham Park and Jackson Park in Hyde Park are to the south. Interspersed are 31 beaches in Chicago, the Lincoln Park Zoo, several bird sanctuaries, McCormick Place Convention Center, Navy Pier, Soldier Field, the Museum Campus, and the Jardine Water Purification Plant.


Regionally, Chicago can be divided by the river and its branches into three main sections: the North Side, the South Side, and the West Side. In the late 1920s the city was subdivided into 77 "community areas" by sociologists at the University of Chicago. The boundaries of the community areas are better defined than those of the over 210 neighborhoods throughout the city, allowing for better year-by-year comparisons.

Downtown and The Loop

A view of the Loop from the Aon Center.
A view of the Loop from the Aon Center.

The downtown area, lying somewhat roughly between Division Street on the north, Lake Michigan on the east, Roosevelt Road on the south and DesPlaines Avenue on the west, is the main commercial and cultural section of the city and includes the city's tallest buildings. In recent years, downtown has become so popular it has taken on the additional role as a residential enclave, with a high number of residents living there. The area of the Loop, located within downtown, was named for a circuit of cable cars and later for the elevated train Loop where practically all branches of the CTA elevated and subway trains lead. Some of downtown's commercial, cultural, and financial institutions are located in the Loop. The Chicago Bears of the NFL also play downtown, in Soldier Field.

North Side

The city's North Side (extending north of downtown along the lakefront) is the most densely populated residential section of the city. It contains public parkland and beaches stretching for miles along Lake Michigan to the city's northern border. Much of the North Side reaped the benefits of an economic boom which began in the 1990s. For example, the River North area, located just north of the Chicago River and the Loop, has undergone a transition from a warehouse district to an active commercial, residential, and entertainment hub, featuring the city's largest concentration of contemporary art galleries. Just west of River North's galleries and bistros, demolition of the CHA's Cabrini-Green housing project began in 2003, being replaced by upscale townhomes.

South Side

The South Side (extending south of downtown along Lake Michigan) is the largest section of the city, encompassing roughly 60% of the city's land area. The section along the lake is marked with public parkland and beaches. The South Side has a higher ratio of single-family homes and also contains most of the city's industry.

Along with being the largest section of the city in terms of geography, the South Side is also home to two of the city's largest parades: the annual Bud Billiken Day parade, which is held during the second weekend of August and celebrates children returning to school, and the South Side Irish Parade, which is held the weekend of St. Patrick's Day.

The South Side has two of Chicago's largest public parks. Jackson Park, which hosted the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, is currently the site of the Museum of Science and Industry. The park stretches along the lakefront, linking the neighborhoods of Hyde Park and South Shore. Washington Park, which is connected to Jackson Park by the Midway Plaisance, is currently being considered as the primary site of the Olympic Stadium for the 2016 Summer Olympics if Chicago wins the bid.

West Side

The West Side (extending west of downtown) is made up of neighborhoods such as Austin, Lawndale, Garfield Park, West Town, and Humboldt Park among others. Some neighborhoods, particularly Garfield Park and Lawndale, have socio-economic problems including urban decay and crime. Other West Side neighborhoods, especially those closer to downtown, have been experiencing a rise in property value.

West Side parks includes Douglas Park, Garfield Park, and Humboldt Park. Garfield Park Conservatory houses one of the largest collections of tropical plants of any U.S. city. Other attractions on the West Side include the United Center (home of the Chicago Bulls of the NBA and Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL), Humboldt Park's Puerto Rican Day festival, and the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen.

Culture and contemporary life

The city's waterfront allure and nightlife has attracted residents and tourists alike. Over one-third of the city population is concentrated in the lakefront neighborhoods (from Rogers Park in the north to Hyde Park in the south). The North Side has a large gay and lesbian community. Two North Side neighborhoods in particular, Lakeview and the Andersonville area of the Edgewater neighborhood, are home to many LGBT businesses and organizations. The area adjacent to the North Side intersection of Halsted and Belmont is a gay neighborhood known to Chicagoans as "Boystown." The city has many upscale dining establishments as well as many ethnic restaurant districts. These include "Greektown" on South Halsted, "Little Italy" on Taylor Street, just west of Halsted, "Chinatown" on the near South Side, "Little Seoul" on and around Lawrence Avenue, a cluster of Vietnamese restaurants on Argyle Street and South Asian (Indian/Pakistani) on Devon Avenue.

Entertainment and performing arts

The aquarium features more than 85,000 gallons (321,800 L) of saltwater with marine life from around the world. Walk through the 22,000-gallon (83,280 L) tunnel to experience a panoramic view of reef life. Many animals found at the top of the food chain can be seen in the Predators exhibit. Ten 2,000-gallon (7,571 l) displays present marine life from around the world - Palau, Southern Australia, Lord Howe Island, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Bahamas, British Columbia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Japan. Representing the waters of four continents, three oceans and various seas, the aquarium gives a glimpse of the underwater world.

A Chicago jazz club
A Chicago jazz club

Chicago’s theater community spawned modern improvisational comedy.[18] Two renowned comedy troupes emerged—The Second City and I.O. (formerly known as ImprovOlympic). Renowned Chicago theater companies include the Steppenwolf Theatre Company (on the city's north side), the Goodman Theatre, and the Victory Gardens Theater. Chicago offers Broadway-style entertainment at theatres such as Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre, LaSalle Bank Theatre, Cadillac Palace Theatre, Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, and Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place. Since 1968, the Joseph Jefferson Awards are given annually to acknowledge excellence in theatre in the Chicago area.

Classical music offerings include the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, recognized as one of the finest orchestras in the world, which performs at Symphony Center. In the summer, many outdoor concerts are given in Grant Park and Millennium Park. The Ravinia Festival, located 25 miles (40 km) north of Chicago, is also a favorite destination for many Chicagoans, with performances occasionally given in Chicago locations such as the Harris Theater. The Civic Opera House is home to the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

The Joffrey Ballet and Chicago Festival Ballet perform in various venues, including the Harris Theater in Millenium Park. Chicago is home to several other modern and jazz dance troupes, such as the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

Other live music genre which are part of the city's cultural heritage include Chicago blues, Chicago soul, jazz, and gospel. The city is the birthplace of House Music and is the site of an influential hip-hop scene. In the 1980s, the city was a center for industrial, punk and new wave. This influence continued into the alternative music of the 1990s. The city has been an epicenter for rave culture since the 1980s. A flourishing independent rock music culture brought forth Chicago indie. Annual festivals feature various acts such as Lollapalooza, the Intonation Music Festival and Pitchfork Music Festival.

Many notable celebrities and entertainment figures are associated with Chicago. (For listing see List of people from Chicago).


Navy Pier
Navy Pier

Chicago attracted 44.17 million people in 2006 from around the nation.[19] Upscale shopping along the Magnificent Mile, thousands of restaurants, as well as Chicago's eminent architecture, continue to draw tourists. The city is the United States' third-largest convention destination.[20] Most conventions are held at McCormick Place, just south of Soldier Field.

Navy Pier, 3,000 feet (900 m) long, houses retail, restaurants, museums, exhibition halls, and auditoriums. Its 150-foot (46 m) tall Ferris wheel is north of Grant Park on the lakefront and is one of the most visited landmarks in the Midwest, attracting about 8 million people annually.

Crown Fountain
Crown Fountain

The historic Chicago Cultural Center (1897), originally serving as the Chicago Public Library, now houses the city's Visitor Information Center, galleries, and exhibit halls. The ceiling of Preston Bradley Hall includes a 38-foot (11 m) Tiffany glass dome.

Millennium Park, initially slated to be unveiled at the turn of the 21st century, and delayed for several years, sits on a deck built over a portion of the former Illinois Central rail yard. The park includes the reflective Cloud Gate sculpture (known locally as "The Bean"). A Millennium Park restaurant outdoor transforms into an ice skating rink in the winter. Two tall glass sculptures make up the Crown Fountain. The fountain's two towers display visual effects from LED images of Chicagoans' faces, with water spouting from their lips. Frank Gehry's detailed stainless steel band shell, Pritzker Pavilion, hosts the classical Grant Park Music Festival concert series. Behind the pavilion's stage is the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, an indoor venue for mid-sized performing arts companies, including Chicago Opera Theater and Music of the Baroque.

In 1998, the city officially opened the Museum Campus, a 10-acre (4-ha) lakefront park surrounding three of the city's main museums: the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum of Natural History, and the Shedd Aquarium. The Museum Campus joins the southern section of Grant Park which includes the renowned Art Institute of Chicago. Buckingham Fountain anchors the downtown park along the lakefront. During the summer of 2007, Grant Park hosts the public art exhibit, Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet.

The Field Museum
The Field Museum

The Oriental Institute, part of the University of Chicago, has an extensive collection of ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern archaeological artifacts. Other museums and galleries in Chicago are the Chicago History Museum, DuSable Museum of African-American History, Museum of Contemporary Art, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and the Polish Museum of America. For those who like outdoor and natural activities,there are many Forest Preserves scattered around the Chicago area and also the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on the south side of Lake Michigan in Northwest Indiana.

In 2006 Chicago lost its third most visited tourist attraction, the venerable Marshall Field's department store on State Street. The store was converted to a Macy's store to the anger of many Chicagoans and tourists alike.


Polish market in Chicago
Polish market in Chicago

Chicago can lay claim to a number of regional specialties, all of which reflect the city's ethnic and working-class roots. Included among these are the nationally renowned deep-dish pizza—although locally the Chicago thin crust is also equally popular; the Chicago-style hot dog, typically a Vienna Beef dog loaded with an array of fixings that often includes Chicago's own neon green pickle relish, yellow mustard, pickled sport peppers, tomato wedges, dill pickle spear and topped off with celery salt (ketchup on a Chicago hot dog is typically frowned upon).[22] There are two other distinctly Chicago sandwiches that can be found at eateries throughout the area: The Italian Beef sandwich, which is thinly sliced beef slowly simmered in an au jus served on an Italian roll with sweet peppers or spicy giardiniera; and the Maxwell Street Polish, which is a kielbasa—typically from either the Vienna Beef Company or the Bobak Sausage Company—on a hot dog roll, topped with grilled onions, yellow mustard and the optional sport peppers.

Chicago's standing in the culinary world is not limited to 'street food', however. Featuring a number of celebrity chefs—a list which includes Charlie Trotter, Rick Tramonto, Jean Joho, Grant Achatz, and Rick Bayless, Chicago has in recent decades developed into one of the world's premiere restaurant cities.

The grand tour of Chicago cuisine culminates annually in Grant Park at the Taste of Chicago, a festival that runs from the final week of June through Fourth of July weekend. 'The Taste', as it is abbreviated by locals, showcases Chicago's ethnic dining diversity as well as all the locally favorite stalwarts (see above). Booths representing myriad local eateries form the centerpiece of the city's largest festival, which draws millions each summer to sample the cuisine, while enjoying free concerts and fireworks.


Soldier Field
Soldier Field

Chicago was named the best sports city in the United States by The Sporting News in 2006. As of 2007 Chicago was also the only North American city to have had champion teams in all four major sports plus soccer, which is currently the only other team sport with average attendances over 10,000 spectators.

Chicago is home to two Major League Baseball teams: the Chicago Cubs of the National League play on the North Side in Wrigley Field, while the Chicago White Sox of the American League play in US Cellular Field on the city's South Side. The Chicago Bears football team is one of two charter NFL teams still in existence. The Bears have won nine total NFL Championships, the last occurring in Super Bowl XX, and make their home at Soldier Field on the Chicago lakefront.

The Chicago Bulls of the NBA are one of the most recognized basketball teams in the world thanks to the heroics of a player often cited as the best ever, Michael Jordan, who led the team to six NBA championships in eight seasons in the 1990s. The Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL began playing in 1926 as a member of the Original Six and have won three Stanley Cups. Both the Bulls and Blackhawks play at the United Center on the Near West Side. The Chicago Sky of the WNBA began play in 2006; their home stadium is the UIC Pavilion, also on the Near West Side.

The Chicago Fire soccer club are members of MLS and are one of the league's most successful and best-supported since its founding in 1997. They have won one league and four US Open Cups in that time span. The Fire are currently based at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, after spending their first decade of existence sharing Soldier Field with the Bears.

The Chicago Marathon has been held every October since 1977. This event is one of five World Marathon Majors.[24]

Chicago was selected on April 14, 2007 to represent the United States internationally for the bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics.[25][26] Chicago also hosted the 1959 Pan American Games, and Gay Games VII in 2006. Chicago was selected to host the 1904 Olympics, but they were transferred to St. Louis to coincide with the World's Fair.


Harpo Studios, home of talk show host Oprah Winfrey
Harpo Studios, home of talk show host Oprah Winfrey

Chicago is the third-largest media market in North America (after New York City and Los Angeles). Each of the big four (CBS, ABC, NBC, and FOX) United States television networks directly owns and operates stations in Chicago. WGN-TV, which is owned by the Tribune Company, is carried (with some programming differences) as "Superstation WGN" on cable nationwide. The city is also the home of The Oprah Winfrey Show and Jerry Springer, while Chicago Public Radio produces programs such as PRI's This American Life and NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!.

There are two major daily newspapers published in Chicago: the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, with the former having the larger circulation. There are also several regional and special-interest newspapers such as the Chicago Reader, the Daily Southtown, the Chicago Defender, the Chicago Sports Weekly, the Daily Herald, StreetWise, and the Windy City Times.


The Chicago Board of Trade Building at night
The Chicago Board of Trade Building at night

Chicago has the third largest gross metropolitan product in the nation—approximately $442 billion according to 2007 estimates.[29] The city has also been rated as having the most balanced economy in the United States, due to its high level of diversification. Chicago was named the fourth most important business center in the world in the MasterCard Worldwide Centers of Commerce Index.[31] Additionally, the Chicago metropolitan area recorded the greatest number of new or expanded corporate facilities in the United States for five of the past six years. In 2006, Chicago placed 10th on the UBS list of the world's richest cities.

Chicago is a major financial center with the second largest central business district in the U.S. The city is the headquarters of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago (the Seventh District of the Federal Reserve). The city is also home to three major financial and futures exchanges, including the Chicago Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (the "Merc"), which includes the former Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT). Chicago and the surrounding areas also house many major brokerage firms and insurance companies, such as Allstate Corporation and Zurich North America. The city and its surrounding metropolitan area are home to the second largest labor pool in the United States with approximately 4.25 million workers. In addition, despite the somewhat common perception that Chicago is as a rust-belt city, a study indicated that Chicago has the largest high-technology and information-technology industry employment in the United States.

Manufacturing (which includes chemicals, metal, machinery, and consumer electronics), printing and publishing, and food processing also play major roles in the city's economy. Nevertheless, much of the manufacturing occurs outside the city limits, especially since World War II.[36] Several medical products and services companies are headquartered in the Chicago area, including Baxter International, Abbott Laboratories, and the Healthcare Financial Services division of General Electric. Moreover, the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, which helped move goods from the Great Lakes south on the Mississippi River, and of the railroads in the 19th century made the city a major transportation center in the United States. In the 1840s, Chicago became a major grain port, and in the 1850s and 1860s Chicago's pork and beef industry expanded. As the major meat companies grew in Chicago many, such as Armour, created global enterprises. Though the meatpacking industry currently plays a lesser role in the city's economy, Chicago continues to be a major transportation and distribution center.

The city is also a major convention destination; Chicago is third in the U.S. behind Las Vegas and Orlando as far as the number of conventions hosted annually.[37] In addition, Chicago is home to eleven Fortune 500 companies, while the metropolitan area hosts an additional 21 Fortune 500 companies.[38] The state of Illinois is home to 66 Fortune 1000 companies. [39] Chicago also hosts 12 Fortune Global 500 companies and 17 Financial Times 500 companies. The city claims one Dow 30 company as well as aerospace giant Boeing, which moved its headquarters from Seattle to the Chicago Loop in 2001.


A 2006 estimate puts the city's population at 2,833,321. As of the 2000 census, there were 2,896,016 people, 1,061,928 households, and 632,909 families residing within Chicago. More than half the population of the state of Illinois lives in the Chicago metropolitan area. The population density of the city itself was 12,750.3 people per square mile (4,923.0/km²). There were 1,152,868 housing units at an average density of 5,075.8 per square mile (1,959.8/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 42.0% White, 36.8% Black, 26.0% Hispanic or Latino (of any race), 4.3% Asian and Pacific Islander, 2.9% from two or more races, 0.4% Native-American, and 13.6% from other races.[42] With over 12,700 people per square mile, Chicago is one of the nation's most densely populated cities.

Of the 1,061,928 households, 28.9% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 35.1% were married couples living together, 18.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.4% were non-families. Of all households, 32.6% are made up of individuals and 8.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.67 and the average family size was 3.50.

Of the city population, 26.2% are under the age of 18, 11.2% are from 18 to 24, 33.4% are from 25 to 44, 18.9% are from 45 to 64, and 10.3% are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 32 years. For every 100 females there were 94.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $38,625, and the median income for a family was $46,748. Males had a median income of $35,907 versus $30,536 for females. The per capita income for the city was $20,175. Below the poverty line are 19.6% of the population and 16.6% of the families. Of the total population, 28.1% of those under the age of 18 and 15.5% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

Chicago's largest ethnic community are of German origin. When the Great Plains opened up for settlement in the 1830s and '40s, many German immigrants stopped in Chicago to earn some money before moving on to claim a homestead. Those with skills in demand in the city could—and often did—stay. From 1850, when Germans constituted one-sixth of Chicago's population, until the turn of the century, people of German descent constituted the largest ethnic group in the city, followed by Irish, Poles, and Swedes. In 1900, 470,000 Chicagoans—one out of every four residents—had either been born in Germany or had a parent born there. By 1920 their numbers had dropped because of reduced emigration from Germany but also because it had become unpopular to acknowledge a German heritage, although 22 percent of Chicago's population still did so.[43]

Chicago also has a large Irish-American population on its South Side. Many of the city’s politicians have come from this population, including current mayor Richard M. Daley. Historically, and to this day, there has been particularly substantial Irish American presence in Chicago's Fire and Police Departments.

Chicago has one of the largest concentrations of Italian Americans in the US, with more than 500,000 living in the metropolitan area and Chicago has the third largest Italian-American population in the United States, behind only New York and Philadelphia. Chicago's Italian community has historically been based along the Taylor Street and Grand Avenue corridors on the West Side of the city, there are significant Italian populations scattered throughout the city and surrounding suburbs. While the best-known Chicagoan of Italian descent is probably still Al Capone, Italian-Americans have contributed tremendously in many ways to Chicago's cultural, political, civic and economic scene.

Other prevalent European ethnic groups include the Poles, Germans as mentioned earlier, Czechs. There is a large African American population located mostly on Chicago’s South and West Sides. The Chicago metropolitan area has the second largest African American population, behind only New York City.[45] Chicago has the largest population of Swedish Americans of any city in the U.S. with approximately 123,000. After the Great Chicago Fire, many Swedish carpenters helped to rebuild the city, which led to the saying "the Swedes built Chicago". Swedish influence is particularly evident in Andersonville on the far north side.

Poles in Chicago make up the largest ethnically Polish population outside of Warsaw, Poland making it one of the most important centers of Polonia, a fact that the city celebrates every Labor Day weekend at the Taste of Polonia Festival in Jefferson Park.The Southwest Side is home to the largest concentration of Górals (Carpathian highlanders) outside of Europe. The southwest side is also the location of the Polish Highlanders Alliance of North America.

The city has a large population of Bulgarians (about 150,000), Lithuanians,[48] the second largest Serbian,[49] - and the third largest Greek population of any city in the world.[50][51] Chicago has a large Romanian-American community with more than 100,000, as well as a large Assyrian population with about 80,000. The city is the seat of the head of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Dinkha IV, the Evangelical Covenant Church,[53] and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America headquarters.

Chicago has the third-largest South Asian population in the United States, especially many Pakistanis who live in the city. The Devon Avenue corridor on the north side is one of the largest South Asian neighborhoods/markets in North America. Chicago has the second-largest Puerto Rican population in the continental United States.[55], after New York City, and the second largest Mexican population in the United States after Los Angeles. There are about 185,000 Arabs in Cook County with another 75,000 in the five surrounding counties. Chicago is the center of the Palestinian and Jordanian immigrant communities in the United States.

Law and government

A Critical Mass gathering on the Daley Plaza, with Chicago City Hall in the background
A Critical Mass gathering on the Daley Plaza, with Chicago City Hall in the background

Chicago is the county seat of Cook County. The government of the City of Chicago is divided into executive and legislative branches. The Mayor of Chicago is the chief executive, elected by general election for a term of four years. The mayor appoints commissioners and other officials who oversee the various departments. In addition to the mayor, Chicago's two other citywide elected officials are the clerk and the treasurer.

The City Council is the legislative branch and is made up of 50 aldermen, one elected from each ward in the city. The council enacts local ordinances and approves the city budget. Government priorities and activities are established in a budget ordinance usually adopted each November. The council takes official action through the passage of ordinances and resolutions.

During much of the last half of the 19th century, Chicago's politics were dominated by a growing Democratic Party organization dominated by ethnic ward-heelers. During the 1880s and 1890s, Chicago had a powerful radical tradition with large and highly organized socialist, anarchist and labor organizations. For much of the 20th century, Chicago has been among the largest and most reliable Democratic strongholds in the United States, with Chicago's Democratic vote totals leading the state of Illinois to be "solid blue" in presidential elections since 1992. The citizens of Chicago have not elected a Republican mayor since 1927, when William Thompson was voted into office. The strength of the party in the city is partly a consequence of Illinois state politics, where the Republicans have come to represent the rural and farm concerns while the Democrats support urban issues such as Chicago's public school funding. Although Chicago includes less than 25% of the state's population, eight of Illinois' nineteen U.S. Representatives have part of the city in their districts.

Former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley's mastery of machine politics preserved the Chicago Democratic Machine long after the demise of similar machines in other large U.S. cities.During much of that time, the city administration found opposition mainly from a liberal "independent" faction of the Democratic Party. The independents finally gained control of city government in 1983 with the election of Harold Washington. Since Washington's death, Chicago has since been under the leadership of Richard M. Daley, the son of Richard J. Daley. Because of the dominance of the Democratic Party in Chicago, the Democratic primary vote held in the spring is generally more significant than the general elections in November.


Health systems

The new Prentice Women's Hospital at Northwestern University's Medical Center
The new Prentice Women's Hospital at Northwestern University's Medical Center

Chicago is home to the Illinois Medical District on the Near West Side. It includes Rush University Medical Center, the University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago, and John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County, the largest trauma-center in the city. The University of Chicago operates the University of Chicago Medical Center, which was ranked the fourteenth best hospital in the country by U.S. News and World Report.[67] It is the only hospital in Illinois ever to be included in the magazine's "Honor Roll" of the best hospitals in the United States.

The University of Illinois College of Medicine at UIC is the largest medical school in the United States (1300 students, including those at campuses in Peoria, Rockford and Urbana-Champaign).[69] Chicago is also home to other nationally recognized medical schools including Rush Medical College, the Pritzker School of Medicine of the University of Chicago, and the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University. In addition, the Chicago Medical School and Loyola University Chicago's Stritch School of Medicine are located in the suburbs of North Chicago and Maywood, respectively. The Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine is in Downers Grove.

The American Medical Association, American Osteopathic Association, American Dental Association, Academy of General Dentistry, American Dietetic Association, American College of Surgeons, American Society for Clinical Pathology, American College of Healthcare Executives and the American Hospital Association are all based in the city.


CTA Blue Line at Eisenhower Expressway and Ashland Avenue
CTA Blue Line at Eisenhower Expressway and Ashland Avenue

Chicago is a major transportation hub in the United States. It is an important component in global distribution, as it is the third largest inter-modal port in the world after Hong Kong and Singapore.[70] Additionally, it is the only city in North America in which six Class I railroads meet.[71]

Chicago is one of the largest hubs of passenger rail service in the nation. Many Amtrak long distance services originate from Union Station. Such services provide connections to New York, Seattle, New Orleans, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Amtrak also provides a number of short-haul services throughout Illinois and toward nearby Milwaukee.

Nine interstate highways run through Chicago and its suburbs. Segments that link to the city center are named after influential politicians, with four of them named after former US Presidents. Traffic reports tend to use the names rather than interstate numbers.

The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) coordinates the operation of the three service boards: CTA, Metra, and Pace. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) handles public transportation in Chicago and a few adjacent suburbs. The CTA operates an extensive network of buses and a rapid transit system known locally as the "L" (for "elevated"), with several lines designated by colors, and that also includes service to both Midway Airport and O'Hare Airport. The CTA's heavy rail transit lines consist of the Red, Blue, Green, Orange, Brown, Purple, Pink, and Yellow lines. Both the Red and Blue lines offer 24 hour service which makes Chicago one of the few cities in the world to offer 24 hour rail service. A new Circle Line is also in the planning stages by the CTA. Pace provides bus and paratransit service in over 200 surrounding suburbs with some extensions into the city as well. Bicycles are permitted on all CTA and Metra trains during non-rush hours and on all buses 24 hours. Metra operates commuter rail service in Chicago and its suburbs. The Metra Electric Line shares the railway with the South Shore Line's NICTD Northern Indiana Commuter Rail Service, providing commuter service between South Bend and Chicago.

Chicago offers a wide array of bicycle transportation facilities, such as miles of on-street bike lanes, 10,000 bike racks, and a state-of-the-art central bicycle commuter station in Millennium Park. The city has a 100-mile (160 km) on-street bicycle lane network that is maintained by the Chicago Department of Transportation Bike Program and the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. In addition, trails dedicated to bikes only are built throughout the city.

O'Hare International Airport Terminal 1 - Concourse B
O'Hare International Airport Terminal 1 - Concourse B

Chicago is served by Midway International Airport on the south side and O'Hare International Airport, one of the world's busiest airports, on the far northwest side. In 2005, O'Hare was the world's busiest airport by aircraft movements and the second busiest by total passenger traffic (due to government enforced flight caps).[73] Both O'Hare and Midway are owned and operated by the City of Chicago. Gary/Chicago International Airport, located in nearby Gary, Indiana, serves as the third Chicago area airport, although it currently lacks scheduled passenger service. Chicago Rockford International Airport, formerly Greater Rockford Airport, serves as a regional base for United Parcel Service cargo flights, some passenger flights, and occasionally as a reliever to O'Hare, usually in times of bad weather. Chicago is the world headquarters for United Airlines, the world's second-largest airline by revenue-passenger-kilometers while is the second largest hub for American Airlines. Midway airport serves as a 'focus city' for Southwest Airlines, the world's largest low-cost airline.

A small airport, Meigs Field, was located on the Lake Michigan waterfront adjacent to Grant Park and downtown. There were long-term scheduled flights to Springfield as well as some service to other cities. At 1:30 a.m. on March 31, 2003, the airport runways were unexpectedly destroyed by order of the Mayor, who had sought closure of the airport and development of a nature preserve & bandshell. This resulted in a fine to the city by the Federal Aviation Administration for closure of the airport without sufficient notice, but the airport was eventually demolished.

For more information on relocating to Chicago, Illinois please visit

Information provided from the Wikipedia article found at © 2008 Move In And Out, Inc.

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