20 Things You Didn’t Know about Chicago


While it is pretty common knowledge that Chicago is home to the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls, Barack Obama’s hometown, a good place to get a great piece of deep dish pizza, and better known as The Windy City, what else do you know about the huge city? The truth is that there is much more to the city than meets the eye. In fact, it turns out The Windy City is hiding quite a few secrets. From the long list of everyday items that were invented in Chicago to which unusual resident had a significant problem with alcohol, here are 20 things you never knew about Chicago.

Chicago World's Fair

1. Chicago has been the site of quite a few inventions.

From the first zipper (debuted in 1851 at the Chicago World’s Fair) to the first vacuum cleaner, which required users to turn a hand crank while pushing it across the floor when it debuted in 1869, plenty of inventions have come out of Chicago. In 1893, Josephine Garis showed off the first electric dishwasher at the Chicago World’s Fair, while the Twinkie was invented here in 1930. Other popular inventions brought to us by Chicago residents include Cracker Jacks (late 1800s), the first wireless remote control (1955) and the Ferris Wheel (1893), and the cell phone (1973).


2. Chicago was also the site of several medical innovations.

In 1893, the first successful open-heart surgery was performed at a South Side hospital by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams on a man injured in a knife fight. Then, in 1937, Chicago became the site of the first blood bank in the U.S. Finally, the G.D. Searle Company manufactured the first birth control pill, Enovid, in their Chicago warehouse in 1960.


3. Chicago was once home to an elephant with a drinking problem.

In 1906, Princess Alice, who had called the Lincoln Park Zoo home until she lost part of her trunk in an accident, developed a cold. The zookeepers were instructed by the elephant’s owner, John Coughlin, to give her a bit of whiskey. Although her cold soon cleared up, Alice continued to beg zoo workers and visitors with flasks for a nip of liquor. (In the early 1900s, a flask was apparently something plenty of people carried around.) Her habit became so bad that she even passed out one night after having a bit too much to drink.

Sue T Rex

4. SUE, the world’s largest, most complete, and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex, calls Chicago home.

Located at The Field Museum, SUE is 42 ft. long from her snout to her tail and is 13 ft. tall at the hip. Her skull weighs an astounding 600 pounds and is filled with 58 razor sharp teeth. Her skeleton is more than 90% complete and she is definitely a sight to see.

Lincoln Park

5. Too many bodies to count are buried at Lincoln Park.

Until 1869, the southern part of Lincoln Park served as the City Cemetery. Then, officials decided it was a good idea to move the bodies (many of which had died from cholera) to a more rural area. During the process, the Great Chicago Fire broke out and destroyed countless markers. As a result, it is estimated that more than 10,000 individuals are still buried in the park.

Al Capone

6. Al Capone once used the basement at 2222 S. Wabash as a torture/ murder chamber.

In the 1920s/ 1930s, the mob leader used 2222 S. Wabash as a mob headquarters, brothel, gambling den, and speakeasy that operated under the name The Four Deuces. When someone was on Al’s bad side, he would invite them over for an amazing meal before leading them to the basement where they were beaten and killed. Today, only a field remains.

Willis Tower Skydeck

7. In Chicago, you can see four states while standing in one spot.

On a clear day, the Skydeck of Willis Tower (also known as Sears Tower) provides amazing views of the Chicago skyline, as well as views of Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Standing at 1,451 ft., it is the second tallest building in the U.S. and the 14th tallest building in the world.

1960 Presidential Debate

8. Chicago served as the site of the first televised presidential debate.

On September 26, 1960, 70 million Americans tuned in to watch Republican Vice President Richard Nixon square off against MA Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy in the first televised presidential debate. Broadcast from Chicago’s CBS Studios, some say the broadcast may have cost Nixon the presidency because he looked very sick and appeared exhausted, while Kennedy looked healthy and well prepared. (In fact, Nixon looked so unhealthy that his mother called him almost immediately after the debate aired to inquire about his health.) When voters turned out to the polls, Kennedy won the popular vote 49.7% to 49.5%.


9. Chicago is home to one of the last free zoos in the United States.

While some zoos charge as much as $30 for entry, Lincoln Park is actually free, which is really amazing when you consider there are only three zoos in the country that do not charge an admission fee. The zoo has plenty of exhibits, including three baby snow monkeys born in 2016, a 1-year-old amur leopard, a newborn Grevy’s zebra, and a baby Bactrian camel. Of course, there are plenty more mammals, amphibians, birds, and reptiles to see as well.

Chicago Parks

10. While Chicago is definitely a metropolitan area, it is home to more than 500 parks.

If you assumed that Chicago was full of skyscrapers, parking lots, and concrete, you wouldn’t be all that wrong. There are plenty of all three in the city. However, there are also 570 parks that have everything from hiking, biking, and walking trails to lakes, streams, tons of foliage and flowers, and plenty of wildlife. Lincoln Park, which encompasses 1,208 acres is the largest city park and is home to a museum, the zoo, a beach, tons of baseball, softball, and soccer fields, basketball, volleyball, and tennis courts, an archery field, a driving range, and much, much more. Along the side of the park is Lake Michigan’s 7 mile long beach.


11. Chicago served as the site for first automobile race in U.S. history.

In 1895 cars had only been in the U.S. for two years, but that didn’t stop a local newspaper from sponsoring the first automobile race. On Thanksgiving Day, spectators gathered in Chicago to watch the six drivers race for the $5,000 price. The race, which took place on a cold, wet, and snowy day, would take them to Evanston (a 54-mile journey) and back and would take quite a while since the average speed was 7 mph. In the end, it was a bit of a disaster. Of the only two vehicles who managed to complete the course, a motorized wagon driven by Charles Duryea finished first. His time was 7 hours and fifty-three minutes. During the race, a horse was hit and one driver went unconscious because of exposure.

Wrigley Building

12. The first air conditioned office building was located in Chicago.

Before 1946 office workers were undoubtedly hot, especially in the 442,000 sq. ft. Wrigley Building. Originally built in 1924 on Michigan Ave, the building was essentially a 32-story tower, which made it hard for air to circulate. Finally, in 1946, air conditioning was introduced, making it the first office building in U.S. history to reach a comfortable temperature during the summer months.

Eastland Steamer

13. The worst disaster in Chicago history started as a happy event.

In 1915, Western Electric’s 2,572 employees, along with their family and friends, were invited to the annual company picnic, which was being held in Michigan City, IN. To get there, they were to be transported across the Chicago River on an excursion steamer known as Eastland. At 7:28 am, the ship was docked on the river’s south bank while excited guests went aboard. Slowly it tilted to one side before rolling over. In the end, 844 people were killed, making the worst single disaster in the city’s history.

Jane Addams

14. The first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize was a resident of Chicago.

In 1931, Jane Addams won the Nobel Peace Prize for her dedication to the peace movement, which included working to found the Women’s Peace Party, later the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and attempting to stop the First World War. She also co-founded Hull-House, which was designed to help immigrants adjust to live in the U.S. Hull-House also provided daycare for working mothers, classes, and much, much more. Hull-House is now known as the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum and provides an in-depth look at the lifelong Chicago resident’s legacy.

Chicago's Deep Tunnel

15. Chicago has an elaborate underground tunnel system.

Chicago is actually home to six different sets of tunnels that measure 62-miles in length. Once considered to be an engineering marvel, the tunnels were once used to transport coal and various other freight, hide phone lines, and ventilate buildings. One tunnel, referred to as “The Deep Tunnel,” goes down around 350 ft. and is designed to accommodate excess rain runoff. Today, they are essentially abandoned.

Randolph Street, Chicago, in the 1850s. Hand-colored woodcut of a 19th-century illustration

16. In the 1850s, the city had to be raised several feet.

In the mid-19th century, the city was so low-lying that it was essentially sinking and turning the streets into swamps. After careful thought, the decision was made to lift the ENTIRE city by anywhere from 4 ft. to 14 ft. Even with today’s technology, this is a huge project, so you can imagine what a huge undertaking it was in 1850. Even more amazing, they actually got it done, though it took a lot of work and 20 years to do it. Buildings were jacked up, streets were filled in with dirt after new pipes were installed, and some buildings were lifted onto logs until a new foundation could be put down.


17. You can thank Chicago for mail order catalogs.

In 1872, Montgomery Ward took $1,600 in capital, rented a tiny shipping room, and created the first mail order catalog. He, later, had it delivered to rural areas in the city’s vicinity. In the beginning, shop owners, who had been for all intends and purposes price gauging those in rural areas, burned any catalogs they came across. However, in just a few years, they had become a fan of the catalog as well, earning it the nickname “Wish Book.”


18. The first opera was broadcast live from Chicago.

On January 31, 1949, These Are My Children, a 15-minute program, premiered and began to air five days a week. Considered the first televised soap opera, it focused on an Irish widow’s attempt to run a boarding house, along with her children and daughter-in-law. Critics hated it, so the final episode aired less than a month later on February 25, 1949. One critic went so far as to say “There is no place on television for this type of program, a blank screen is preferable.”

Chicago River

19. There is only one river in the world that flows backwards…the Chicago River.

In 1900 the Chicago River was flowing north. As a result, sewage was heading directly toward Lake Michigan, the city’s water supply. Obviously, with the city’s water supply unsafe, and the threat of serious health problems, such as typhoid fever, at an all-time high, the Chicago Sanitation Department had to do something. Using a weird series of canal locks, they are able to completely reverse the flow of the water, thus sending the contaminated water to the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. In 1999, the American Society of Civil Engineers named this accomplishment a “Civil Engineering Monument of the Millennium.”


20. The term “slipping a Mickey” was coined in Chicago.

In the late 1800s/ early 1900s, Michael Finn worked as a bartender at his own bar, the Lone Star Saloon and Palm Garden. It had a reputation for serving the strongest drinks and being the roughest bar in the city. Michael would serve customers drinks laced with drugs designed to knock them out. Then, he robbed them. In 1918, the world was on to his scheme when more than 100 waiters were arrested for slipping bad tippers “Mickey Finn powder.” This is when the term became popular.


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