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“Windy City”? Not Even in the Top 10!

By Snezana Stojilkovic; Chicago, Illinois

Chicago Skyline from North Avenue Beach
Chicago Skyline from North Avenue Beach. Photo: Bohao Zhao

How well do you know Chicago? Do you know how many people live in this “city of neighborhoods”? Where does that “windy” part coming from?  Is it because the city is very cold? How the streets got their names? Yes, Lincoln Park is named after the US president Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Park also, but who were Kinzie, La Salle, or Van Buren? What about Wrigley field? Well, let’s find out!

I have no doubts that any time you walk out through the door during the winter experiencing the wind coming off Lake Michigan you think how the nickname justified is: “the Windy City”. The truth is that people cannot come to agreement how and when windy became description for Chicago. It is obvious that the city is cold and windy, but that’s not the only reason, especially considering that Chicago is not the windiest place in the USA, not even in the top 10. Surprised?

Let’s go back to the 19th century, when Chicagoans traveled across the East coast promoting the city as ideal place for investing. In 1893, couple of American cities competed for hosting the World’s Colombian Exposition. The choice narrowed to New York and Chicago, but Chicago ultimately won the contest. The big rivalry between these two cities existed even then, and New Yorkers didn’t like losing. The editor of New York Sun (publication that were operating between 1833 and 1955) Charles A. Dana claimed that the politicians in Chicago were “full of hot air” (the meaning of idiom is full of nonsense) and he allegedly wrote: “that nonsensical claims of that windy city. Its people could not hold a world’s fair even if they won it”.

The problem is that the article have never been found, and many researches dismiss that story as a myth. One judge from New York Barry Popik, now a consultant for the Oxford English Dictionary, spent hours and hours looking into old newspapers (New York Sun) searching for any article that contains word ‘windy’. He said he found none! He looked further and he found another article from 1887. Published in Louisville Currier-Journal calling Chicago “windy”. Many historians support the statement that the term was coined in the early 1880’s.

Even if Charles A. Dana might not be the person who coined the term, he was definitely one who popularized it since he didn’t hold Chicago and its citizenry in high regards, and he often wrote about it.

People like simple things, and the explanation that has to do something with bad politicians make perfect sense! That’s why many people give credit to Charles A. Dana and accept this urban legend as the only truth.

Windy or hot, the city is absolutely beautiful, the third largest in the USA. We get to another confusing thing: the size of population that live here. It really depends on what do you consider to be Chicago. Is it just the inner city, or does it include suburbs, or even larger metropolitan area? So, how big is the city?
First of all, there are 77 Community Areas: the last two Edgewater was separated from Uptown in 1980, and O’Hare area was formed in 1956. The latest data shows that 2,731 million people live in the city, but the larger area called Chicagoland is home to around 10 million people. Now, I want you to imagine how it started: in 1833 only 200 people moved to this territory. If you think about, it wasn’t that long ago, and yet Chicago managed to become the fourth most essential business center on the planet in the Master Card Worldwide Centers of Commerce Index. Impressive, isn’t it?

Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Photo: Chad Zuber / Shutterstock.com


I guess that many of you landed to O’Hare airport on your way here. I did to.  The history of the airport area is quite interesting: First visitors were German immigrants, who settled down and named the area “Orchard Place”. When World War II started, the War Department bought the place and open an aircraft factory Douglas. When the war was over, the city bought the place and renamed it again, this time simply Orchard Field airport. I was always wondering what the symbol ORD stands for, and that’s where the identification letters coming from. Few years later, in 1949, it was suggested that the name should be changed in honor of Lieutenant Commander Edward “Butch” O’Hare, a young navy pilot who died during the war. He was the first one who got the Medal of Honor for combating enemy planes, actually 9 Japanese bombers in 1942. You can read more about that flight and fight here.

The first commercial flight happened in 1955. And just for the records, O’Hare International Airport is the forth busiest airport in the world by number of passengers; New York is at distant 15th place. Ha, not bad for a “windy” city?

One more significant thing happened at this place: the worst airline accident in the US history. In 1979 all passengers and crew on board American Airlines Flight 191 were killed when DC-10 crashed soon after taking off. The reason for crash? One engine on the left wing separated and flipped over the wing inducing damage to the plane. The number of passengers is something I couldn’t clarify: different sources, different numbers.

You got plenty of information today, hope didn’t know many. The next article is about city’s neighborhoods. You would get the answers on questions asked above, and much more!


Interesting facts:

  • Edward O’Hare’s father was a lawyer and a close associate of Al Capone. He presented strong evidence against him during the trial, and was killed couple of years later.
  • A replica of O’Hare’s firefighter is exposed in Terminal 2. Check it out next time you travel somewhere!
  • Every 90 seconds an airplane takeoff or land to the O’Hare International Airport
  • This airport has the cleanest bathrooms of the world’s busiest airports, according to the Association of international agents.