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Chicago's Top 10 : Moments in Chicago History

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  1. 1871: Great Chicago Fire

    Over 250 people died and 17,000 buildings were destroyed in this fire, allegedly started by a cow kicking over a lantern. Just a few buildings survived, including the Historic Water Tower and Pumping Station.

    Great Chicago Fire of 1871
  2. 1885: First Skyscraper

    Though just a measly – by today’s standards – nine stories, the Home Insurance Building (now demolished) was the tallest of its time. William LeBarron Jenney achieved this architectural feat by designing the first weight-bearing steel frame. From then on, the only way was up.

  3. 1886: Haymarket Riot

    Wealthy industrialists funded amazing Chicago arts institutions, but their workers toiled long hours in abominable conditions. In May 1886, a labor protest ended in an explosion at Haymarket Square that killed eight policemen and two bystanders. Eight anarchists were convicted of murder, though three were later pardoned for lack of evidence.

  4. 1892: First Elevated Train

    The first train traveled just 3.6 miles (5.8 km) along tracks built above city-owned alleys, (avoiding the need to negotiate with private property owners). By 1893, the line was extended to Jackson Park to transport visitors to the World’s Columbian Exposition .

  5. 1900: Reversal of the Chicago River

    With sewage flowing downriver to Lake Michigan, the source of the city’s drinking water, thousands of Chicagoans were dying from the contamination. To solve the problem, engineers created a canal that forced the river to flow away from the lake: an extraordinary feat of modern engineering.

  6. 1919: Chicago Black Sox Scandal

    The Chicago White Sox was a winning baseball team but poorly paid, so players sometimes fixed games, pocketing money from gamblers. After a group of players conspired to lose the 1919 World Series, eight of them were indicted, acquitted for insufficient evidence, but banned for life from baseball – and forever nicknamed the “Black Sox.”

    The Chicago White Sox in 1919
  7. 1929: Valentine’s Day Massacre

    This brutal murder of seven of Al Capone’s rival gangsters is one of history’s most notorious massacres. Capone set up a sting that sent George “Bugsy” Moran’s main men to a nearby garage. There, Capone’s henchmen, dressed as police officers, lined them up and riddled them with bullets. Seven bushes now mark the spot (at Clark Street and Dickens Avenue).

    Al Capone
  8. 1942: First atom split

    Under the football stands on the campus of the University of Chicago Enrico Fermi made history. He supervised the creation of a primitive nuclear reactor and took the first major step in understanding how to build an atomic bomb.

  9. 1955: First McDonald’s franchise opens

    Ray Kroc, a milkshake mixer salesman, changed diets worldwide by convincing Dick and Mac McDonald’s to franchise their San Bernadino, California burger stand. The original restaurant in Des Plaines – 15 miles (24 km) west of Chicago – is now a museum.

  10. 1983: Harold Washington elected Mayor

    Chicago’s first African-American Mayor, Washington tragically died of a heart attack shortly into his second term. His accomplishments included the expansion of O’Hare International Airport and the creation of a new central library .

Top 10 Residents

  1. Jean Baptiste Point du Sable

    Chicago’s first non-native settler was an African-American trader who set up camp around 1779.

  2. Jane Addams

    This social activist (1860–1935) founded Hull House social center and won a Nobel Peace Prize.

  3. Carl Sandburg

    One of Chicago’s nicknames “City of big shoulders,” was penned by this author/poet (1878–1967).

  4. Al Capone

    America’s best-known mobster (1899–1947) was Chicago’s “Public Enemy Number One” until jailed in 1931 for tax evasion.

  5. Ernest Hemingway

    Born in Oak Park, this hard-living author (1899–1947) left the suburb of “wide lawns and narrow minds” at age 19.

  6. Richard J. Daley

    This effective, if corrupt, Chicago mayor (1902–76) served longer than any other.

  7. Benny Goodman

    Born to poor Russian-Jewish immigrants, jazz great Goodman (1909–86) earned the title “King of Swing.”

  8. Hugh Hefner

    Lothario and founder of Playboy (1926–), whose first issue sold over 50,000 copies.

  9. Curtis Mayfield

    Soul musician and social activist (1942–99), Mayfield had his first hit For Your Precious Love at age 17.

  10. Oprah Winfrey

    TV’s talk-show darling (1954–) has filmed in Chicago since 1984 and become an honorary native of the city.

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