Chicago’s South Loop Before the Library

400 block of South State Street at Van Buren, circa 1910

It's hard work to keep State Street "that great street," as the lyrics to Frank Sinatra's "Chicago" go. Before Sinatra's 1956 hit song, Chicago's South Loop was dark at night, colorful by day, and its southern edges vexed the best intentions of developers, urban planners and local organizations. As the Harold Washington Library Center celebrates […]

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History of Polish Americans in Chicago

Street view of Polish Chicago, 1981

Most Chicagoans have heard the trope that Chicago has the largest concentration of Polish people outside of Warsaw. (Although here's an article from WBEZ that states this might not be true any more.) But how did Chicago's Polonia come to be? This Polish American Heritage Month, learn the history of how Polish people came to […]

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Hit a Home Run with Chicago Open Archives

Cast of Bleacher Bums, 1989

It’s almost October. The leaves are starting to turn, temperatures are dipping and Chicago has a baseball team headed to the playoffs. In 1977, a different Chicago team, the Organic Theater Company, was looking for a new play. Ensemble member Joe Mantegna had been attending his fair share of Cubs games and pitched the idea […]

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Happy 25th, Harold Washington Library Center!

Source: Chicago Public Library Archives. Harold Washington Library Center Construction Photographs. Peter Fish Studio, Chicago. Elevation of south side of building, 1990 April 26.

The first couple weeks of October boast a number of important anniversaries in Chicago and Chicago Public Library history. Following the Great Chicago Fire on October 8, 1871, the Chicago Public Library was founded. It bounced around among different locations for many years until October 11, 1897, when the Central Library (now the Chicago Cultural Center) […]

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The Chinese Laundryman, a Chicago History Classic

Chinese Laundryman

The Chinese Laundryman documents Chicago's role in a shameful, largely forgotten, yet quite recent era of American history. In addition to widespread racial prejudice, Chinese Americans had fewer civil rights than other Americans in the time between the Civil War and World War Two. Legal equality was only slowly achieved between 1943 and 1965. The […]

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Another Ferris Wheel Made in Chicago

Ferris wheel and old Vienna village

Navy Pier turned 100 this year, and the new Centennial Wheel made its maiden voyage. The Ferris wheel is no stranger to Chicago. The first Ferris wheel was built especially for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. was tasked with creating something so stunning and special that it would "out-Eiffel" even the Eiffel Tower, […]

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Technology That Changed Chicago: Gaslight

Street scene

A long forgotten social revolution began on September 4, 1850 with the lighting of Chicago's first hundred-odd gaslights. 75 Years of Gas Service in Chicago quotes the Tribune: "Wednesday marked an era in Chicago. At about 2 o'clock P. M. the gas pipes were filled and brilliant torches flamed on both sides of Lake Street […]

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