Technology that Changed Chicago: Piggly Wiggly

Picture of a food store

Perhaps when you go to the supermarket, you run from aisle to aisle with preplanned precision, picking up only those items you need and finish shopping in the 10 minutes you have allocated. Perhaps you are a more typical shopper. You let your eyes roam from brightly colored box to brightly colored box. Childlike, you […]

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Long Distance Relationship, 19th Century Style

The heading to one of the letters, dated June 12, 1893.

It’s 1891. Albert Hafner is about to move from Florida to Chicago for business. Before he leaves, he meets Bessie Chandler, and they become engaged. Albert moves to Chicago, leaving Bessie behind, and they write letters back and forth. Albert’s letters to Bessie have survived for over 100 years to tell the story of their relationship and what it was like […]

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Technology that didn’t Change Chicago much: Airships

Picture of a blimp

Today heavier-than-air vessels, i.e. airplanes and helicopters, rule the skies. Lighter-than-air vessels, i.e. powered airships and balloons, are limited to niche roles such as advertising blimps and hot air balloon rides. Kites and gliders form a third category of manned flight. Hang gliding was popular in the late 20th century, but now is for serious […]

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The library has more than one kind of canon

In 1862 many men of Taylors Battery visited a photographers studio in Memphis to have photographs made, such as this carte-de-visite. Seated, left to right: H.T. Chappel, William J. McCoy and William D. Crego. Standing: Nathan J. Young and Sydney Peckham.

Ever wondered why there are cannons on the 6th floor of the Harold Washington Library Center? Or what’s with those marble busts in the 9th floor Special Collections Reading Room? Illinois was undoubtedly important to the Union cause during the Civil War, but just how did CPL get cannons and statues, not to mention swords, uniforms, books, portraits […]

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Technology that Changed Chicago: 1855 Lager Beer Riots

Wooden Building with people standin in and on it

Previous: Beer 1830-1855 1855 brought to a head years of strife over the question of Sunday drinking. Sunday drinking had been forbidden by several widely ignored laws. Whiskey drinkers, usually American born, could buy their tipple on another day and drink in the privacy of their homes. Immigrants, Germans-in particular, favored beer and often didn’t see […]

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Technology that Changed Chicago: Beer 1830-1855

Picture of a brewery

According to the The History of Beer and Brewing in Chicago, even before Chicago became a town, its residents were served by several taverns that brewed their own ale. Haas and Sulzer, the first wholesale brewery, began brewing ale in 1835. The first year they brewed 600 barrels. Both Haas and Sulzer sold out a few […]

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Technology that Changed Chicago: Alleys

Chicago Alley with EL in background

When I first moved to Chicago I had no idea what alleys were good for. TV and mystery books me told why alleys were bad—they were designed solely for muggers and other social outcasts. Whenever I walked by the mouth of an alley, I would look fearfully and move away if I saw anybody. However, […]

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Technology that Changed Chicago: Fire Limits

Map showing fire limits

The majority of Chicago buildings are of masonry construction. However, a glance through the neighborhoods will show odd patterns. Perhaps a humble frame cottage, or a grand wooden mansion stuck among a row of stone two-flats. Perhaps a whole block of frame buildings surrounded by blocks of masonry buildings. Perhaps a block which mixes up […]

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Technology that Changed Chicago: Subdivisions

Two maps

The Federal Government sold and gave away land in farm-sized lots as discussed in the previous post on the Public Land Survey.  However a city requires a dense street grid and relatively small lots suitable for building individual residences and businesses. The process of dividing up the raw acreage into building lots and laying out […]

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Technology that Changed Chicago: Public Land Survey

A Chicago area survey township divided into 36 sections. The odd numbered sections(numbers outlined in blue) were given to the I&M Canal Commissioners. Section 16, the school section, is used for Midway Airport. Source: Cook County Map. 1950.

Forming an invisible backbone for Chicago’s streets and property lines is a little known system called the Public Land Survey System. In 1783, along with the thirteen original colonies, the newly formed United States acquired new territories stretching to the Mississippi River. Congress passed a law called the Land Ordinance of 1785 providing for surveying the […]

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