Happy Birthday, Chicago!

Mayor Harold Washington cutting a birthday cake for Chicago. Cake is elaborately detailed with a large city seal on top. Smiling man with a chef's hat is in the background.
Mayor Harold Washington cuts the sesquicentennial birthday cake. Source: Special Collections. Harold Washington Archives and Collections, HWAC-1987-03-04-1.

177 years ago Chicago was officially incorporated as a city.

Chicago’s newspapers are a wonderful primary source for descriptions of the city’s birthday, no matter which date Chicago chose to celebrate. For example, the March 4 charter was printed by the Chicago Democrat newspaper.

In September 1903 Chicago marked the centennial of the 1803 establishment of Fort Dearborn. Chicago newspapers covered this centennial, sometimes with commemorative issues. The Chicago Tribune Historical Archive has articles about the elaborate decorations used at the anniversary celebrations.

In 1933 Chicago celebrated another centennial, calling its world’s fair "A Century of Progress" - marking 100 years from Chicago receiving its town charter in 1833 (as opposed to its 1837 city charter). The Chicago Defender Historical Archive has coverage of the July 26, 1934 "DeSaible Day," celebrating the settlement of Chicago by Jean Baptiste Point deSaible [DuSable]. The Chicago Tribune Historical Archive, while also looking back to Chicago’s settlement, focused on 1833 with articles about the 100th anniversary of incorporation as a town on August 11, 1933.

In 1987 Mayor Harold Washington hosted a yearlong celebration for Chicago’s sesquicentennial (150 years). The biggest event was an all-night party at Navy Pier, where Chicago honored its heritage as well as Chicagoans that share a March 4 birthday. You can read about the events in our newspaper databases: Chicago Tribune (1985 to present) and Chicago Sun-Times/SouthtownStar

Learn more about Harold Washington and the sesquicentennial in Special Collections, where you can find the Harold Washington Archives and Collections.