Chicago is one of those legendary cities, and here, the legend is tied closely to the lake, a lake that has helped to determine much of what we know and learn about this city, whether we reside here or not. As is so often the case, location determines destiny, and in Chicago, the city’s origins at the southern end of the connected Great Lakes and near the headwaters of the Mississippi River basin assured that it would become the center for Midwestern business: economic, social, cultural, and educational activities, becoming a crossroads for human and urbanatural activities of all kinds. By 1916, it became a focal point for Carl Sandburg, a quintessential American poet who produced a quintessential American poem:
Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:
[ . . . ]
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the
Nation. “Chicago,” Poetry: A Magazine of Verse III:VI (1914)
Sandburg was not the first or the last last artist or creator to celebrate the city. Chicago’s name originated from a Potawatomie indigenous word “Checagou” which means, quite simply, “wild onion,” a type of wild garlic plant.
In 1890, John D. Rockefeller founded the University of Chicago. Three years later, Sears, Roebuck, and Company opened its doors. Upton Sinclair then published The Jungle in 1906, his fictionalized exposé of the meat-packing industry: cruelty to animals and humans, immigrant abuse, detritus–human and animal parts–in the product. In the 1950s and 1960s, Chicago becomes notable for a number of iconic American firsts: the first MCDonalld’s franchise fast-food restaurant, the first of the legendary Chess Record (Sam Phillips, Ike and Tina Turner, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy, Mddy Waters and more), the first performance by Second City comedians, the first Playboy Club, and the Kennedy-Nixon debates.