Chicago Traveler Blog

Chicago Traveler Blog

9 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Chicago

4/22/13 | by

When many people think of Chicago, they think of deep dish pizzas, comedy, beaches and sports. Why wouldn't they? These are all some of the Windy City's best features, but there’s a little more to the story than just that.

This is a city full of history, and from the origin of the city's name to the reason behind the river's flow, there are quite a few things that even the people that call this city home don't know about it.

What's your favorite fun fact about Chicago? Here are a few things that might come up on the next round of trivia or just to add to your wealth of knowledge.

1. Chicago was home to the first Ferris Wheel ever, constructed in 1893 for a fair that celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ New World arrival. How appropriate... This isn't the only of the firsts though. Chicago is also home to the:

  • First Planetarium in the Western Hemisphere (Adler Planetarium)
  • First Commercial air passenger - a female reporter for the Herald-Examinaer, who traveled from Chicago to San Fransisco on July 2, 1927. Chicago: The birthplace of air travel.
  • The World's First Atomic Reaction (At the University of Chicago)
  • First World Cup Soccer Championship game and opening ceremonies ever hosted in the US (1994)
  • Softball originates in this city - although surprisingly not derived from baseball. The game actually derives from football and dates back to 1887, Thanksgiving Day. Find out more here.
  • The first Daytime soap opera, Painted Dreams, debuted on Chicago's WGN radio network on October 20, 1930.
  • First McDonalds Restaurant (Kind of, it actually opening in Des Plaines, Illinois, about half an hour from Chicago)

2. The Chicago River is one of the biggest attractions in the city, whether you’re there to see it flowing bright green on St. Patrick’s Day, taking a boat tour or walking alongside it. That river may seem like a normal body of water, but in fact, it’s pretty special because it actually flows backwards. The surface of the river flows east to west, away from Lake Michigan, like any normal river should. Deep below though, the water seasonally travels west to east and into Lake Michigan. This is no act of God though. The river was manually engineered to do this so that it would no longer be referred to as “the stinking river.” That might have really had a negative effect on the St. Patrick’s Day crowds...

3. Speaking of, that’s actually how the city got it’s name. “Chicago” originates from the word “shikaakwa” which means “land of stinky onions” in the Miami-Illinois language of a native American tribe. Basically, it’s a good thing they did something about that stinking water.
Lincoln Park is the second most visited park in America. Of course noone can beat the crowds at Central Park.

4. This is a city known for sports, and every summer people want to come see their baseball, every fall they want to watch Da Bears in action and every winter the Blackhawks are bringing the heat (when they aren’t on strike of course). Chicago is actually one in four cities in the United States that has teams from all the five major American professional team sports: Baseball (The Cubs and the White Sox), Football (Chicago Bears), Basketball (Chicago Bulls), Hockey (Chicago Blackhawks) and Soccer (the Chicago Fire).

5. Many people know the John Hancock Observatory provides you with one of the best views in Chicago, looking out over the beaches, the city skyline and out for 80 miles over four states. But did you also know that in 2011, this building also opened the world’s highest skating rink? Any travelers can skate 1,000 ft above street level on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center every year from January to March. Head down a few levels, and on the 44th floor you’ll find the highest indoor swimming pool in America.

6. Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes, and it’s the only one of them that America gets to call all its own. The others are tainted shared with our Canadian neighbors. In addition to that victory, Lake Michigan is also the fifth largest lake by both surface area (57,800 sq km) and volume (4,900 cubic km). The only other lake in North America to beat Lake Michigan in both categories is Lake Superior, so clearly it’s earned it’s name rightfully.

7. In addition to all of the pizza, hot dogs and breweries Chicago is known for, the city is home to several other popular foods. Nabisco, the world's largest cookie and cracker factory, and Keebler, the world's largest ice cream cone factory are both located in Chicago.

8. Chicago is home to the world’s largest (free) outdoor food festival. No surprise there, Chicagoans love their food. The Taste of Chicago is held every summer and hosts around over 400 different menu items from local restaurants and businesses.

9. In 1953, Hugh Hefner founded Playboy in this blessed town where he was born and raised. He published the first issue from 6052 South Harper Street, which featured the 1949 nude calendar shot of Marilyn Monroe. This first Playboy issue sold over 50,000 copies.

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