This post is about the history of Chicago, Illinois, United States. The city was founded by European Americans in the 19th century in 1832. The Chicago area's recorded history begins with the arrival of French explorers, missionaries and fur traders in the late 17th century. The territory was claimed by the United States in the late 18th century, at which time the area was inhabited by the Potawatomi. The area had been inhabited for thousands of years by varying cultures of indigenous peoples.
Four historical events are commemorated by the four red stars on Chicago's flag: The United States' Fort Dearborn, established at the mouth of the Chicago River in 1803; the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which destroyed much of the city; the World Columbian Exposition of 1893, by which Chicago celebrated its recovery from the fire; and the Century of Progress Worlds Fair of 1933–1934, which celebrated the city's centennial.
|Flag of Chicago|
|Fort Dearborn, sketched 1831, printed in 1865.|
At the beginning of European recorded history, the Chicago area was inhabited by a number of Algonquian peoples, including the Mascouten and Miami. Trade links and seasonal hunting migrations linked these peoples with their neighbors, the Potawatomi to the east, Fox to the north, and the Illinois to the southwest. The name "Chicago" is the French version of the Miami-Illinois word shikaakwa (" Stinky Onion"), named for the plants common along the Chicago River. It is not related to Chief Chicagou of the Michigamea people. During the mid-18th century, the Chicago area was inhabited primarily by the Potawatomi, who displaced the Miami, Sauk, and Fox tribes. They had previously controlled the area and moved west under pressure from the Potawatomi and European settlers.
Chicago's location at a short portage (Chicago Portage) connecting the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system attracted the attention of many French explorers, notably Louis Jolliet and Jean-Baptist-Point DuSable . In 1696, French Jesuits built the Mission of the Guardian Angel to Christianize the local Wea and Miami people. French and allied use of the Chicago portage was mostly abandoned during the 1720s because of continual Native American raids during the Fox Wars.
|Jean Baptiste Point du Sable as depicted in 1884|
The first non-native permanent settler in Chicago was Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, who built a farm at the mouth of the Chicago River in the 1780s. He left Chicago in 1800. In 1968, du Sable was honored at Pioneer Court as the city's founder and featured as a symbol.
In 1795, following the Northwest Indian War, some Native Americans ceded the area of Chicago to the United States for a military post in the Treaty of Greenville. The US built Fort Dearborn in 1803 on the Chicago River. It was destroyed by British forces during the War of 1812 in the Battle of Fort Dearborn and most all the inhabitants were killed. The fort had been ordered to evacuate. During the evacuation soldiers and civilians were overtaken near what is today Prairie Avenue. After the end of the war, the Potawatomi ceded the land to the United States in the 1816 Treaty of St. Louis. (Today, this treaty is commemorated in Indian Boundary Park.) Fort Dearborn was rebuilt in 1818 and used until 1837. During the Black Hawk War of 1832, General Winfield Scott's troops brought cholera with them from the East Coast, where an epidemic raged. It spread among the refugees crowded at the fort, and the soldiers had to dig a pit to bury the dead.
City of the Century
In 1829, the State of Illinois (est. 1818) legislature appointed commissioners to locate a canal and layout the surrounding town. The commissioners employed James Thompson to survey and plat the town of Chicago, which at the time had a population of less than 100. Historians regard the August 4, 1830 filing of the plat as the official recognition of a municipality known as Chicago.
Yankee entrepreneurs saw the potential of Chicago as a transportation hub in the 1830s, and engaged in land speculation to obtain the choicest lots. On August 12, 1833, the Town of Chicago was incorporated with a population of 350 On July 12, 1834, the Illinois from Sackets Harbor, New York was the first commercial schooner to enter the harbor, a sign of the Great Lakes trade that would benefit both Chicago and New York state. Chicago was granted a city charter by the State of Illinois in 1837; it was part of the larger Cook County. By 1840 the boom town had a population of over 4,000.
After 1830, the rich farmlands of northern Illinois attracted Yankee settlers. Yankee real estate operators created a city overnight in the 1830s. To open the surrounding farmlands to trade, the Cook County commissioners built roads south and west; the latter crossed the "dismal Nine-mile Swamp," the Des Plaines River, and went southwest to Walker's Grove, now the Village of Plainfield. The roads enabled hundreds of wagons per day of farm produce to arrive, so the entrepreneurs built grain elevators and docks to load ships bound for points east through the Great Lakes. Produce was shipped through the Erie Canal and down the Hudson River to New York City; the growth of the Midwest farms expanded New York City as a port.
By the 1850s, the construction of railroads made Chicago a major hub; over 30 lines entered the city. The main lines from the East ended in Chicago, and those oriented to the West began in Chicago, so by 1860 the city became the nation's trans-shipment and warehousing center. Factories were created, most famously the harvester factory opened in 1847 by Cyrus Hall McCormick. It was a processing center for natural resource commodities extracted in the West. The Wisconsin forests supported the mill-work and lumber business; the Illinois hinterland provided the wheat. Hundreds of thousands of hogs and cattle were shipped to Chicago for slaughter, preserving in salt, and transport to eastern markets. By 1870 refrigerated cars allowed the shipping of fresh meat to eastern cities.
In 1848, the opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal allowed shipping from the Great Lakes through Chicago to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The first rail line to Chicago, the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad was completed the same year. Chicago would go on to become the transportation hub of the United States with its road, rail, water and later air connections. Chicago also became home to national retailers offering catalog shopping such as Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck and Company, which used the transportation lines to ship all over the nation.
|The Home Insurance Building in Chicago, the world's first skyscraper.|
The prairie bog nature of the area provided a fertile ground for disease-carrying insects. In springtime Chicago was so muddy from the high water that horses could scarecely move. Comical signs proclaiming "Fastest route to China" or "No Bottom Here" were placed to warn people of the mud.
Travelers reported Chicago was the filthiest city in America. The city created a massive sewer system. In the first phase, sewage pipes were laid across the city above ground, to use gravity to move the waste. The city was built in a low-lying area subject to flooding. In 1856 the city council decided that the entire city should be elevated four to five feet by using a newly available jacking-up process. In one instance, the 5-story Brigg’s Hotel, weighing 22,000 tons, was lifted while it continued to operate. Observing that such a thing could never have happened in Europe, the British historian Paul Johnson cites this astounding feat as a dramatic example of American determination and ingenuity: based on the conviction that anything material is possible.
In 1840, Chicago was the ninety-second most populous city in the United States. Its population grew so rapidly that twenty years later, it was the ninth most populous city in the country. In the pivotal year of 1848, Chicago saw the completion of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, its first steam locomotives, the introduction of steam-powered grain elevators, the arrival of the telegraph, and the founding of the Chicago Board of Trade. By 1870 Chicago had grown to become the nation's second largest city, and one of the largest cities in the world. By 1857 Chicago was the largest city in what was then known as the Northwest. In a period of twenty years Chicago grew from 4,000 people to over 90,000.
During the election of April 23, 1875, the voters of Chicago chose to operate under the Illinois Cities and Villages Act of 1872. Chicago still operates under this act, in lieu of a charter. The Cities and Villages Act has been revised several times since, and may be found in Chapter 65 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes.
Political history of Chicago
Chicago surpassed St. Louis and Cincinnati as the major city in the West. It gained political notice as the home of Stephen Douglas, the 1860 presidential nominee of the Northern Democrats. The 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago nominated home-state candidate Abraham Lincoln.
Many of the newcomers were Irish Catholic and German immigrants and their descendants. Their neighborhood saloons, a center of male social life, were criticized in the mid 1850s by the local Know-Nothing Party, which reflected the stern morality of the Yankees. The new party was anti-immigration and anti-liquor, and called for the purification of politics by reducing the power of the saloonkeepers. In 1855, the Know Nothings elected Levi Boone mayor, who banned Sunday sales of liquor and beer. His aggressive law enforcement sparked the Lager Beer Riot of April 1855, which erupted outside a courthouse where eight Germans were being tried for liquor ordinance violations. After the American Civil War, saloons became community centers only for local ethnic men, as reformers saw them as places that incited riotous behavior and moral decay.
Great Chicago Fire of 1871
1871 Great Chicago Fire
|The Chicago Water Tower, one of the few surviving |
buildings after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
In 1871, most of the city burned in the Great Chicago Fire. The damage from the fire was immense; 300 people died, 18,000 buildings were destroyed and nearly 100,000 of the city's 300,000 residents were left homeless. One of the factors contributing to the fire's spread was the abundance of wood; the streets, sidewalks and many buildings were built of wood. The fire led to the incorporation of stringent fire-safety codes that included a strong preference for masonry construction.
The soft, swampy ground near the lake proved unstable ground for tall masonry buildings. While this was an early constraint, builders developed the innovative use of steel framing for support and invented the skyscraper in Chicago. The city became a leader in modern architecture and set the model nationwide for achieving vertical city densities.
Politics and infighting stalled such plans, and developers and citizens began immediate reconstruction on the existing Jeffersonian grid. The building boom that followed saved the city's status as the transportation and trade hub of the Midwest. Massive reconstruction using the newest materials and methods catapulted Chicago into its status as a city on par with New York. It was the birthplace of modern architecture in the United States.
Late-19th-century big city newspapers such as the Chicago Daily News - founded in 1875 by Melville Stone - ushered in an era of news reporting that was, unlike earlier periods, in tune with the particulars of community life in specific cities. Vigorous competition between older and newer-style city papers soon broke out, centered on civic activism and sensationalist reporting of urban political issues and the numerous problems associated with rapid urban growth. In Chicago competition was especially fierce between the Chicago Times (Democratic), the Chicago Tribune, (Republican) and the Daily News (independent), with the latter becoming the city's most popular paper by the 1880s.
The deeply polarized attitudes of labor and business classes in Chicago prompted a strike by workers lobbying for an eight-hour work day. A peaceful demonstration on May 4, 1886, at Haymarket near the west side was interrupted by a bomb thrown at police; seven police officers were killed. A group of anarchists were tried for inciting the riot and convicted; several were hanged and others were pardoned. The episode was a watershed moment in the labor movement and its yearly celebration would later morph into May Day.
Late 19th century growth
|A bird's-eye view of Chicago in 1898. It became the second |
American city to reach a population of 1.6 million
Between 1870 and 1900 Chicago grew from a city of 299,000 to nearly 1.7 million, the fastest-growing city ever at the time. Chicago's flourishing economy brought huge numbers of new residents from Europe; relatively few new arrivals came from Chicago's rural hinterland. The growth in Chicago's manufacturing and retail sectors came to dominate the Midwest and greatly influence the nation's economy. The Chicago Union Stock Yards dominated the packing trade. Chicago became the world's largest rail hub, and one of its busiest ports.
Migration and ethnicity
Although originally settled by Yankees in the 1830s, the railroads, stockyards and other heavy industry of the late 19th century attracted a variety of skilled workers from Europe, especially Germans, English, Swedes and Dutch, as well as Irish Catholics. From 1890-1914 migrations swelled, attracting especially unskilled workers from Eastern and Southern Europe, including Poles, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Czechs, Greeks, Italians and Jews. World War I cut off immigrations from Europe, and restrictions in the 1920s slowed the European influx to a trickle, apart from refugees after World War II. During both world wars poor Americans arrived from the South—whites from Appalachia and blacks from the cotton fields due south. The near south side was the first Black area, and it continued to expand, as did the black neighborhoods on the near west side. These were segregated areas (few blacks were tolerated in white neighborhoods), and after 1950 public housing high rises anchored poor black neighborhoods south and west of the Loop.
Old stock in the suburbs
Old stock Americans who relocated to Chicago after 1900 preferred the outlying areas and suburbs, making Oak Park and Evanston enclaves of the upper middle class. The lakefront north of the Loop saw construction of high-rise luxury apartments starting in the 1910s, and continuing into the 21st century. The high-rises had wealthy residents but few children, since the city had an abysmal public school system, a large parochial system of middling quality for the Catholics, and few upscale private schools. The northern and western suburbs boasted some of the best public schools in the nation. The suburban trend accelerated after 1945, with middle class Chicagoans headed to the outlying areas of the city, and then pouring into the Cook County and Dupage County suburbs. Jews and Irish in particular rose sharply in status, leaving slums and heading north. Well educated migrants from around the country moved to the far suburbs. Beginning in the 1940s waves of Hispanic immigrants began to arrive, with the largest numbers from Mexico and Puerto Rico, as well as Cuba and (by the 1980s), other Hispanic lands. After 1965 large numbers of Asian immigrants came, the largest proportion were well educated Indians and Chinese. By the 1970s gentrification began, turning old inner city slums into upscale neighborhoods, which proved attractive to singles and gays.
Chicago's Polonia sustained diverse political cultures, each with its own newspaper. In 1920 the community had a choice of five daily papers - from the Socialist Dziennik Ludowy [People's daily] (1907–25) to the Polish Roman Catholic Union's Dziennik Zjednoczenia [Union daily] (1921–39) - all of which supported workers' struggles for better working conditions and were part of a broader program of cultural and educational activities. The decision to subscribe to a particular paper reaffirmed a particular ideology or institutional network based on ethnicity and class, which lent itself to different alliances and different strategies.
Waves of immigrants came from eastern Europe, especially in the 1880-1914 era. When the war cut off international movements, tens of thousands of African Americans came north in the Great Migration. With new populations competing for limited housing and jobs, especially on the South Side, social tensions rose in the city. Postwar years were more difficult. Black veterans looked for more respect for having served their nation, and some whites resented it. In 1919 was the Chicago Race Riot, in a summer when other major cities also suffered mass racial violence. Much of the violence was led by members of Irish athletic clubs, who had much political power in the city and defended their "territory" against African Americans. As was typical in these occurrences, more blacks than whites died in the violence.
Concentrating the family resources to achieve home ownership was a common strategy in the ethnic neighborhoods. It meant sacrificing current consumption, and pulling children out of school as soon as they could earn a wage. By 1900, working-class ethnic immigrants owned homes at higher rates than native-born people. After borrowing from friends and building associations, immigrants kept boarders, grew market gardens, and even opened home-based commercial laundries, eroding home-work distinctions, while sending out women and children to work to repay loans. They sought not middle class upward mobility but the security of home ownership. Many social workers wanted them to pursue upward job mobility (which required more education), but realtors asserted that houses were better than a bank for a poor man. With hindsight, and considering uninsured banks' precariousness, this appears to have been true. Chicago's workers made immense sacrifices for home ownership, contributing to Chicago's sprawling suburban geography and to modern myths about the American dream. The Jewish community, by contrast, rented apartments and maximized education and upward mobility for the next generation.
World's Columbian Exposition
The constant lobbying by the city's boasting lobbyists and politicians earned Chicago the nickname "Windy City" in the New York press, although this etymology may be erroneous. The city adopted the nickname as its own.
The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 was constructed on former marshland at the present location of Jackson Park along Lake Michigan in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. The land was reclaimed according to a design by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and the pavilions, which followed a classical theme, were designed by committee of the city's architects under the direction of Daniel Burnham.
The Exposition drew 27.5 million visitors, and is considered among the most influential world's fairs in history, with a wide ranging impact in art, architecture and design. The fair also featured the first, and until recently, largest Ferris wheel ever built.
Environment and planning
Lake Michigan — the primary source of fresh water for the city — was already highly polluted from the rapidly growing industries in and around Chicago; a new way of procuring clean water was needed. The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was first proposed in 1885 by civil engineer Lyman Edgar Cooley, who envisioned a deep waterway that would dilute and divert the city's sewage by funneling water from Lake Michigan into a canal, which would drain into the Mississippi River via the Illinois River. Beyond presenting a solution for Chicago's sewage problem, Cooley's proposal appealed to the economic need to link the Midwest with America's central waterways to compete with East Coast shipping and railroad industries. Strong regional support for the project led the Illinois legislature to circumvent the federal government and complete the canal with state funding. The opening in January 1900 met with controversy and a lawsuit against Chicago's appropriation of water from Lake Michigan. By the 1920s the lawsuit was divided between the states of the Mississippi River Valley, who supported the development of deep waterways linking the Great Lakes with the Mississippi, and the Great Lakes states, which feared sinking water levels might harm shipping in the lakes. In 1929 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in support of Chicago's use of the canal to promote commerce, but ordered the city to discontinue its use for sewage disposal.
Danish immigrant Jens Jensen arrived in 1886 and soon became a highly successful and celebrated landscape designer. Jensen's work was characterized by a democratic approach to landscaping, informed by his interest in social justice and conservationism and his rejection of antidemocratic formalism. Among Jensen's creations were four Chicago city parks, most famously Columbus Park. His work also included garden design for some of the region's most influential millionaires.
|Union Station in 1943|
Chicago, along with New York, was the center of the nation's advertising industry. Albert Lasker, known as the "father of modern advertising" made Chicago his base 1898-1942. As head of the Lord and Thomas agency, Lasker devised a copywriting technique that appealed directly to the psychology of the consumer. Women seldom smoked cigarettes; he told them if they smoked Lucky Strikes they could stay slender. Lasker's use of radio, particularly with his campaigns for Palmolive soap, Pepsodent toothpaste, Kotex products, and Lucky Strike cigarettes, not only revolutionized the advertising industry but also significantly changed popular culture.
By 1900, Progressive Era political and legal reformers initiated far-ranging changes in the American criminal justice system, with Chicago taking the lead.
The city became notorious worldwide for its murders, yet the courts failed to convict the killers, more than three-fourths of whom went unpunished. Even when the identity of killers was certain and the police made arrests, jurors typically exonerated or acquitted them. A blend of gender-, race-, and class-based notions of justice trumped the rule of law, producing low homicide conviction rates during a period of soaring violence.
During the late 19th century and early 20th century, rates of domestic murder tripled in Chicago. Domestic homicide was often a manifestation of strains in gender relations induced by urban and industrial change. At the core of such family murders were male attempts to preserve masculine authority. Yet, there were nuances in the motives for the murder of family members, and study of the patterns of domestic homicide among ethnic groups reveals basic cultural differences. German immigrants tended to murder over declining status and the failure to achieve economic prosperity. In addition, they were likely to kill all members of the family, and then commit suicide in the ultimate attempt at maintaining control. Italian men killed family members to save a gender-based ideal of respectability that entailed patriarchal control over women and family reputation. African Americans, like the Germans, often murdered in response to economic conditions but not over desperation about the future. Like the Italians, the killers tended to be young, but family honor was not usually at stake. Instead, black men murdered to regain control of wives and lovers who resisted their patriarchal "rights".
Chicago Crime Commission
Progressive reformers in the business community created the Chicago Crime Commission (CCC) in 1919 after an investigation into the robbery at a factory showed the city's criminal justice system was deficient. The CCC initially served as a watchdog of the justice system. However, after a suggestion that the justice system begin collecting criminal records was rejected, the CCC assumed a more active role in fighting crime. The commission's role expanded even further after Frank J. Loesch became president in 1928. Loesch recognized the need to eliminate the glamour that Chicago's media typically attributed to criminals. Determined to expose the horrors and violence of the crime world, Loesch drafted a list of public enemies and turned Al Capone into a scapegoat for society's evils.
The 1920s brought international notoriety to Chicago as bootleggers formed powerful gangs and fought each other, and the law, to bring liquor to speakeasies. The most notorious was Al Capone.
After 1900 Chicago was a heavily unionized city, apart from the factories (which were non-union until the 1930s). The IWW was founded in Chicago in June 1905 at a convention of two hundred socialists, anarchists, and radical trade unionists from all over the United States. The Railroad brotherhoods were strong, as were the crafts unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. The AFL unions operated through the Chicago Federation of Labor to minimize jurisdictional conflicts, which caused many strikes as two unions battled to control a work site. The unionized teamsters in Chicago enjoyed an unusually strong bargaining position when they contended with employers around the city, or supported another union in a specific strike. Their wagons could easily be positioned to disrupt streetcars and block traffic. In addition, their families and neighborhood supporters often surrounded the wagons of nonunion teamsters and made strikebreaking a very unpleasant endeavor. When the teamsters used their clout to engage in sympathy strikes, employers decided to coordinate their antiunion efforts, claiming that the teamsters held tyrannical power over commerce in their control of the streets. The teamsters' strike in 1905 represented a clash both over labor issues and the public nature of the streets. To the employers, the streets were arteries for commerce, while to the teamsters, they remained public spaces integral to their neighborhoods.
New construction boomed in the 1920s, was suspended for years, then resumed in the 1960s, with notable landmarks such as the Merchandise Mart and art deco Chicago Board of Trade Building completed in 1930.
The Sears Tower, now called the Willis Tower, at 1451 feet became the world's tallest building in 1974. It was designed by the famous Chicago firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, which designed many of the city's famous buildings.
Century of Progress
The Century of Progress International Exposition was the name of the World's Fair held on the Near South Side lakefront from 1933 to 1934 to celebrate the city's centennial. The theme of the fair was technological innovation over the century since Chicago's founding. More than 40 million people visited the fair, which symbolized for many hope for Chicago and the nation, then in the midst of the Great Depression.
On December 2, 1942, the world's first controlled nuclear reaction was conducted at the University of Chicago as part of the top secret Manhattan Project.
In 1945, US Steel was Chicago's largest single employer, with 18,000 workers at the company's South Works in the.
Starting in the 1950s, many upper- and middle-class citizens left the inner-city of Chicago for the suburbs, and the city itself shrank by nearly 700,000, leaving many impoverished neighborhoods in their wake. The City Council devised "Plan 21" to improve neighborhoods and focused on creating "Suburbs within the city" near downtown and the lakefront. As a result many poor were uprooted from newly created enclaves of Black, Latino and poor in neighborhoods like Near North, Wicker Park, Lakeview, Uptown, Cabrini–Green, West Town and Lincoln Park. Since the early 1990s, Chicago has seen a turnaround from the decline common to American cities following World War II. Many formerly abandoned neighborhoods are starting to show new life and the city's diversity has grown with larger percentages of ethnic groups such as Asians, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. In the 1990s alone, Chicago gained 113,000 new inhabitants. Since the 1920s the lakefront has been crowded with high rise apartment buildings for middle classes who work in the city (few of them have children, however). (The lakefront is warmer in winter and cooler in summer.) Many decaying inner-city neighborhoods on the North and West sides have been gentrified by young couples.
Mayor Richard J. Daley served 1955-76, dominating the city's machine politics by his control of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee, which selected party nominees, who were usually elected in the Democratic stronghold. The violence-filled 1968 Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago. Daley took credit for building four major expressways focused on the Loop, and city-owned O'Hare Airport (which became the world's busiest airport, displacing Midway Airport's prior claims). Several neighborhoods near downtown and the lakefront were gentrified and transformed into "suburbs within the city." In the Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Wicker Park and Humboldt Park communities, the Young Lords marched and held sit ins to protest the displacement of Latinos and the poor. Major riots burned out sections of the black neighborhoods of the South and West side, especially in 1968.
In 1979 Jane Byrne, the city's first woman mayor, was elected, winning the Democratic primary due to a city-wide outrage about the ineffective snow removal across the city.
In 1983, Harold Washington became the first black mayor of Chicago. Richard M. Daley, son of Richard J. Daley, became mayor in 1989, and has been repeatedly reelected.
One new development under the younger Daley has sparked debate, the destruction of the city's vast public housing projects. New projects during Daley's administration have been making world headlines and have made Chicago larger, environmentally friendlier, and more accessible. With a new skyline to form in 2009, the city is growing faster with a denser atmosphere and a more breathable one as well. The park district, which is committed to the biodiversity recovery plan, is set to restore damaged natural areas of the city as well as creating new ones, including the creation of rooftop gardens on most flattop skyscrapers.
Chicago earned the title of "City of the Year" in 2008 from GQ for contributions in architecture and literature, its world of politics, and the downtown's starring role in the Batman movie The Dark Knight. The city was also rated as having the most balanced economy in the United States due to its high level of diversification.
Benjamin C. Willis served as superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools (1953–1966), presiding over a steady decline of both the quality of the education and quantity of resources available. Willis believed educational leadership was the province of professional educators, and resisted community activists and politicians who wanted special favors. His outlook isolated his administration and undermined his influence. In the 1970s, efforts to desegregate schools through busing led to an exodus of whites from the city.
Mayor Washington maintained a distinctive strategy toward reform of public schools. Rather than focus on integration (bringing whites and minorities into the same schools), Washington favored measures to strengthen local schools, especially in minority neighborhoods. He called for more state support to urban schools in place of property taxes and more power to local groups to influence curriculum and the quality of teaching. In 1987 the teacher strike transformed educational problems into a crisis. Washington created the Parent Community Council from local groups and arranged for a summit with their representatives and those of business, school administration, and teachers. His death in 1987 unraveled the deliberations for change that had been taking place. The schools were so beset by violence, teacher shortages and inadequate financing that few disagreed with the brutal verdict of U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett in 1987, "Chicago's public schools are the worst in the nation."
In the late 1990s, the realization that busing had become unrealistic caused Chicago's political leaders and community activists to join together in focusing attention and resources on improving neighborhood schools. Mayor Richard M. Daley seized control of the school system in 1995 and promised drastic reforms. However, the legislature largely left in place elected councils made up of parents and community members at each of the district's nearly 600 schools. At struggling schools on probation, Daley has stripped councils of power, but at others the councils hire principals and oversee a significant portion of each school's budget. Paul Vallas, a blunt-talking, bottom-line-driven manager led the system from 1995 to 2001. Vallas presided over a $3 billion construction effort that built 71 schools and renovated 500. He cut 2,000 nonteaching positions and stabilized the district's finances. Given broad executive authority, Vallas ended automatic promotion from grade to grade and greatly expanded summer school, policies that have been copied across the country. Math and reading scores improved, with about 40% of students at grade level in 2001, up from 30% in 1995. In 2001 Daley appointed Arne Duncan, age 36, to preside over a school system with 435,000 students, 45,900 employees and a $3.5-billion annual budget. Duncan worked to rejuvenate the schools: reducing staff, consulting with turnaround specialists, shutting down the worst schools. He called for a back-to-basics curriculum, set up dozens of charter schools and experimented with performance pay. Test scores and graduation rates rose on his watch, and the system's reputation recovered. Critics admitted the efforts were great but said the results were slim. In 2009 Duncan moved on to become the Secretary of Education in President Obama's cabinet.
Journalists, novelists, architects, engineers, business tycoons, scientists, poets, sports teams, criminals, and millions of laborers shaped Chicago's national and international reputation. Images and representations are important means by which the city is known and negotiated. During the years of rapid urbanization 1890-1930 the numerous daily newspapers presented the most important and pervasive word versions of the city. Among the significant innovations of Chicago's newspapers in these years that shaped the idea of the city was the emergence of the local color columnist. Groeninger (2005) examines the role of columnists in Chicago newspapers in creating a "city of the mind." After a review of the literature on images of cities, the relationship of newspapers to modern city life in the thought of Robert Park, and the world of Chicago's newspapers at the turn-of-the-20th-century, detailed studies of a number of the most important columnists of the era follow. George Ade's column of the 1890s in the Daily News, "Stories of the Streets and of the Town," presented a view of Chicago from the perspective of migrants from the small towns of the Midwest. In the same decade Finley Peter Dunne's column in the Evening Post, featuring the fictional Irish barkeeper, Mr. Dooley, offered readers a literary version of the Irish working-class neighborhood of Bridgeport. Ring Lardner's Tribune sports column of the teens, "In the Wake of the News," satirized not only Chicagoans obsession with sports, but also the middle-class culture of opera, musical theater, and the newspaper itself. Several columns in the black newspaper, The Whip, offered images of Bronzeville in the 1920s that both reflected and helped shape the experience of African-Americans on the South Side of Chicago. Ben Hecht's "1001 Afternoons in Chicago" column in the Daily News expressed a new, anti-Victorian sensibility in the post-war era, but his most enduring contributions to the image of Chicago were on the stage and in the new medium of film. The columnists who wrote about everyday life in the city were the most distinctive and powerful newspaper voices in shaping the idea of Chicago and the civic personality of the city itself.
On December 7, 1903 the "absolutely fireproof," five-week-old Iroquois Theater was engulfed by fire in Chicago. The fire lasted less than thirty minutes; however, 602 people died as a result of being burned, asphyxiated, or trampled.
The S.S. Eastland was a cruise ship based in Chicago and used for tours. On 24 July 1915—a perfectly calm, sunny day—the ship was taking on passengers when it suddenly rolled over while tied to a dock in the Chicago River. A total of 844 passengers and crew were killed. The Eastland was top heavy with rescue gear that had been ordered by Congress in the wake of the Titanic disaster.
On December 1, 1958, the Our Lady of the Angels School Fire occurred at the Our Lady of the Angels School in the Humboldt Park area of Chicago. The fire killed 92 students and three nuns and led to fire safety improvements for public and private schools in the United States.
A major environmental disaster came in July 1995, with 739 heat-related deaths after one week of record high heat and humidity.