Chicago is well-known as the Windy City, but where does the nickname come from? The origin of the phrase is widely disputed, but ultimately goes back to Chicago’s politics and rivalries.
SAMMI BOAS: Why is Chicago called the Windy City?
PERSON 1: Because it’s windy.
PERSON 2: It was originally founded by John J. Windolin.
PERSON 3: The gnats at NU fly around so much it gets windy.
PERSON 4: Because the wind absolutely gusts me over.
PERSON 5: I don’t remember but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have to do with the fact that it’s actually windy, like, for real.
SAMMI BOAS: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Sammi Boas.
LILY COHEN: And I’m Lily Cohen. Welcome to The Ripple, a podcast exploring the effects of state and national politics on the Evanston and Northwestern community.
SAMMI BOAS: Chicago has many nicknames: the Second City, City of the Big Shoulders, Chi-town. But none of those are as famous as the Windy City.
LILY COHEN: The moniker makes appearances all over the city. To name a few, Windy City Smokeout is a country music festival, The Windy City Times is a newspaper covering the Chicago LGBTQ+ community and Windy City LIVE is a Chicago morning talk show.
SAMMI BOAS: But where does the name Windy City come from?
LILY COHEN: The easiest answer would be that the wind coming off of Lake Michigan makes for a windy atmosphere. But in our search for the true reason, we discovered that the origins of the name actually have nothing to do with weather, and everything to do with politics.
SAMMI BOAS: Many historians think the name comes from the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 — the first World’s Fair hosted in Chicago. This World’s Fair was to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas.
PATRICK MCBRIARTY: There was a pretty fierce competition between a variety of cities in the United States to host that World’s Fair. There were meetings held, I believe, in New York. Where then it was reported that the, I guess, bombastic politicians or boosters of Chicago were so outspoken that Chicago was tagged with this moniker of the people from the Windy City, you know, that we were all blowhards about how great Chicago was and, you know, New Yorkers of course didn’t think much of Chicago and sometimes they still don’t, as part of the flyover states.
LILY COHEN: That was author and bridge historian Patrick McBriarty, He’s also a co-host of the Windy City Historians, a podcast about the history of Chicago.
SAMMI BOAS: That year, St. Louis, Washington, D.C. and New York City all competed to host the 1893 World’s Fair. The main competition was between NYC and Chicago, the largest and second-largest cities in the U.S. at the time.
LILY COHEN: Charles Dana, the publisher of the New York Sun at the time, was a strong advocate for New York hosting the Fair. In 1890, Dana allegedly said, “Don’t pay any attention to the nonsensical claims of that windy city. Its people could not build a World’s Fair even if they won it.”
SAMMI BOAS: But researchers have never managed to find Dana’s original article that included this quote. Chicago was ultimately chosen because of its railway system and central location.
LILY COHEN: Barry Popik, an etymologist, took a trip to Chicago when they were celebrating the World’s Fair around 1994. While there, Barry visited the Chicago History Museum. Interested in the origins of words and phrases, he asked the tour guide about the origin of the phrase. The tour guide didn’t know the answer. So, Barry began researching the Windy City question himself.
BARRY POPIK: So the first thing I did was I went to the obvious source, which was the Dictionary of Americanisms. What’s the first citation? 1887 from the Louisville Courier Journal. And I said, wait a minute, 1887? They were bidding for the World’s Fair in 1889. That was two years later….
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