A city’s nickname can be just as powerful of an identifier as its proper name. Mention “Sin City,” and people think of Las Vegas. If you talk about the “Big Apple,” people know you are referring to New York City. The United States’ third-largest city has a well-earned nickname, as well. Situated on the shores of Lake Michigan and known for its fierce winters, Chicago appears to have earned its unofficial status as the “Windy City.” The only problem is that weather conditions had nothing to do with how Chicago earned its nickname. To find out the true origins of “Windy City,” we have to look at the one thing more representative about the city: its people.
Nineteenth-century journalists first gave Chicago this designation when criticizing the city’s elite as “full of hot air.” In 1858, a Chicago Daily Tribune reporter wrote, “[a] hundred militia officers, from corporal to commander … air their vanity … in this windy city.” A Milwaukee reporter chimed in with his opinion, writing, “We are proud of Milwaukee because she is not overrun with a lazy police force as is Chicago — because her morals are better … than Chicago, the windy city of the West.” In other words, they ascribed “windy” to the city because they believed the city was full of a bunch of “windbags,” people who were primarily interested in talking.
By 1893, the city’s nickname was really gaining notoriety. When Chicago put it its bid to host the upcoming World’s Fair, New York journalists pontificated that the people of “that windy city … could not hold a world’s fair even if they won it,” Chicago ended up winning the right to host the World’s Fair. This enraged disappointed rivals, including Cincinnati, whose journalists started using “Windy City” with great frequency out of spite.
By the start of the 20th century, “Windy City” was accepted as the unofficial nickname of the jewel of Lake Michigan’s shore. The origin of the term has fallen into distant memory, as its hearty residents embrace the name, believing it is a reflection of the bracing winter months.
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