Top 40 Chicago Pioneers: Visionaries from 1970 to 2010

TODAY’S PIONEERS: Bracketed by the Richard Daleys, père et fils, this list highlights the city’s top 40 visionaries over the course of Chicago magazine’s 40-year run

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Chicago’s visionaries

To celebrate our magazine’s 40th anniversary, we name the 40 best records, restaurants, movies, and more

Chicagoans have been a foresighted folk as far back as 1673. That’s when Louis Jolliet, traveling through these parts with Père Jacques Marquette, encountered a marshy wasteland and instantly understood how a canal carved here would link the Atlantic Ocean with the Gulf of Mexico via the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Such ingenuity would remain an integral part of our character for the next 400-plus years—think George Pullman raising the city from the mud or the post-Fire architects lifting steel towers toward the sky. That trend continues, as this list of Chicago’s top visionaries from 1970 to 2010 attests. Don’t see eye to eye with our choices? Show us the error of our ways in the comments section below.

40. Richard J. Daley (1902–1976)
Though in decline, the Boss in his final years continued to shape the vibrant metropolis we recognize today, as most clearly evidenced by the Standard Oil Building (today’s Aon Center), the John Hancock, and the Sears (a.k.a. Willis) Tower. Read our 2008 story comparing Richard J. and his son, the current mayor »

39. Michael Kutza (b. 1940)
In 1964, Kutza founded the Chicago International Film Festival, the oldest competitive film fest in North America—which, in its 2010 season, screened more than 50 movies from 150 countries—and 46 years later, he continues to serve as its artistic director.

38. Andrew Mason (b. 1980)
The founder and chief executive of Groupon Inc. parlayed his concept of an online hub for collective daily deals into a $1.35 billion company serving 15 countries, which finally put Chicago on the Internet map. Read our August 2010 profile of Mason »

37. Joe Mansueto (b. 1956)
A bona fide innovator, Mansueto founded the mutual funds rating service Morningstar out of his Lincoln Park home in 1984 and made it a go-to source for investment data—making him a billionaire in the process.

36. Joan Weinstein (1935–2009)
Ultimo, Weinstein’s influential Oak Street boutique that began in 1969 as an offshoot of the men’s clothing store owned by her husband, Jerry, introduced Chicago women to chic international fashion from the likes of Giorgio Armani, Sonia Rykiel, and others.

35. Ping Tom (1935–1995)
Beginning in 1983, the businessman and civic leader—he was a founder of the Asian American Coalition of Chicago—spurred development of the 32-acre Chinatown Square, a residential and commercial development erected on reclaimed railroad land; pretty Ping Tom Memorial Park, at 19th Street and the Chicago River’s South Branch, celebrates the achievement he never lived to see reach fruition.

34. Jerry Adelmann (b. 1949) As a young man, he took the Illinois & Michigan Canal, the decaying manifestation of Jolliet’s 1673 vision, and reinvented it as an engaging 120-mile-long history lesson; today, as the president and CEO of Openlands, Adelmann and his cohorts fight to conserve urban green space, such as the new Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, a 77-acre treasure chest of woodlands, bluffs, and ravines on the North Shore. Read more about Adelmann, a recipient of Chicago’s 2010 Green Awards »

33. Paul Sereno (b. 1957)
Focusing his gaze on prehistory, the University of Chicago paleontologist identified more than two dozen new species of dinosaurs on five different continents.

32. Steven Levitt (b. 1967)
In his 2005 book Freakonomics (written with Stephen J. Dubner), Levitt, a University of Chicago professor and self-described “rogue economist,” upended conventional wisdom and the dispassionate world of statistical analysis by using data to solve the riddle of human behavior.

31. Dr. Quentin Young (b. 1923)
Chairman of medicine at Cook County Hospital from 1972 to 1981 and a political activist, Young worked as a fervent advocate for civil rights and health-care reform. Retired from private practice, he serves as the national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program.


Photograph: Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune

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4 years ago
Posted by RobbieQTelfer

i'm surprised Marc Smith, the inventor of the poetry slam, isn't on this list. one could argue that the poetry slam has done more to popularize poetry in the information age to the un-privileged, non-initiated than at any other time in history. and Marc is all chicago.

4 years ago
Posted by jazzmanchgo

Aside from the too-numerous-to-mention artists, musicians, authors/writers, and intellectuals who could have qualified. . .

I have to nominate Leonard and Phil Chess, co-founders (along with Evelyn Aron) of Aristocrat Records, which later became Chess Records. Chess was largely responsible for putting the music we now call "postwar Chicago blues" (Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, et al.) on the map; the label also recorded Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley at the beginning of their careers. Important jazz, doo-wop, and soul artists appeared on the label, as well.

Leonard Chess also founded radio station WVON, which in its heyday was arguably the most important on-air African-American voice in the country. Its status has diminished somewhat since then, but it's still the source of provocative and informative talk (in contrast to the mindless blather/babble that characterises most "mainstream" talk radio, in Chicago and nationwide).

The Chess brothers may not have been exemplary in all of their business dealings, but they should certainly be given credit for what they contributed to local and national popular culture during their time.

4 years ago
Posted by chicagofan

No Mike Royko? Gimme a break.

4 years ago
Posted by Simon

Sorry, but with all due respect to Jeanne Gang, Fazlur Khan is the person who's given Chicago's skyline its two most recognizable buildings - Willis/Sears Tower and the Hancock.

4 years ago
Posted by LoganSquare22

How about Daniel Burnham? Not sure one could have more vision than the designer and builder of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

4 years ago
Posted by DGSweet

Odd to list both Del Close and Mary Zimmerman and not Paul Sills or Viola Spolin. Viola Spolin essentially invented theatre games in Chicago in the 1930s. Her son, Paul, created several theatres derived from him mother's work (including Second City and Story Theatre) and pretty much launched the Chicago off-Loop theatre movement. Del and Ms. Zimmerman did and have done terrific work, but Viola and Paul laid the foundations. (I know Del would agree. We talked about this a number of times.) Read some history. Hell, read my history. It's called SOMETHING WONDERFUL RIGHT AWAY. Then go back and expand this list.

4 years ago
Posted by TNL Nick

The accomplishments of the Chess Brothers and Daniel Burnham were well before 1970, and I think even Viola Spolin was out of the city by then. Remember, this list covers the last forty years, to celebrate Chicago Magazine's illustrious run.

4 years ago
Posted by Houser

Obviously there are more than 40 memorable personalities that can be mentioned. One that merits a mention is Bruce Gotschall who began a not fo profit housing organiization in 1975 that is known today as Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago. Since it began this organization has helped over 169,000 homeowners, created over 3,200 new home buyers, loaned more than 419 million dollars in Chicago's low or moderate income communities when banks would not lend to them and has reclaimed and rehabbed more than 27,000 homes in those same communities. Now that's a vision turned reality.

4 years ago
Posted by kchuk

No women in scientific fields? That's a big omission.

Your list should include Janet Davison Rowley, M.D., who was the first scientist to identify the relationship between chromosome abnormalities and cancer. She has received the Lasker Award for major contributions to medical science, the Gruber Prize in Genetics, the National Medal of Science and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

(far more important than Oprah if you ask me)

2 years ago
Posted by Juana32

Magnificently done! I'm surprised Gary Comer and/or Edward George Gardner did not make the cut!

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