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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

10. Rev. Jesse Jackson (b. 1941)
Forget the demagoguery, self-aggrandizement, and catchy couplets—they were mere sidelights in a heartfelt civil rights campaign best exemplified by the two organizations (now fused into one) that he founded: Operation PUSH and the Rainbow Coalition.

9. Joseph Cardinal Bernardin (1928–1996)
Two works bookended Bernardin’s Chicago ministry: The Challenge of Peace (1983) pondered nuclear arms and landed Bernardin on the cover of Time, while his posthumous Gift of Peace contemplated death and redemption.

8. Bruce Graham (1925–2010)
Buttressed by Fazlur Khan, an ingenious engineer—shades of Adler and Sullivan!—Graham hoisted Chicago’s vaunted architectural tradition onto his shoulders and then thrust it into another stratosphere.

7. Harold Washington (1922–1987)
His early efforts as a boxer hardly prepared Washington, Chicago’s first African American mayor, for the brutal infighting of Council Wars—and his sudden death robbed him of the chance to advance his own agenda.

6. Milton Friedman (1912–2006)
In 1977, one year after winning the Nobel Prize in Economics, the flag bearer for free markets retired from the University of Chicago and decamped for San Francisco—but the work he’d done here would significantly influence government policy (most notably in the Reagan administration) around the world.

5. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910–1995)
The University of Chicago astro-physicist and Nobel laureate could stare into deep space and detect white dwarfs and black holes—or, closer to home, discern that the disparate Shakespeare, Beethoven, and Newton were linked by their “quest . . . after the same elusive quality: beauty.”

4. Leo Melamed (b. 1932)
As the chairman (from 1969 to 1991) of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Melamed shifted the Merc’s focus from butter and eggs—its original commodities—to currency futures with the creation of the International Monetary Market, maintaining the city’s position as a financial powerhouse.

3. Saul Bellow (1915–2005)
Though he was born in Quebec and died in Massachusetts, Bellow saw Chicago as clearly as anyone; a Nobel laureate in literature, he recognized the city and its inhabitants for the crass, money-grubbing hog butchers they were, while also performing a feat of rare magic: He revealed that, deep down, they also had souls.

2. Oprah Winfrey (b. 1954)
In September 1986, two years after she landed in Chicago and transformed a third-rate talk show into a local hit, Winfrey went national, quickly vanquished Phil Donahue (the nation’s daytime king), and began her inexorable march toward becoming one of the most powerful, influential, and wealthiest women in the world. Read all about Oprah, including great moments in her TV history—and why her fans love her so much »

1.  Richard M. Daley (b. 1942)
Whatever your perception of our six-term mayor—city savior, autocratic tyrant, or somewhere in between—no other person from 1970 to 2010 has more indelibly stamped the city with his own personal vision of what Chicago should, could, and would be. Read our bucket list for Daley’s remaining months, plus other stories about the mayor »

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