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How to Be a Know-It-All

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10 ESSENTIAL CHICAGO FACTS: Keep them in your back pocket

There are some facts every self-respecting Chicagoan should know about his city: The world’s first skyscraper went up here and it is the third most populous metropolis in the United States. Here are ten more, from the editors of The Encyclopedia of Chicago.

1. In October 1850 the Chicago City Council refused to enforce the recently enacted federal Fugitive Slave Law, which said slave owners had a right to recapture their runaway slaves. With downstate Illinois decidedly pro-slavery, Chicago showed it wasn’t afraid to assert itself on an issue that was dividing the country.

2. The Chicago Board of Trade revolutionized commodities trading when, in the 1850s, it devised the standard grading of agricultural products, creating the “futures” market. Before that, commodities like corn were assigned a value based on who grew it; under standard grading, commodities from multiple producers were mixed and sorted by quality. The newly stabilized supply of agricultural products meant buyers could purchase goods before they were even grown, giving birth to a new financial market that would span the globe.

3. Chicago’s advertising prowess surged in the 1950s and ’60s, when Leo Burnett created some of the world’s most memorable commercial icons, including the Marlboro Man, Tony the Tiger, the Jolly Green Giant, the Pillsbury Doughboy, and Starkist’s Charlie Tuna.

4. At the end of the 19th century the city solved its sewage problem by opening the Sanitary and Ship Canal, in 1900, which permanently reversed the flow of the Chicago River and sent the sewage down the Illlinois to the Mississippi, at St. Louis.

5. The most successful professional baseball team to call Chicago home was the American Giants of the Negro National League. Care to argue? Consider: The American Giants won championships in 1920, 1921, and 1922, then the Colored World Series in 1926 and 1927—the best run in the shortest amount of time.

6. In 1894, Chicago invented the modern amusement park when Paul Boyton built his Water Chute park at 63rd and Drexel on the South Side. Until then, the term “amusement park” meant beaches, lawns, and other natural attractions. By asking patrons to amuse themselves with his machines instead, Boyton ushered in an entirely new concept of leisure-time activity.

7. Contrary to urban legend, Richard J. Daley did not issue a “shoot to kill” order during the riot in 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., from April 5th through April 9th. Daley issued the order, but not until six days after the riot was over; his motives are not clear. "I suspect that, in the summer of 1968, one might think that other riots might happen," says Grossman.

8. William Le Baron Jenney, a Chicago architect, transformed the nature of city centers in 1884 when he designed the world’s first completely iron-and-steel building. His Home Insurance building, erected a year later at the corner of LaSalle and Adams streets, demonstrated that tall city structures need not be built with more restrictive materials like brick or concrete.

9. City hall has always had a carnival atmosphere. During his tenure as mayor from 1915 to 1923 and 1927 to 1931, William Hale Thompson traveled on a safari in search of tree-climbing fish, engaged in a political debate against a pair of caged rats, and issued a threat to punch the Prince of Wales in the nose if he ever dared to visit Chicago.

10. Fur trader Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, Chicago’s first settler of non-Indian descent, arriving in the 1780s, relied on his wife, Catherine, a Potawatomi, for business networks and diplomatic connections. 

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