Previous Exhibit- Life in Burnham's City: Chicago by Decade

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Previous Exhibit

Life in Burnham's City: Chicago by Decade
Summer 2009

Gangsters, politicians, anarchists and entrepreneurs, are all part of Chicago's rich history. Each decade brings us another flamboyant event to mark our city's vivid past. Displayed in this case is a small sample of books from Northwestern University Library's collections of materials on the history of the greater Chicago area. For more information on this and related topics, consult the Encyclopedia of Chicago

(available online at, or in the library stacks at L 977.311 E56)

1870s & 1880s

The Great Chicago Fire. October, 1871. The fire devastated the young city, destroying approximately four square miles and killing hundreds of people. But the city recovered, and new commercial buildings by architects such as William Le Baron Jenney, Dankmar Adler, Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, and others were crucial to the development of the modern skyscraper.

The Haymarket Affair. May, 1886. A rally in Chicago's Haymarket Square was disrupted by police; a bomb was thrown killing a policeman and setting off police gunfire that killed other police and civilians. Eight anarchists who hadn't been present were arrested and tried for murder. Four were executed.

The Model Town of Pullman. Built on the far south side of Chicago in the 1880's to house workers with George Pullman's Pullman Place Car Company. The Depression of 1893 led Pullman to cut wages but not rents, resulting in the famous strike of 1894.


The World's Columbian Exposition. Also known as the Chicago World's Fair, or the Chicago Columbian Exposition, this world's fair held in 1893, organized by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham on grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, was the largest and most spectacular world's fair up to that time.


The Reversal of the Chicago River. The Chicago River originally emptied into Lake Michigan and since the River was used for sewage and waste this created severe health problems. Beginning in the 1850s attempts were made to divert flow into the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Rather than treating the effluents, the City took in 1900 what was claimed to be the less expensive expedient of completely reversing the flow. Acclaimed at the time as a wondrous engineering feat, it is now realized to have had unfortunate impacts on the watershed ecology.


The Race Riots. July 27-August 3, 1919. Racial tensions erupted when a black teenager was stoned to death when the raft he was on drifted into a beach area that was considered "white"; a bloody riot ensued during which 38 people died and over 500 were injured. The Chicago Race Riot was one of worst of the many racial conflicts that erupted during the Red Summer of 1919.


The Chicago Tribune Tower Competition. Until a bridge was built over the Chicago River in 1917, there was no connection from Michigan Avenue south of the River to what was known as Pine Street to the north. With the bridge came an opportunity to develop what was now North Michigan Avenue – first the Wrigley Building, and then the Tribune Tower. In a dramatic move, Tribune publisher Robert R. McCormick launched a world-wide design competition, offering a $50,000 prize for "the most beautiful and eye-catching building in the world." Many prominent architects, including Louis Sullivan, considered the winning design distinctly inferior to the second-place entry by Eliel Saarinen.

1930s & 1940s

World War II


Mayor Daley's Election. Richard J. Daley (1902-1976) served the City of Chicago for 21 years, and is the father of the current mayor, Richard M. Daley. Richard J. Daley was elected to his first term in 1955.


The 1968 Democratic National Convention & The Riots. August 1968. Rioting breaks out at the Democratic Convention as Mayor Richard J. Daley ordered Chicago police to break up an anti-war demonstration outside the convention hall.