windy city chicago skyline

Image via Flickr by Ben Sutherland

Sometimes, nicknames come about in the funniest of ways. Every state in the U.S. has a nickname that typically showcases one of its well-known features. For instance, Illinois is known as “The Prairie State” for its abundance of prairie grasses. But why is Chicago called the “Windy City”? Is it really windy in Chicago, or is it just a figure of speech?

We’ve dug a little deeper to find the origin of this peculiar nickname, so keep reading to learn more about Chicago and why it has been dubbed the Windy City.

Location, Location, Location

The city of Chicago is located in the northeast corner of Illinois. It borders Lake Michigan and is only a short drive from the Illinois-Indiana border and the Illinois-Wisconsin border. Chicago is likely the most well-known city in Illinois, probably because it is by far the largest city in the state, not to mention the third largest in the U.S. Why is Chicago so much larger than all the other cities in the area? Let’s dive into the city’s history to find out.

A Brief History of Chicago

The area near the banks of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan was first settled by several Native American tribes. In 1780, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable settled in the area and others came after. In 1837, Chicago was officially incorporated as a city with a population of 4,000. Less than two decades later, the city was home to more than 30,000 people and was the world’s largest grain port. Chicago expanded rapidly from there, and by 1930, more than 3 million people lived in Chicago.

Residents of Chicago were innovative and didn’t shy away from opportunities to try out new technology. For example, the world’s first skyscraper was built in 1885 in Chicago. So, as industries boomed in the city, more and more people moved to Chicago and sought work.

Windiest Cities in the U.S.

While the nickname “Windy City” implies that the city gets a lot of wind, Chicago isn’t even in the top 20 cities with the highest average wind speed. The top five cities are Mt. Washington, New Hampshire; Dodge City, Kansas; Amarillo, Texas; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Goodland, Kansas — none of which even border the Great Lakes. Based on this information, any one of those cities would have more claim to the nickname “Windy City” than Chicago. So the question still stands: Why is Chicago called the Windy City?

Earliest References of “Windy City”

One of the earliest recorded references of Chicago being called “Windy City” was in 1876. A headline in the Cincinnati Enquirer stated: “That Windy City. Some of the freaks of the Last Chicago Tornado.” So, while Chicago may not be the windiest city in the U.S., the area has been plagued by significant tornadoes from time to time.

This early reference may have also had another meaning. The reference likely jabs at the longwinded people of Chicago, who were full of hot air. Since the reference came from a Cincinnati newspaper, it was a form of name-calling — apparently the people of Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Chicago all wanted to prove that their city was the greatest in the Midwest. So, the Cincinnati Enquirer called out Chicago’s residents and commented on the city’s windstorm all in one go.

So, Why Is Chicago Called the Windy City?

Based on these early records, the nickname “Windy City” originated based on the area’s windstorms and because the people were known for being full of hot air. However, the dual meaning seems to have been lost over time, and most people believe that “Windy City” refers to windy weather rather than windy people. Whatever the origin of the nickname, the name most certainly stuck, and now “Chicago” and “Windy City” are nearly synonymous.

Other Nicknames for Chicago

While “Windy City” is probably Chicago’s most popular nickname, it isn’t the only one. Lesser-known nicknames that may have accurately described the city at one point in its history, include “The City of Big Shoulders,” “The Second City,” “Hog Butcher for the World,” “Chi-town,” “The White City,” and “The City that Works.”

As with many other cities, Chicago has a city flag. It features light blue and white stripes and four six-point stars. Each point of each star has a specific meaning, and two points on the third star represent two of Chicago’s nicknames: “The Wonder City” and “The Convention City.” Every once in a while, leaders push to add another star to the flag to represent another part of Chicago’s rich history, but they haven’t been successful since 1939 when the fourth star was added.

What Else Is Chicago Known For?

Based on Chicago’s other nicknames, Chicago has been known for many things. For instance, the city’s success in the meat industry earned it the nickname “Hog Butcher for the World.” Chicago is also known for its iconic skyscrapers and several city neighborhoods. The city also features many beaches along the Lake Michigan coastline and several unique museums, such as the International Museum of Surgical Science.

Additionally, Chicago is known for delicious food. The city boasts its diversity and is home to many restaurants that serve various international cuisines — from Moroccan to Japanese and nearly everything in between. We also can’t forget to mention Chicago’s local cuisine, including Chicago-style hot dogs and Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. When you visit the Windy City, be sure to sample several international dishes, but don’t miss out on a chance to try a plate of authentic deep-dish pizza. Since deep-dish pizza was invented in Chicago, maybe one of Chicago’s nicknames should be the Deep-Dish City!

We hope you learned something new about Chicago after reading this article. We certainly did! Who knew that the “windy” in “Windy City” also referred to the city’s residents? Whether you’re a Windy City local or from out of town and planning a trip to Chicago, take a moment to enjoy a slice of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.