Chicago theater sign

When you think of Chicago, you might think of Lake Michigan, the legendary Chicago Bulls, the Goodman Theatre, deep-dish pizza, jazz music, Cook County, and the Lincoln Park Zoo. However, some things may surprise you about this Midwestern city. With its rich heritage, Chicago is anything but boring and predictable. It offers an eclectic mix of culture, education, entertainment, and fascinating peculiarities. Here are 10 little-known facts about the Windy City that will blow you away.

Chicago theater sign

Image by Tim Gouw is licensed with Unsplash License

1. The Chicago River Flows Backward

In 1900, local authorities reversed the flow of the Chicago River to protect Lake Michigan from pollution, as Lake Michigan supplies the city’s drinking water. The Chicago River now empties into the Mississippi River to prevent contaminating the lake. Because of this, the Chicago River is the only river in the world that flows backward. The American Society of Civil Engineers considered this an outstanding engineering achievement.

2. Home to the World’s Oldest Surviving Skyscraper

The construction of tall buildings began in 1884 right here in Chicago, a city rich in architecture. In 1884, an American civil engineer and architect, William Le Baron Jenney, designed the Home Insurance Company Building. It was the world’s first tall building supported by an internal iron and steel frame rather than by load-bearing walls. It was also the first to incorporate steel as a structural material.

Jenney is the father of the American skyscraper, as his initial tall building conception led him to design the 16-story Manhattan Building in Chicago. It is the oldest surviving skyscraper in the world to use a skeletal supporting structure alone.

3. Route 66 Starts in Chicago

The historic Route 66, also known as The Main Street of America, begins at Grant Park in Chicago and ends in Santa Monica, California. Route 66 crosses eight states, including parts of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. In 1926, the Bureau of Public Roads launched the nation’s first federal highway system, and that is when Route 66 had its official beginning.

4. Home of the Twinkie

In 1931, James A. Dewar invented the infamous, calorie-rich Twinkie, America’s beloved treat. While managing the Continental Baking Company plant in River Forest, Dewar changed the company forever. He put a creamy white filling inside a small shortcake and called it a Twinkie, which he named after an ad for Twinkle Toe Shoes. Eventually, the Continental Baking Company became the Hostess Cake Company.

He enjoyed at least three Twinkies with a glass of milk before bedtime and credited his two sons’ athletic success to eating Twinkies. One of his sons played for the Cleveland Browns. The vanilla cream has been the dominant flavor for Twinkies ever since, with a few limited-time productions of chocolate, banana, and other fruit flavors.

5. Birthplace of Talented Celebrities

Many talented celebrities were born and raised in Chicago. Here are 10 that may surprise you:

  • Benny Goodman, born Benjamin David Goodman, was an American jazz musician, bandleader, and renowned clarinet player named the King of Swing.
  • Bill Murray is most famous for his acting roles in The Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day and is a huge Chicago Cubs fan.
  • Harrison Ford rose to fame in Hollywood after his performance as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • Jennifer Hudson signed her first record label in the Windy City after rising to fame as an American Idol finalist.
  • John Cusack is an American actor, producer, and screenwriter still living in Chicago and is a great fan of the Chicago Cubs.
  • Melissa McCarthy is a famous comedian and Hollywood actress.
  • Quincy Jones is a renowned American musical performer, producer, arranger, and composer.
  • Rachel Welch is an American actress and model known as one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood and won a Golden Globe Award in 1975.
  • Robin Williams was famous for his acting performances in Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, and Dead Poets Society.
  • Walt Disney, born Walter Elias Disney, is renowned for his contributions to animation and for bringing many beloved Disney characters to America.

6. Home to the Invention of Canned Spray Paint

In 1949, Chicago paint salesperson Edward Seymour invented canned spray paint. His wife Bonnie suggested filling an aerosol can with paint, and Seymour chose aluminum as the first color. Edward Seymour founded Seymour of Sycamore, Inc. to manufacture his spray paints. Artists now use canned spray paint to create colorful public works on walls and buildings throughout Chicago.

7. Chicago’s Tallest Skyscraper Has a Panoramic View

The Willis Tower, in the heart of Chicago, is the city’s tallest skyscraper and the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. You can see four states from its sky deck. And on a clear day, you can catch a panoramic view of parts of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. This is a magnificent sight not to be missed.

8. Home of the Ferris Wheel

George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., a civil engineer, built the first Ferris Wheel. He invented it in Chicago in 1893 for presentation at the World’s Columbia Exposition. The first ride cost 50 cents per person, and each ride lasted about 20 minutes.

9. Chicago Was a Wild Onion Field

A huge wild onion field once grew on the banks of the Chicago River where the city now stands. The city’s name comes from the Native American word shikaakwa, meaning onion or striped skunk. Early explorer records reveal that the lakes and streams around Chicago were full of wild onions and leeks, which seems fitting for a city known for its deep-dish pizza and pungent culinary flavors.

10. Home to the Country’s Second Largest Police Department

Chicago’s police force, known as the Chicago P.D., is the second largest police department in the United States. Formed in 1837, it is one of the oldest and employs over 11,000 full-time officers. In 1835, a three-man police force served and protected a population of about 3,200 and pre-dates Chicago as a city.

Last Stop, Chicago’s Best Pizza

We hope you enjoyed these little-known Chicago facts. Drop us a line if you have more quirky facts, and we may add them to our next list. And if you didn’t know that Chicago was famous for deep-dish pizza, why not try one of our classic deep-dish pizzas today?