Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Chicago

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CHICAGO, in Cook county, State of Illinois, is probably the fourth city in size, and certainly the second in commercial importance, in the United States of America. It is situated on the west shore of Lake Michigan, 900 miles by rail from New York. Dearborn Observatory, 3 miles S. and mile E. from the court-house, is in 41° 50′ 1″ N. lat. and 87° 34′ 8″ W. long. The surrounding country is prairie land, with a loam soil, and a ridge running north and south two miles or more west from the lake. The city is at an elevation of nearly 600 feet above the sea level, but only 14 feet above the lake. When it was originally settled, the elevation above the lake was not more than 7 feet; the level was subsequently raised 7 feet, beginning about the year 1855; the streets were filled in, and the largest houses elevated by means of jack-screws, without being vacated for purposes either of business or of residence. The climate is healthful and invigorating, and the city is kept singularly clear of all forms of malaria by the prevailing winds. The average death-rate for several years was 23·1 per thousand inhabitants, as compared with 25·3 in Philadelphia, 32·6 in New York, and 30·8 in Boston. The area of the city comprises 23,000 acres, and extends over seven miles north and south along the lake shore, and 5 miles east and west; there were 226,000 building lots of 25 by 125 feet in 1875. The streets intersect each other at right angles. There is an inlet called the Chicago River which runs from the lake nearly a mile west, then separates into two branches, one running north-west, the other south-west, thus dividing the city into three divisions, connected by more than 35 bridges, and by two tunnels running under the bed of the river. This river (“Chacaqua,” Indian for thunder, and so called after the Indian Thor, or thunder god) gave the city its name. Originally it emptied into the lake, but a remarkable piece of engineering caused it to change its course, and, so to speak, run “up-hill.” The Illinois and Michigan canal, with which the main branch of the river is connected, was so deepened as to draw the water out from the lake; the canal empties into the Illinois River,


EB9 Chicago.jpg

Plan of Chicago.

1. Wicker Park.    3. Court House.
2. Union Park. 4. University


and the Illinois River into the Mississippi River, so that the water of Lake Michigan flows into the Gulf of Mexico. The river has been so deepened that the largest vessels may be towed into any of its branches, which are supplied with docks and water-slips, affording a dockage capacity of nearly 40 miles, more than 20 of which are already in use. The population, including the residents of the suburban towns (of which there are more than 50, composed exclusively of families of men doing business in Chicago), exceeds 500,000; but the population of the city proper, as ascertained at different dates since its organization in the year 1837, is as follows:—


Date of Census.    Taken by    Population.
July, 1837 City 4,170
July, 1840 U. S. 4,479
July, 1843 City 7,580
July, 1845 State 12,088
September,  1846 City 14,169
October, 1847 City 16,859
September, 1848 City 20,023
August, 1849 City 23,047
August, 1850 U.S. 29,963
December, 1853 City 59,130
June, 1855 State 80,000
August, 1856 City 84,113
August, 1860 U. S. 109,206
October, 1862 City 138,186
October, 1864 City 169,353
October, 1865 State 178,492
October, 1866 City 200,418
October, 1868 City 252,054
August, 1870 U. S. 306,605
October, 1872 City 367,396
October, 1874 City 395,408
May, 1876 Estimated 420,000


This growth, which is no less than 570 per cent. within 20 years, is regarded as without a parallel. The foreign population in 1870, numbering 144,557 in all, comprised 52,318 Germans, 39,988 Irish, 10,027 English, 4197 Scotch, 565 Welsh, 6374 Norwegians, 6154 Swedes, 1243 Danes, 1226 Swiss, 1418 French, and 9648 from the British provinces in America.

Government and Finances.—The City Government consists of a mayor and common council of 36 members, elected once every two years by a popular vote. There are 18 political districts called “wards,” each of which elects two members to the council. The council is vested with plenary powers as to taxes, appropriations, contracts, &c.; but the bonded debt is limited, by a provision in the constitution of the State, to 5 per cent, on the taxable valuation of all the property. The valuation of all property, personal and real, for taxable purposes (rated at about one-half the actual value) in 1875 was $293,188,950; the tax-levy, $5,123,905; the bonded debt, $13,456,000; the floating debt, about $4,000,000, abundantly covered by uncollected taxes. Chicago is represented in the National Congress of the United States by three members.

Trade and Commerce.—The amount of trade for 1875 was estimated at close upon 657,000,000, made up as follows:—


Produce trade $232,328,000
Wholesale business 293,900,000
Manufactures 177,000,000

Total 703,228,000
Less manufactures included in the wholesale business  46,228,000

Total business 657,000,000
Total in 1874 639,000,000


This business was a growth from 20,000,000 in 1852, since which time there has been a steady increase. The value of the shipments from Chicago of the products of the farm was stated as follows in the annual report for 1875 of the Board of Trade (an association meeting daily, with a membership of 1922): 


Flour and grain equal to 72,369,194 bushels, estimated value  $57,500,000    
Livestock 56,600,000
Produce of cattle and hogs 53,500,000
Produce of the dairy 5,700,000
Wool and hides 25,800,000
High wines and alcohol 11,300,000
Seeds and broom corn 3,200,000
Sundry other commodities 1,700,000

Total $215,300,000
Corresponding estimate for 1873, 197,400,000
Corresponding estimate for 1873, 180,000,000


The lumber trade showed the receipt of 1,147,193,432 feet and 635,708,120 shingles. The value of the cattle, hogs, sheep, and horses received at the Union Stock Yards during that year was $117,533,941. There is a growing direct trade with Europe. The value of the importations for 1875 was estimated at $10,000,000, meaning those alone which came to Chicago without being stopped for duty at any seaport city; and the direct exportations increased from 7213 tons in 1869 to 219,387 tons in 1875. The total volume of produce pouring through the city was estimated that year at 7,000,000 tons, or 700,000 car-loads, if it had all come by rail; or at the race of 13 tons for every minute in the year, including nights, Sundays, and holidays. There are 18 grain elevators, with an aggregate storage capacity of 14,650,000 bushels. These are vast store-houses where the grain is elevated from cars and ships, and disposed according to grades, then reloaded on cars and ships, all the work being done by machinery. The shipments of bread stuffs for 1835 were 2,262,030 barrels flour, 23,183,683 bushels wheat, 26,409,420 bushels corn, 10,230,208 bushels of oats, 1,834,117 bushels of barley, and 310,609 bushels of rye. There was a total city consumption of 67,825,311 bushels of grain. The shipments of provisions for that year were 56,040 barrels of beef, 311,170 barrels of pork, 182,068 tons of meat, 57,490 tons of lard, 3701 tons of tallow, 154,559 dressed hogs. The receipts of live stock during that year were 920,843 cattle, 3,912,110 hogs, 418,948 sheep, and 11,329 horses,—a total of 5,251,901, excluding horses. The aggregate of the wholesale trade of that year was estimated at $293,900,000, being an increase of 7 per cent, over the previous year. The capital invested in wholesale houses (exclusive of that invested in other cities, but connected with Chicago) was $63,200,000. The statistics of manufactures at that date were as follows:—


Number of establishments  2,240
Number of employés 62,600
Wages paid $28,676,000
Capital employed 69,550,000
Value of products 177,000,000


The principal industries are hog-packing (the number of hogs packed in 1875 being 2,069,200), beef-packing, brewing and distilling, and the manufacture of iron and steel, wood, brick, leather, chemicals, boots and shoes, and cigars and tobacco. There is an annual industrial exhibition held in a building especially erected for that purpose, 200 feet wide and 800 feet long, which attracts exhibitors for one month from all parts of the north-west, and which was visited in October 1875 by 276,000 persons. The shipping of Chicago for 1875 was as follows:—number of vessels arrived, 10,488, with a tonnage of 3,122,004; vessels cleared, 10,607, with a tonnage of 3,157,651. There are eighteen trunk lines of railroads running from Chicago, five to the east, and the others west and south, viz. The Baltimore and Ohio; Lake Shore and Michigan Southern; Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago; Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and St Louis; Michigan Central; Chicago and Michigan; Chicago and Alton; Chicago, Danville, and Vincennes; Chicago and Iowa; Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific; Chicago and North-western (comprising three trunk lines); Chicago and Pacific; Chicago, Milwaukee, and St Paul; Illinois Central; Western Union; Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy. The aggregate mileage of the railroads centring directly in Chicago is nearly 10,000 miles, and 750 trains arrive and depart daily; but it is estimated that Chicago has an uninterrupted connection with more than one-third of the entire railroad mileage of the continent, which is more than 70,000 miles. A notable peculiarity of the Chicago railway system is that it has been built almost entirely by capital outside of Chicago, and was centred in that city because of its superior advantages as the entrepôt of the north-west The mails received in Chicago weigh 64,400 pounds daily. The banking capital of Chicago at the latest reports was as follows:—National banks (those organized under the provisions of the United States law) $13,381,000; State banks (organized under the State law) $7,165,000; private bankers, $3,885,000; total, $24,431,000. The annual bank clearings for three consecutive years were as follows:—1872, $993,060,503; 1873, $1,047,027,828; 1874, $1,101,347,918.

The Fire of 1871.—The most notable event in the history of Chicago was the destructive fire of 1871, the largest of modern times. The conflagration commenced by the overturning of a lamp, in a district built up almost exclusively of wood, about 9 o'clock in the evening of Sunday, October 8, 1871; it continued through that night and the greater part of the next day, lapping up great blocks of houses, and growing by what it fed on. It was finally checked by explosions of gunpowder in a line of houses on the south of the fire, and exhausted itself on the north by burning all there was to ignite. The area burned over in each division of the city was as follows:—West division (in which the fire originated), 194 acres; south division, 460 acres; north division, 1470 acres. The total area burned was 2124 acres, or nearly 3 square miles, about 4 miles in length, and from 1 to 1 miles in width. The season had been excessively dry; the rainfall in Chicago for the summer had been only 28 per cent. of the average. There was a strong south-west wind, made a very sirocco by the heat, and taking irregular, fantastic, and uncontrollable offshoots and eddies, which spread the fire in all directions except west. The city fire department, though large and efficient, had been exhausted by an unusually extended fire the Saturday preceding, and the flames outran even their earliest efforts. Wooden buildings were scattered throughout the entire city, acting as brands to spread the conflagration. These were the main conditions of the fire. The total number of buildings destroyed was 17,450, and 98,860 people were rendered homeless; of the latter 250 perished in the flames or lost their lives from exposure. Thousands, flying before the flames, sought refuge in the lake, and remained standing in the water for hours as the only means of preservation against the intense heat and the shower of sparks and cinders. Among the buildings destroyed were the custom-houses, post-office, court-house, chamber of commerce, and nearly all the churches, railway stations, hotels, banks, theatres, newspaper offices, and buildings of a quasi-public character. It is estimated that 73 miles frontage of streets was burned over, most of which had been improved with wood block pavements; these were partially destroyed. The total loss has been estimated at $196,000,000,—of which $53,000,000 represented the value of the buildings destroyed, $58,710,000 the personal effects, and the remainder business stocks, produce, and manufactures of every description. On the losses there was an insurance of $88,634,122, of which about one-half was recovered. A vast system of relief was organized, which received the most generous aid from all parts of the world. The money contributions from the various States and from abroad were $4,996,782; of this England contributed nearly $500,000. These funds, which were over and above the contributions of food, clothing, and supplies, were made to last, under the careful and honest administration of a society of citizens, till the close of the year 1876. Out of them temporary homes wera provided for nearly 40,000 people; barracks and shelter-houses were erected, workmen were supplied with tools, and women with sewing-machines; the sick were cared for and the dead buried; and the poorer classes of Chicago were probably never so comfortable as within two or three years after this fire. The work of rebuilding the city was accomplished with marvellous rapidity. Immediately after the fire the most sanguine persons predicted that it would require at least ten years to restore the buildings that had been destroyed. But within three years the city was provided with buildings equal in capacity, and of twofold value. The work was begun before the cinders were cold, and the population seemed to gain new ambition and new energy from the disaster. The “fire limits” were extended so as to exclude the erection of other than stone, brick, or iron buildings within a large area, and subsequently this prohibition was applied to the entire city. The result has been to make New Chicago the most beautiful city in America in its business centres. Within the first year after the fire, buildings had been erected or started covering a frontage of 51,619 feet, and costing, when finished, $40,133,600. That the work was not spasmodic is shown from the fact that, in the year 1874, the frontage of new buildings was 33,065 feet, and the cost $5,785,441; and in 1875 the frontage was 55,470 feet (about 10 miles) and the cost $9,778,080. The materials used were mostly brick, a pure white sandstone known as Athens (Illinois) marble, a grey sandstone from Ohio and Michigan, and a brown sandstone from Lake Superior. The business and population continued to increase in spite of the disaster,—indeed the ratio of growth became larger. The solidity and permanence of this prosperity were confirmed during the American panic of 1873, when the Chicago banks alone, among those of all large cities, were not compelled to issue certificates of deposit, but continued steadily to pay out current funds. There were few mercantile failures, and the business of the year following the panic still showed an increase. This superior resistance to the general contraction has been attributed to Chicago's position as the distributing point of the breadstuff's and provisions of the great North-West. The comparative value of Chicago real-estate is an interesting illustration of its rapid growth. An example case may be cited of one piece of ground in an outlying district which sold in 1868 for $50 an acre, and was resold in 1873 for $1500 an acre. Land obtained 40 years ago from the Government at $1 an acre, is now worth $10,000 an acre. Business property which was sold in 1865 for $250 a front foot (with a depth of 125 feet), was resold in 1871 for $1500 a front foot. Another piece of property which was valued at $3845 in 1866 was sold in 1872 for $100,000. These instances are not exceptional, but represent fairly the increase of values. The highest price ever paid for business property in Chicago was $52 per square foot, but the average value of first-class business property is $25 per square foot. The aggregate transfers of Chicago property in 1873 amounted to $78,427,391.

Education, Religion, Charities, &c.—The public school system in Chicago is regarded as one of the most thorough in the United States. In 1855 the first report of the Board of Education showed the enrolment of 3000 pupils; the report of 1875 gave the number as 49,121. There was then an annual expenditure of $827,502 to sustain the schools; there were 57 school buildings; 700 teachers were employed; and the annual cost of tuition per pupil was $15. Of the 102,555 persons in Chicago between the ages of six and twenty-one, besides the 49,121 in the public schools, there were 27,071 in private schools, and 15,947 at work. There were 33,547 neither at work nor in school, but only 186 of all were found who could neither read nor write. The graded system of study is used, and the schools are classified as follows:—1 high school, course of study four years; 3 division high schools (one for each division in the city), course of study two years; 1 normal school for the preparation especially of teachers; the others are grammar schools and primary schools, the former embracing the four highest grades, and the latter the four lowest grades. The school year consists of ten months, divided into three terms; the hours of attendance in the grammar and primary schools are 9 A.M. till noon, and 2 P.M. till 4 P.M. The principal studies in the grammar schools are theory of arithmetic, problems in arithmetic, geography, history of the United States, language, composition, reading, spelling, penmanship; drawing and music are also taught, and the study of German is optional. The course of studies in the high schools is that of the higher academies. Corporal punishment was abandoned altogether about the year 1865, and the reading of the Bible was discontinued in 1875, in deference to the dogmatic differences among the religious sects, the theory of the schools being free and secular. Of other educational institutions, besides 82 ordinary private schools, there are a large number of “Kindergarten” schools, in imitation of the favourite German system for elementary instruction. Among the higher institutions is the university of Chicago, connected with which is the Dearborn Observatory, which has a refracting telescope of 23 feet focal length and 18½ inches aperture. There are also the North-Western University (Methodist), the Baptist Union Theological Seminary, Chicago Theological Seminary, St Ignatius College (Catholic), College of Law, Chicago Musical College, and 7 medical colleges. The principal charitable institutions are the Nursery and Half-Orphan Asylum, Protestant Orphan Asylum, Reform and Industrial School, Erring Women's Refuge, Foundlings' Home, Good Samaritan Industrial Home, Home for the Friendless, Old People's Home, Soldiers' Home, St Joseph's Orphan Asylum (Catholic), Lutheran Orphan Asylum, Washingtouian Home (temperance reform), all liberally endowed, and 10 hospitals. There are 83 benevolent and other open societies, 49 masonic and other secret societies (exclusive of industrial unions), 14 theatres and opera houses, 84 newspapers (daily and weekly), 25 large hotels, and numerous smaller and private hotels. There are 8 libraries open to the public, of which the Chicago Public Library (established in 1872, and supported by taxation) is the largest; in 1875, three years after it was opened, there were more than 40,000 volumes, and the aggregate circulation of books during that year was 399,156 volumes, the whole number of visitors 230,021, and the total issue of periodicals 135,355. There are 238 houses of public worship in Chicago, including the mission churches. The churches are divided among the different denominations as follows:—Roman Catholic, 28; Baptist, 25; Presbyterian, 24; Methodist, 22; Episcopal, 18; Lutheran, 18; Congregational, 15; Jewish, 8; Free Baptist, 2; Christian, 4; Dutch Reformed, 2; Reformed Episcopal, 3; Evangelical, 11; Coloured Methodist, 2; German Methodist, 2; Scandinavian Methodist, 4; Swedenborgian, 5; Unitarian, 4; Universalist, 4; miscellaneous and mission, 37. The value of church property in Chicago (exempt from taxation under the law) is estimated at $12,000,000, of which $5,000,000 is owned by the Roman Catholic Church.

Public Works, Parks, Streets, &c..—Of the public buildings destroyed by the fire, the custom-house and the city hall were still in course of erection in 1876. The National Government appropriated $4,000,000 for the former, and the cost of the latter was estimated at $2,500,000. Among the other public buildings are the county jail, bridewell, the water-works, and a large number of engine-houses and police-stations. The total cost of maintaining and enlarging the public works in 1875 was $9,368,649, the water system being self-sustaining. The water supply of the city is drawn from two miles out in the lake. A large structure of iron and heavy timber, loaded with stone, and called a “crib,” 98 feet in diameter, was located at that distance from the shore. In the centre compartment an iron cylinder is sunk 64 feet, of which 31 feet are below the bottom of the lake, the water being 33 feet deep. Connected with it are two distinct tunnels leading to two separate sets of pumping works. The tunnels are 66 feet below the level of the shore, one with a diameter of 5, and the other of 10 feet. The latter extends also three miles under the city, so that the two pumping works are removed that distance, and along its line are located 17 large subterranean wells or cisterns for use in case of fires. The cost of these tunnels was $1,500,000. Their capacity is 150,000,000 gallons; the capacity of the pumping engines is 80,000,000 gallons in 24 hours. Telegraphic communication is kept up constantly by cables between the “crib” and pumping works. The water is always pure, cold, and wholesome, and it may be raised to a height of 155 feet for distribution. The consumption for 1875 was 1,449,825,000 gallons. There are over 3860 miles of water pipe, varying from 4 to 24 inches in diameter, 2607 public hydrants, and 2132 stop-cocks. There are over 240 miles of sewers, which cost $4,236,769, and 609 miles of streets, of which 112 miles are paved; of the latter 87 miles are of the wooden block pavement. The side walks of the city mjeasure 725 miles; and there are nearly 60 miles of horse-railways or tramways for intramural transit. The park system of Chicago is one of the most extensive in the world. Two parks are in the south division, one containing 372 acres, and the other 593 acres. The latter has a frontage on Lake Michigan of 1½ miles, and the two embrace 14 miles of interior drives, and 30 miles of walks. The larger of the two is to have a series of interior lakes connected with Lake Michigan, and protected by a pier several hundred feet long, so that they may be reached by boats from the lake. The approaches to these two parks are two roadways, each 200 feet wide, known as Grand and Drexel Boulevards. The former may be compared to the Rotten Row in Hyde Park, London; the latter is modelled after the Avenue l'Impératrice, Paris, with a continuous stretch of floral ornamentation in the centre. The west division parks, inside the city limits, comprise Humboldt Park, 225 acres; Central Park, 185 acres; and Douglas Park, 180 acres. The ornamentation is varied and elaborate. Lincoln Park, within the northern limits of the city, contains 230 acres, and has a lake shore drive of several miles. All these parks are connected by wide roadways, varying from 150 to 300 feet in width, and giving a continuous drive of 35 miles. The parks are supplied with water from a number of Artesian wells. Besides these principal parks, there are the following public places in the different divisions of the city:—Lake Park, 42 acres; Union Park, 11 acres; Jefferson Park, 6 acres; Washington Square, 2 acres; Union Square, 1 acre; Dearborn Park, 1 acre; Ellis Park, 3 acres; Vernon Park, 3 acres; Wicker Park, 3 acres. There are thus 1856 acres set aside by Chicago for public grounds.