The City of Chicago has been known by many nicknames, but its most widely
recognized is The Windy City. Potential explanations for this particular
nickname include Chicago's:
- World's Fair
- Cincinnati rivalry
The earliest known "Windy City" citations are from 1876, and involve
Chicago's rivalry with Cincinnati. A popular myth states that "Windy City" was
first used by New York Sun editor Charles Dana in the bidding of the
Columbian Exposition of 1893. All four of the explanations below help to explain
the enduring popularity of the "Windy City" term, even after the Cincinnati
rivalry and the Columbian Exposition had both ended.
Geographic conditions in the area (e.g., proximity to Lake Michigan, local
prevailing winds, etc.) make Chicago a naturally windy area. Another
contributing factor is how the city was rebuilt after the Great Chicago Fire.
With a clean slate planners modeled new streets on the grid system. In high
density areas, such as the Loop, man-made wind tunnels are created on high windy
days as there are even "columns and rows" for wind to travel down and pick up
This "windy" explanation is from the Freeborn County Standard of
Albert Lea, Minnesota, November 20, 1892 (digitized citation available on
- Chicago has been called the “windy” city, the term being used
metaphorically to make out that Chicagoans were braggarts. The city is
losing this reputation, for the reason that as people got acquainted with it
they found most of her claims to be backed up by facts. As usual, people go
to extremes in this thing also, and one can tell a stranger almost anything
about Chicago to-day and feel that he believes it implicitly.
- But in another sense Chicago is actually earning the title of the
“windy” city. It is one of the effects of the tall buildings which engineers
and architects apparently did not foresee that the wind is sucked down into
the streets. Walk past the Masonic Temple or the Auditorium any day even
though it may be perfectly calm elsewhere, and you will meet with a lively
breeze at the base of the building that will compel you to put your hand to
Chicago had long billed itself as an ideal summer resort because of its cool
lake breeze. The Boston Globe of July 8, 1873 pointed this out: "A few
years ago, Chicago advertised itself as a summer resort, on the strength of the
lake breezes which so nicely tempered the mid-summer heats." The Chicago Tribune
of June 14, 1876 discussed "Chicago as a Summer Resort" at length, proudly
declaring that "the people of this city are enjoying cool breezes, refreshing
rains, green fields, a grateful sun, and balmy air—winds from the north and east
tempered by the coolness of the Lake, and from the south and west, bearing to us
frequent hints of the grass, flowers, wheat and corn of the prairies."
The February 4, 1873 The Philadelphia Inquirer called Chicago "the
great city of winds and fires."
Others say that the name comes from Chicago's political history. Specifically
referencing the "spectator sport" style of politics practiced in the last
century. It is meant to be a jab towards the Chicago Democratic Machine which
for the most part has been led by the Daley family for the past 50 years.
Machine politics may have fallen out of style every where else in the country
but it is for the most part alive and well in Chicago. To sum it up, when
Chicago politicians speak they are "blowing a lot of wind".
It had been a popular myth that the first person to use the term "Windy City"
was the New York Sun editor Charles Dana. In 1893, Chicago won the bid to host
the World's Fair, also known as the World's Columbian Exposition. This was a big
deal because the French had just put the Americans to shame at the previous
World's Fair with the building of the Eiffel Tower. The next world's fair was
seen as a chance by many Americans to show the world that it too was a great
Another factor that made this bid competitive was the list cities competing
for the right to host the fair. At the top New York, St. Louis and Washington
D.C. all fought hard for the right and many New Yorkers thought they had it in
the bag. In the end it came down to New York and Chicago. Chicago finally won in
a run off vote and many prominent New Yorkers were extremely irritated that a
"frontier town" could best them.
Charles Dana was New York's leading fair booster, but there is little
evidence that he even used the "Windy City" term. The first known attribution of
Dana to the origin of "Windy City" was in the Chicago Tribune, "Chicago
Dubbed 'Windy' in Fight for Fair of '93," June 11, 1933:
- “Don’t pay any attention,” wrote Charles A. Dana day in and day out
in his New York Sun, “to the nonsensical claims of that windy city. Its
people could not build a World’s Fair even if they won it."
Cincinnati and Chicago were rival cities in the 1860s and 1870s. Cincinnati
was well known in the meatpacking trade, and the Queen City was called "Porkopolis"
from at least 1843. Starting from the early 1860s, Chicago surpassed Cincinnati
in this trade and proudly claimed the very same "Porkopolis" nickname.
The baseball inter-city matches were especially intense. The 1869 Cincinnati
Red Stockings were the pride of all of baseball, so Chicago came up with a rival
team called the White Stockings to defeat them. "Windy City" often appeared in
the Cincinnati sporting news of the 1870s and 1880s.
The first known citations of "Windy City" are three from 1876, and all
- Cincinnati Enquirer, May 9, 1876 headline: "THAT WINDY CITY. Some
Freaks of the Last Chicago Tornado."
- Cincinnati Enquirer, May 13, 1876: "Only the plucky nerve of the
eating-house keeper rescued the useful seats from a journey to the Windy
- Chicago Tribune, July 2, 1876: "The Cincinnati Enquirer, in
common with many other papers, has been waiting with great anxiety for the
fulfillment of its prophecy: that the Chicago papers would call the Whites
hard names when they lost. Witness these scraps the day after the Whites
lost to the Athletics: There comes a wail to us from the Windy City."
For the Cincinnati papers, "Windy City" had meant a Chicago that was full of
The Hawk, or Hawkins
Chicago's wind is often called "The Hawk." This term has long been popular in
African-American English. A Baltimore Sun series of columns in 1934
attempted to examine the origin of the phrase "Hawkins is coming" for a cold
winter wind. The first recorded Chicago citation is in the Chicago Defender,
October 20, 1936: "And these cold mornings are on us—in other words “Hawkins”
has got us."