Thursday, August 2, 2012

Chicago Boosterism--1908

Doing the River Tour (JWB, 2011)

A few days ago I asked the crowd on my River Cruise to raise their hands if they were from Chicago.  About a dozen folks out of the 120 or so people on the boat raised their hands. 

That made me think.

Sometimes, after I finish leading an architectural tour, I question myself.  Obviously, the tours I lead for the Chicago Architecture Foundation focus on Chicago architecture, some of the best in the world.  (There I go again.)   But I am enthralled with the short history of this amazing city, and I wonder sometimes if I’m too much of a booster.

I know, I know . . . the unexamined life is not worth living and all that.  And I guess I’ll just keep on yapping about the glories of the Windy City.

Although . . .

The boosting that I do can’t come close to what was being done years ago as the city’s papers crowed about this amazing place on the lake, a place where printing presses cranked out the news of the glory and the horror of a city that displayed the dazzle the Art Institute and Symphony Hall a mile-and-a-half away from the Union Stockyards where 400 million head of livestock were butchered every year.


I found one such article by William Hinshaw in The Chicago Tribune, running on February 16, 1908.  Two days after Valentine’s Day, this was a love letter to the city, and it contained some fascinating facts.

The article began talking about size . . . in 1908 the city had a population greater than the combined populations of Boston, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Denver and Des Moines.  Folks made their way along 4,200 miles of streets, lined with 1,500 miles of sewers.  In the neighborhoods there were eight large parks and 45 smaller ones.

Berry's Candy Factory (Chicago Daily News Photo)
In the 1908 city there were 22,000 manufacturing plants with $700,000,000 of invested capital, paying $240,000,000 in wages and turning out products valued at $1,100,000,000 annually.  The stockyards and meat packing plants occupied 600 acres of land and shipped 12,000,000,000 pounds of processed meat.

But the paper wasn’t done.  Not by a long shot.  Grain?  You want grain?  Chicago had the largest grain market in the world with 90 grain elevators, holding 75,000,000 bushels of grain.   The paper proclaimed, “Chicago’s commerce by water surpasses that of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore combined.”

The city must have been constantly in motion, as the paper observed, "By actual count the number of drays, delivery wagons, and street cars that cross the corner at Fifth Avenue (now Wells Street) and Lake Street during business hours is 31 per minute.”

Stand at Wells and Lake today, and I’m guessing you will NOT see that amount of traffic in a minute’s time.

Milk Delivery in a Snowstorm (Chicago Daily News Photo)
There were 40 milk companies distributing milk to the people of Chicago in 1908.  One of those companies ran 1,100 wagons along its routes.

That largest office building in the world was the Monadnock, 17 stories tall, with 1,264 offices and 28 stores.  The largest department store in the city, Marshall Field’s emporium (although the name of the store is not mentioned in the article), employed 8,000 people and had a daily postage bill of $6,000.  In one room of the great department store 300 women were employed, and their sole job was to open and sort letters.

There were 32 railroad and 28 steamboat lines in Chicago in 1908.  1,260 trains came to Chicago every day, 980 of them suburban trains.  That meant 280 through trains moved in and out of the city every working day.  Twenty-four surface trains and seven elevated lines ran into the city, carrying a half million people daily into the half-mile business district.

In 1908 Chicago had the largest railroad car factory in the world, the largest manufacturer of telephones, a harbor traffic greater than any city in the world, the largest railroad center n the world, the largest manufacturer of agricultural equipment, and “the grandest park and boulevard system in the world.”

The spoken word in Chicago was used in more languages than “any other city on earth,” and there were more newspapers than any other place on the planet.  Chicago in 1908 had 35 newspapers, a dozen of which were published daily, 36 scientific journals, and 33 literary magazines.  All told, 600 publications were published in Chicago.

Washington Square Park with Newberry Library in Background
(Chicago Daily News Photo)
Within the city limits there were 308 public school buildings, educating 300,000 pupils, in front of which 7,000 teachers held forth.  There were 65 professional schools in the city.  Four great libraries graced the city.  The main library loaned 1,414,292 volumes in 1908.  The University of Chicago library held 400,000 volumes.  The John Crear Library, just across the street from the main library, held 150,000 technical volumes.  And the Newberry Library up on Clark Street held 280,000 volumes, free to the public. 

The Tribune also mentioned the spirit of generosity in the city.  The Chicago Y.M.C.A., as one example, cared for 1,200 men and women each night in six hotels that provided rooms, free of charge.  The same organization provided 200,000 articles of clothing and furniture to the poor in 1907.  It also provided coal for 25,000 people, along with 8,000 Christmas baskets of food.  Within the city limits there were 1,500 churches.

The Tribune concluded its jingoistic shout with these lines, “Chicago has the reputation of being a wicked place . . . But it must be admitted that if circumstances are favorable to the prevalence of evil there is a corresponding influence being exerted by the good, law abiding citizens of Chicago which keeps its moral and religious standard up to that of the average large city . . . Considering the resources of the great west, the geographical position of Chicago with regard to commanding these resources, her progress in the past, her close proximity to raw materials of all kinds, and that she is on the great thoroughfare between the east and the west, it is not unreasonable to predict that, so far as facts and figures can forecast the future, there are persons now living who will see this already great city become the metropolis of the world.”

I liked reading this article. After I finished, I didn’t feel so bad about how much time I spend boosting the city on the boat.  We may not be the metropolis of the world, but we still have a whole lot to boast about.


Billthebrown said...

Once Again, YOU have "Connected the Windy City"
I am still awed at Chicago every time I come down.
The article is a great find. Thanks.

Dr. Fitz said...

Great find in the 1908 Trib. You are
of significant value to our City with
your guided tour knowledge and enthusiasm. I am envious of your
new career.
Dr. Fitz

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