December 30, 1976 – The Chicago Tribune publishes an article, entitled “Newberry’s fortune led to library,” in which three men are profiled as significant figures in the development of the independent research library that sits on Washington Square between Clark and Dearborn Streets on the North Side of the city. Walter L. Newberry, the founder of the library, came to Chicago in 1833 and made a fortune in real estate, banking and the railroads. He also served the city in various capacities – as a member of the Board of Health, as comptroller, acting mayor and president of the Chicago Board of Education. He was a founder of the Chicago Public Library and president, for eight years, of the Chicago Historical Society. When he died in 1868, his will called for the creation of a library out of one-half of his estate. Upon the death of his wife in 1885, Newberry’s gift, totaling $2,150,000 (equivalent to over $57,000,000 in today’s dollars) was used to create the Newberry Library. The present library, completed in 1893, is the third building that has housed the library’s collections. William F. Poole was the library’s first librarian, his tenure running from 1887 to 1894. He “set its future course by an aggressive purchase of rare book collections in the humanities.” [Chicago Tribune, December 30, 1976] He directed the addition of 120,000 books and 44,000 pamphlets while also founding the American Library Association and the American Historical Association. He was also founder of Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature, which is still in use today. Between 1962 and 1986 the library’s sixth president, William Towner, greatly expanded operations. Many important collections were added, a stacks building was constructed to store those collections, and four research areas were formed. Today the library houses more than 1.5 million books, 5 million manuscript pages and a half-million historic maps. The Newberry also offers a wide range of continuing education courses, concerts, lectures, exhibitions and other public programming.
December 30, 1863–The Chicago Tribune publishes a set of statistics that illustrates the extent to which fire menaced the city in 1863. Altogether there were 200 fires during the year, only one provided “any great degree of destitution and suffering.” [Chicago Tribune, December 30, 1863] That was a fire on September 5 in which 22 buildings were destroyed on or around State Street and 50 families were left without a home. Two dozen fires were the result of “gross and criminal carelessness—playing with combustibles with lighted matches, overturning candles in hay and straw …” while 15 fires were incendiary. Three were caused by lightning. As might be expected, July was the month with the heaviest concentration of fires while February held the least. The loss of property amounted to $608,492 with the heaviest loss coming as a result of the burning of Turner and Mitchell’s Packing House on December 22 at a loss of $45,000. The article also advocates for the establishment of a central fire alarm and police telegraph system, stating, “In a city so widely extended, a system, whose object is to give an instantaneous, universal and definite alarm in case of fire, and to afford facilities for instant police communication with some central station from every portion of the city, cannot fail to be regarded with favor.” The above photo shows the city in 1860 at the Rush Street bridge, about the point where Trump International Hotel and Tower stands today.
December 30, 1929 – A large American flag is hoisted to the twenty-fifth floor of the Merchandise Mart as the highest piece of steel is placed, and the massive building rockets toward completion. What makes this especially amazing is that ground was broken on the project just 16 months earlier on August 13, 1928. The first 200 tenants will move into the building on May 1, 1930.
December 30, 1950 – The National Arts Foundation announces that Frank Lloyd Wright has been chosen as the contemporary artist “who would be most highly regarded in the year 2000” in a selection process in which “prominent artists, writers and musicians from 17 countries” [Chicago Daily Tribune, December 31, 1950] participated. In the same selection process Albert Schweitzer is named the “Man of the Century.”