A History Deeper Than Pizza: History of Chicago Landmarks

Chicago is known for deep dish pizza, and it’s no wonder why. With layers of saucy and cheesy goodness piled high on a thick, golden-brown crust, it’s a mouth-watering treat that has been claiming fame since 1943.

There’s a lot more to Chicago than pizza, though. From art and architecture to food and festivals, Chicago’s rich history draws tourists from all over the world.

Below, we share a timeline of Chicago’s greatest attractions and the history behind them.

Grab your forks and get ready to dig in; this history is even deeper than the pizza.

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History of Chicago Landmarks & Attractions

Want to dig even deeper into Chicago’s attractions? Here’s a slice of history you can savor for each attraction:

Grant Park – 1835

Referred to as Chicago’s “front yard,” Grant Park is 319 acres of lakefront beauty filled with notable landmarks such as Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain, the Art Institute of Chicago and Museum Campus. It is also host to famous festivals including Lollapalooza, Blues Fest, and the Taste of Chicago.

The park was named after US President and Civil War General, Ulysses S. Grant.

The Green Mill – 1907

America’s version of the Moulin Rouge in Paris (Moulin Rouge translates to Red Mill), The Mill had the dancing girls, champagne fountains, ball rooms, and other luxuries similar to Moulin Rouge.

During the prohibition, it downsized to the current lounge and became a speakeasy. Once owned by Frequented by Jack McGurn, one of Al Capone’s notorious enforcers, Al Capone and other gangsters frequented the establishment during the 1920s.

Chicago Hot Dog – 1910

The deep dish pizza’s culinary partner in crime, the Chicago hot dog’s toppings were born out of competition between Greek and Italian vendors trying to add value to hot dogs during the depression.

Wrigley Field – 1914

Home to the Chicago Cubs since 1914, Wrigley Field is one of Chicago’s most iconic landmarks. Built for more than just baseball, the field is host to other events such as ice-hockey games, college football, and charity events.

In 2014, after 100 seasons, a new phase of Wrigley Field was launched with the $500 million renovations known as the 1060 Project. The renovations, which will take four years to complete, will update the historic ballpark while preserving the beauty, charm, and history that fans have cherished for over a century.

Navy Pier – 1916

The #1 leisure destination in the Midwest and Chicago’s largest attraction in terms of visitors, the Navy Pier attracts almost nine million visitors each year. Back in 1916, it cost $4.5 million to construct.

Chicago Theatre – 1921

The historic theatre hosted Duke Ellington, Diana Ross, Lewis Black, and many other stars over the years. Visitors can go on an hour long guided tour, including a walk through the stage and dressing rooms, where many – including Frank Sinatra and Dolly Parton – have signed their names on the wall.

Buckingham Fountain – 1927

One of Chicago’s most popular attractions and one of the largest fountains in the world, the Buckingham Fountain contains 1.5 million gallons of water, 134 jets and 820 lights. Every hour, a twenty-minute water display shoots water 150-feet into the air. At dusk, the show is accompanied by lights and music.

Shedd Aquarium – 1930

Part of Chicago’s Museum Campus, the Shedd Aquarium took seven years and $3 million to build (equivalent to $35 million today).

Almost two million people come each year to view the wide array of creatures at the aquarium, including an Australian lungfish that is over 100 years old and is believed to be the longest-living fish in any aquarium in the world.

Adler Planetarium – 1930

America’s first planetarium, Adler Planetarium has one of the world’s best collections of astronomical artifacts, including the oldest known sundial (dated 1529), and other artifacts that date back to 12th century Persia.

A popular feature, The Sky Theater, offers virtual-reality trips through time and space in the “highest resolution and quality possible.”

Filled with scientific symbols, the 12 corners feature bronze plaques that represent the 12 signs of the zodiac; Gods and Goddesses for which the planets got their names are depicted on a plaque in the lobby, but Pluto is missing since it hadn’t yet been discovered; and, flowerbeds now stand where a 12 shallow pools – each representing a month of the year – once were.

Museum of Science and Industry – 1933

Although the museum was built in 1933, the original building, The Palace of Fine Arts, was built in 1893. It is the first museum in North America to feature interactive exhibits, and is the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere.

The Museum’s 35,000 artifacts and over 400,000 square-feet of hands-on experiences attracts over two million visitors per year, with over 180 million to date.

Brookfield Zoo – 1934

The 216-acre nature park is an accredited arboretum, and is home to over 2,000 animals.

Over two million guest visit per year.

Chicago Deep Dish Pizza – 1943

In the Chicago area, there’s a lot of debate as to which restaurant originated the famous deep dish style pizza. All we know for sure is that we’re happy someone did.

Giordano’s pioneered the stuffed pizza when the founders, immigrant brothers Efren and Joseph Boglio, brought their mother’s recipe for “Italian Easter Pie” from Torino Italy to Chicago. Today, it is known as authentic deep dish stuffed pizza.

Giordano’s pizza has been awarded “Best Pizza” in Chicago from Chicago Magazine.

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival – 1949

The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, America’s largest evening holiday celebration, draws 1.2 million spectators from across the country. The festival lights up Chicago with one million lights on 200 trees, plus a fireworks display over the river that takes 10,000 fireworks shells to create.

Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade – 1955

Every year, nearly 400,000 people visit the downtown area as Chicago celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with a parade and the dyeing of the Chicago River.

In the famous river dyeing ritual, 45 pounds of eco-friendly vegetable dye are poured into the water. Initially, the dye colors the water orange. After science (or the leprechauns) works it’s magic, however, the entire river turns a bright, emerald green. Other cities have since tried to replicate the green river, but have never been successful.

Lincoln Park Zoo – 1968

Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in America and one of the last free major wildlife attractions in the nation. The zoo is completely free and is open 365-days a year.

360 Chicago – 1969

360 Chicago, which is 1,000-feet in the air on the 94th floor, gives a view over the Chicago skyline and the Magnificent Mile to view up to 55 miles out and four states. Tilt, a new attraction, extends 30 degrees downward to give visitors the ultimate viewing experience.

Known for the X-shaped external bracing that made it an architectural icon, the structure allows only 5-8 inches of sway in 60 mph winds and has been tested to withstand winds up to 132 mph. The frame consists of enough steel to build 33,000 cars, took 3 years and five million man-hours to build, weighs 46,000 tons, and contains enough aluminum to cover 12 football fields.

Willis Tower Skydeck (Sears Tower) – 1974

The Skydeck is located on the 103rd floor of the 100-story, 1,450-foot Willis (Sears) Tower, which is the 8th tallest building in the world and the tallest in the Western Hemisphere.

Over 1.5 million people visit the Skydeck every year. Peering out, you can see up to 50 miles and beyond Chicago’s borders to other parts of Illinois, plus to Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Extending from the Skydeck is The Ledge, a platform made entirely of glass that allows you to see below. Inside, there are video screens that show what it would be like to stand 103 floors above other Chicago attractions like Wrigley Field and Millennium Park.

Chicago Marathon – 1977

In the first year, 4,200 ran the marathon, making it the largest in the world at the time. Today, it is one of the five World Marathon Majors. Over 50,000 runners come from over 100 countries to participate, and more than 1.5 million watch.

Chicago Jazz Festival – 1979

Each year, over 150,000 come for what is considered one of the most extensive free jazz festivals in the world.

Taste of Chicago – 1980

Over one million visitors come for the festival, making it one of the largest tourist attractions in Illinois.

Multiple Grammy winners including Carlos Santana, Stevie Wonder and Wilco have performed at the festival.

Lollapalooza – 1991

Over 300,000 attend the musical festival every year, with tickets selling-out almost immediately. In 1996, Ozzy Osbourne was denied the chance to perform, which supposedly resulted in the creation of Ozzfest.

The word “Lollapalooza” is said to have originated from a World War II password used by American soldiers to identify spies (Japanese soldiers were likely to pronounce the L’s as R’s). Now, it’s synonymous with one of the top music festivals in America.