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Thrilling Facts and Feats of Chicago

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Chicago has guts. A city beloved for pushing boundaries, the Windy City has never shied away from a challenge.

Chicago’s long and fascinating history reads like an adventure novel. In all the tales of succeeding against the odds, some interesting facts emerge in the familiar stories.

Various spellbinding events have punctuated Chicago’s rich past:

  • Constructing the Sears (Willis) Tower
  • Reversing the Chicago River
  • The birth of Chicago Deep Dish Pizza
  • The staggering legacy of the Chicago Bulls
  • Escaping the curse which has plagued the Cubs

In checking out the facts behind some of Chicago’s greatest moments of achievement, why not begin with the biggest?

The Sears (Willis) Tower

In looking at the Chicago skyline, one building stands apart — the Sears (Willis) Tower. You might expect the tallest building in the city to draw some attention, but the Sears (Willis) Tower represents more than just a big building.

One of the greatest architectural feats in human history, the Sears Tower was built on the ambitions of a city which dared to challenge every possibility.

Sears Roebuck’s Dream of Building Skyward

In the late 1960s, the burgeoning Sears Roebuck and Company had become the world’s largest retailer. From its catalog-based origins, Sears Roebuck locked into the heart of American post-war purchasing power. People loved the company, its products and the magazine.

The Construction of Chicago History

Before setting their sights on the sky, Sears Roebuck already had the largest offices in the country. The original Sears Roebuck site was a 41.6 acre complex situated in West Chicago. The company predicted their growth would exceed this facility. In preparation for success, they hired architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill to build them a much bigger office building.

Chicago has a proud history of creating the skyscraper, but the Sears Tower changed everything:

  • When the Willis Tower was built in 1973, it was the tallest building in the world.
  • At 1,451 feet, it’s the second tallest in the western hemisphere (behind One World Trade Center).
  • The construction of the Sears Tower took three years to complete.
  • A force of 2000 laborers were required to complete the task.
  • On the Skydeck, visitors can see Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana from where they stand in Illinois. That’s a 50-mile view!
  • If spread out, the Sears Tower would cover 16 Chicago blocks.
  • With 110 floors, it’s like a vertical city. It has a hair salon, bank, fitness center, post office and several restaurants.
  • The Sears Tower was renamed the Willis Tower in 2009.

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Despite losing its place as tallest in the world, the Willis Tower remains a triumph for Chicago. Its inspiring presence continues to symbolize the achievements of Chicago — past and future.

The Winds of Change

Built on a swamp in 1837, Chicago has a history of wrestling with its surroundings. In overcoming its environment, Chicago developed a spirit of brave and independent thought. This tradition of unique and unabashed creativity has often literally gone against the flow.

Changing the Course of Nature

In 1900, Chicago engineers reversed the direction of the Chicago River.

No other city in the world had tried to accomplish such a feat. The idea seemed impossible. How could engineers alter the current of a river? Despite the immensity of the task, Chicago had to reverse the river — there was no choice.

A Stench Beyond Bearable

In the late 1800s, Chicago had a major sanitation problem. It had become a teeming industrial city, with numerous factories popping up along the Chicago River. This would have been fine, except the factories emptied all their sewage directly into the river. Before long, the river had earned the nickname “the stinking river.”

There was no denying it — the Chicago River was severely polluted. Worse yet, the river flowed into Lake Michigan — Chicago’s drinking supply. The condition of the river also contributed to disease outbreaks. Waterborne diseases like typhoid Fever, dysentery and cholera brutally harassed the population.

One near disaster occurred in 1885. That year, intense rainstorms had caused a surge of river waste to pour into the lake. The sewage narrowly missed becoming absorbed by the lake’s drinking water intakes. Then, one particularly bad typhoid outbreak occurred in 1891, and 1,700 Chicago residents perished from the disease. The city needed a solution to “the stinking river.”

Where Could the River Go?

Chicago engineers considered their options. If the river couldn’t empty into the lake, where could it go? The answer became obvious — the Mississippi River. The first step meant digging canals leading to the Des Plaines River, which fed into the Mississippi. Then, they would have to invert the Chicago River’s current, so clean lake water would flush out the river.

The plan was perfect:

  • No longer poisoned by the river, the lake would supply the city with pure water.
  • Epidemics would disappear.
  • The horrible stench of the river would waft-away downstream into the Gulf of Mexico.

Now, engineers only needed to do it.

Carving out the Canal

This plan certainly involved a drastic strategy, and people probably thought it was unrealistic. However, in 1892, Chicago began construction on the first of a series of canals. The Chicago canals project became the largest earth-moving endeavor ever undertaken by any city.

The first canal was completed in 1900, and it was 28 miles long, 160 feet wide and 24 feet deep. The canal would redirect the river water into the Mississippi, but how would engineers reverse the river’s current?

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Building the Locks

It doesn’t take an engineering degree to know that rivers run down. The Chicago River lay on the Michigan side of the drainage basin, and the 28-mile canal connected it to the Des Plaines River at a greater decline than the slope into the lake.

Engineers then built locks at every entrance to the river. Because locks control water level, engineers could keep the water in the river lower than that of Lake Michigan. If they opened the locks, the lake water would rush in to equalize the level.

Success

With the canal system and locks in place, the “Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal” was open for business. People lined the banks of the river to watch the direction slowly shift. They threw items into the water and were delighted to see the river carry their test-objects upstream and away from the lake.

The plan had worked. But the Windy City’s thirst for new-and-improved ways of living would continue into other domains.

Deep Dish Pizza

Nothing showcases Chicago’s creativity better than the Chicago deep dish pizza. Drawing from the architectural past of the city, the deep dish is a towering creation.

Only Chicago could reinvent a classic like pizza, turning it into something as audacious and delicious as the deep dish pizza. The history and techniques involved in Chicago deep dish pizza truly represent a cherished part of the city’s identity.

The Recipe for Greatness

In Chicago, there are as many types of pizza as there are people, and everyone has their own taste. However, Chicago deep dish pizza does have some distinctive traits:

  • The famous dish. The name “deep dish” comes from the pan used to make the pizza. Similar to a cake pan, the deep edges give the pizza its distinctive shape.
  • The crust. After rubbing the pan with olive oil, wheat and semolina flour dough gets pushed into the mold. This creates the pizza’s famous bowl-like appearance. These ingredients combine to make a supremely tasty, flaky, golden-brown crust.
  • Turning pizza on its head. Like the engineers who reversed the Chicago River, the inventors of the deep dish decided to do things backward. The order of a deep dish goes: crust, cheese and toppings. Then, marinara sauce is added on top. With the traditional order of ingredients reversed, the Chicago deep dish pizza was born.
  • What happens in the oven? The brilliance of the inversed order relies on the cooking time. Chicago deep dish pizza takes longer to cook than normal pizza. Put simply, it’s a thick pizza. Layers of cheese, vegetables, sausage and pepperoni all bake together under a blanket of sweet tomato sauce. These savory ingredients team up to bring out the best in each other. Under the protection of the marinara sauce, all the goodness inside cooks nice and easy to make the best Chicago deep dish pizza.

Where to Grab the Best Chicago Deep Dish Pizza.

Statistics don’t lie — Giordano’s Pizza is the best pizza place in Chicago. In May 2014, the annual Chicago Magazine online survey crowned Giordano’s the crowd favorite. Plain as day, most people prefer Giordano’s. And can you blame them? The Giordano’s recipe is the real deal. Order a Giordano’s deep dish pizza and find out for yourself.

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A History of Great Pizza

Hailing from Turin, Italy, Giordano’s founders Efren and Joseph Boglio learned to make deep dish pizza from their mother. Back then, the recipe was called “Italian Easter Pie,” but the Boglio brothers reworked it into the classic deep dish pizza we know today.

Again and again, Chicagoans revise the dough of creativity to accomplish amazing things.

Chicago Bulls

All of Chicago’s sports-teams reflect the city’s drive for greatness. However, one team stands apart in the enormity of their success — the Chicago Bulls.

At their peak, the Bulls were the greatest team in basketball. Propelled by the unrestrained talent of the players, the Bulls won six NBA championships in eight years. The 1990s belonged to the Bulls.

The 1991 NBA Championships: Magic or Michael?

By 1991, the meteoric rise of Michael Jordan had turned the Bulls into a powerful team. Jordan was backed up by some of the league’s best players. The Bulls had Jordan, Scottie Pippen, John Paxton, Bill Cartwright, Horace Grant, and a formidable chance of winning the 1991 championship.

After beating their longtime foes, the Detroit Pistons, the Bulls continued on to the finals in Los Angeles. The Lakers were no pushovers. They had Magic Johnson, the league’s MVP two years running. Meanwhile, the Bulls were relatively green — they had never made it this far before. Some fans thought they might not stand the pressure.

The Bulls lost the first game in the series, shaking the confidence of fans. What happened next, though, shocked the world of sports.

Scoring the Bull’s Eye

The Bulls regrouped and miraculously beat the Lakers in game two. Soaring onward, they locked their game into high-gear. The Bulls steamrolled the Lakers for the next three games. Stunning the NBA, they beat the Lakers and won the 1991 championship.

Securing the Legacy

The Bulls had figured out the formula. Their teamwork had solidified into a ruthless machine which only manufactured victory. They won the 1992 and 1993 championships. The team wavered for the next two years during Jordan’s brief entry into Major League Baseball, but when he returned to the Bulls in 1996, they secured the championship once more.

In 1996, with Dennis Rodman and Michael, the Bulls broke the NBA record for most regular season wins with a score of 72-10. They picked up the championship in 1997 and again in 1998.

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Never before had a team demonstrated the indomitable energy of Chicago and represented the city’s strength in the sports arena so beautifully.

Achievement, however, isn’t always winning. Although the Chicago Cubs don’t have the trophies, they have the hunger for glory.

Chicago Cubs

Every baseball fan wants their team to win the World Series, but for Chicago Cubs fans, the need for victory has never been greater. The last time the Cubs won the pennant was in 1908. Every season, fans flood into Wrigley Stadium to wildly cheer on the Cubs, hoping to break their 106-year losing streak.

Back to the Future’s Promise of the Pennant

This year, some Cubs fans found encouragement in the movie Back to the Future II. In this 1980s sci-fi classic, Marty travels forward in time to the futuristic world of 2015. Upon arrival, he sees a hologram read, “Cubs win World Series!”

Unfortunately, the real-life Cubs got eliminated before they could fulfill the movie’s prophecy. It seems that Back to the Future II didn’t have the best predictions — they were also wrong about flying cars.

The Curse of the Billy Goat

Why haven’t the Cubs won the world series? It’s been over a century since their last triumph — surely they should have succeeded by now. Some superstitious fans blame a curse. Perhaps baseball’s most enduring hex, the Curse of the Billy Goat goes back to 1945.

According to official legend, the curse began on October 6, 1945, when an unfortunate goat was thrown out of Wrigley Field. William “Billy Goat” Sianis hadn’t anticipated any trouble with bringing his goat, Murphy, to see the Cubs. He thought the Cubs could certainly use a goat’s blessing!

The Cubs were on the verge of taking the World Series. They were beating the Detroit Tigers by a two-game lead. Poised for victory, they only needed two more wins to take the pennant. For this crucial moment, Sianis thought his lucky goat might tip the scales in the Cubs’ favor.

No Goats Allowed

But when Sianis and Murphy tried to enter Wrigley Field, they had a problem. Even though Sianis had bought a ticket for his goat, guards at Wrigley Field wouldn’t let Murphy into the park. An outraged Sianis drew the attention of the park’s owner, P.K.Wrigley. Indignant at the park’s discrimination against his goat, Sianis challenged Wrigley to explain why the goat couldn’t enter. Wrigley replied, “Because the goat stinks.”

This was too much for Sianis. Overcome by the injustice, Sianis raised his arms and prophetically bellowed, “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series game so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.”

The Curse Conceived

Sianis’s curse took hold. The Cubs lost every remaining game of the series to the Detroit Tigers. Happy with condemning the Cubs to perpetual defeat, Sianis telegrammed Wrigley after the Cubs finally lost — “Who stinks now?” the message read.

Since Sianis doomed the Cubs on that fateful day, they have been eliminated from every World Series, including the one in 2015.

Even with the possible curse reversal of Back to the Future II, the Cubs still can’t shake the Curse of the Billy Goat. However, the Cubs have attempted to counteract the curse.

In 1984, the new owner of the Cubs invited Sianis’s nephew, Sam Sianis, to take his goat to Wrigley Field. After finally bringing a goat into the park, Sam removed his hat and proclaimed, “The curse is lifted.”

Transcending the Curse

Despite Sam Sianis forgiving the Cubs and ending the curse, the Cubs still haven’t won the World Series. In the meantime, fans return to Wrigley Field waiting for the day when the Cubs will earn the pennant — taking what they rightfully deserve.

Great Deeds Not Yet Complete

Chicago has a history packed with incredible accomplishments. Chicago erected the once tallest building on Earth, reversed a river, created the famous Chicago deep dish pizza, won the NBA championship six times and defeated a decades-old curse.

Pretty impressive for a city built on a swamp. Without a doubt, the world can continue to expect great things from the Windy City.