Last updated March 23, 2023

Chicago is known by many names: the windy city, the white city, and chi-town, to name a few. But there’s more to this iconic city than deep-dish pizza, the Chicago Cubs and North Avenue Beach. Known by some as a ‘city of firsts,’ the history of Chicago is ripe with industrial innovations and culinary creations, not to mention the many artistic and culturally significant events that have taken place in Chicago. This robust post full of facts about Chicago will clue you in!

The Chicago bean at night.
Cloud Gate Sculpture in Millennium Park, Chicago

Keep reading to learn more about the history of the second city and stock up on some fun and interesting facts about Chicago.

Think you’re an expert already? Then jump right in and test your knowledge with our trivia quiz about Chicago! Or if you’re not quite ready for that, keep reading on to learn some fun and interesting facts.

Fast Facts About Chicago

~ Chicago is the third largest populated city in the United States of America.

~ The name ‘Chicago’ comes from an Algonquin word, shikaakwa, which means ‘wild onion’ or ‘wild garlic’ because of the wild leeks, onions, and ramps that used to grow here.

~ Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was the busiest in the world between 1963 and 1998, but today, it trails behind Atlanta, Dallas, and Denver as the fourth most active.

Passengers walking through O'Hare International Airport against a grey and white checkered tile floor and blue signage above
O’Hare International Airport – Chicago, Illinois

~ Several famous artists have called Chicago home, including:

  • Quincy Jones
  • Harrison Ford
  • Robin Williams
  • Jennifer Hudson
  • Bernie Mac
  • Common
  • John and Joan Cusack
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Michael Jordan
  • Kanye West

~ The historic Route 66 begins in Chicago.

~ The world’s first skyscraper was built in Chicago for the Home Insurance Company in 1885 and demolished in 1931.

~ Several novel inventions came out of Chicago, including spray paint, automatic dishwashers, car radios, vacuum cleaners, zippers, mobile phones, and Twinkies (did you know the filling was originally banana cream?).

Fun Facts About Chicago

Second City Origins

Chicago is sometimes referred to as the second city because it was rebuilt after burning to the ground in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. After the blaze, the only structures left standing were the Chicago Water Tower and Pumping Station. The Tower has since been converted into the City Gallery and Lookingglass Theatre.

Walt Disney Studied Art in Chicago

Chicago native Walt Disney graduated from Chicago’s McKinley High School, which has since become the Chicago Bulls College Prep High School. After graduation, the cartoonist honed his craft by taking night classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Famous Bean

The Bean, is one of Chicago’s most recognizable and iconic sights. In 2004, right smack dab in the heart of Chicago, this work of public art was unveiled. Its real name is the “Cloud Gate” and it sits right at the entrance to Millenium Park. It is one of the world’s largest permanent outdoor pieces and visitors are invited to walk around, touch it and most of all admire the reflection of the incredible Chicago skyline and the surrounding green space.

Chicago Bean

Off to the Races

The Chicago Times-Herald race was America’s first-ever automobile race. It took place on Thanksgiving Day 1895, and the track ran from downtown Chicago to Evanston and back again. Participants were to build their own ‘road carriages,’ as the term ‘automobile’ had yet to be coined.

A President’s Beginnings

Former president Barack Obama grew up on the island state of Hawaii, but his career began in Chicago. Obama moved to Chicago in 1985 and began working as a community organizer in the city’s South Side. It was here where he met his future wife at the law offices of Sidley & Austin.

Chicago is Home to One of the World’s Largest Tyrannosaurus Rex

Not only is ‘SUE,’ as she’s affectionately called, the largest T-rex on display, but hers is also the most complete Tyrannosaurus skeleton ever found. She stands at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History alongside many other relics spanning over 4 billion years of natural history.

Exterior shot of the the Field Museum with the Chicago skyline in the background against a blue sky with white clouds
Field Museum of Natural History – Chicago, Illinois

The Atomic Age Began in Chicago

Scientists at the University of Chicago split the atom for the first time in 1942, marking the beginning of the atomic age.

Chicago is the 2nd Most Irish City in the USA

Thanks to a booming Irish-American population in Chicago, over 143 Irish community events are held annually. The Chicago River gets dyed green yearly on St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate Irish pride.

Chicago Has its Own Version of Central Park

In the Loop community of Chicago, you’ll find the 319-acre Grant Park, a green oasis in the central business district of downtown Chicago where festivals and cultural events occur. There are also landmarks associated with Chicago history in the park, as well as the Museum Campus and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Close up view of a water fountain in action on a clear sunny day with green grass in the foreground and a cityscape behind
Buckingham fountain in Grant Park, Chicago

The Brownie was Invented in Chicago

The kitchens of the famous Palmer House in the 19th century created the brownie. The story goes that the treat was made after businesswoman Bertha Palmer asked for a small dessert in a lunchbox to be served to her women’s board to much success. The now-century-old recipe is still used at the Palmer House Hilton and is one of the hotel’s most popular menu items.

Chicago’s CBS Channel Broadcasted the First Televised Presidential Debate

America’s first televised presidential debate between two candidates went live in 1960 and was broadcasted by Chicago’s CBS studios. The candidates were John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

The First Open-Heart Surgery was Performed in Chicago

Daniel Hale Williams was a graduate of Northwestern University and one of the first black physicians to be employed in Chicago. He opened Provident Hospital, the city’s first non-segregated hospital, in 1891. He performed the world’s first successful open-heart surgery here, saving the life of a man who had been stabbed in the chest.


The First Ferris Wheel was unveiled at the Chicago World’s Fair

Civil engineer George Washington Gale Ferris unveiled his groundbreaking invention, the Ferris Wheel, at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. During the ride’s 19-week run, over a million people took a 20-minute ride for just 50 cents each.

The First Blood Bank was Opened in Chicago

Blood banks have saved countless lives, and America can thank Chicago-based Bernard Fantus for establishing the first one at Cook County Hospital in Chicago in 1937. Soon after, blood banks began opening up around the country.

Chicago is Home to One of the Most Influential Forms of Music

Electric Chicago Blues exploded out of the windy city shortly after WWII. As a subgenre of blues music, electric blues included amplified electric guitars and harmonicas. It significantly influenced modern rock and roll, inspiring the sounds of artists like Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry.

Street view of a main city street with various buildings and traffic going by
The Chicago Theatre on State Street

Willis Tower is the Tallest Building in Chicago

Standing 1450 feet and 110 stories tall, Willis Tower is the tallest building in Chicago and the second tallest in the western hemisphere, 326 feet shorter than New York’s One World Trade Center. Formerly known as the Sears Tower, Willis Tower was renamed in 2009 by the London-based Willis Group.

Bicyclists Love Chicago

Despite the harsh winters, Chicago remains one of the most bike-friendly cities in the midwest. There are over 250 miles of bike lanes, 19 miles of which are lakefront bicycle paths alongside Lake Michigan.

The Chicago River Flows Backward

The Chicago River empties into Lake Michigan, which supplies residents with their primary source of drinking water. However, as the city of Chicago grew, officials began to worry about the spread of disease as more raw sewage began getting dumped into the river. As a result, an eight-year project was undertaken to divert river water away from Lake Michigan and towards the Mississippi. As a result, and one of the weirder facts about Chicago, the Chicago River is now the only river in the world to flow backward.

Downtown Chicago skyscraper cityscape along the Chicago River with a yellow tour boat passing by

Now that you’ve read all our fun facts about Chicago why not test your knowledge and take the 20-question quiz?


This post was compiled by the Travel Trivia Challenge (TTC) team. TTC was founded by Dalene and Pete Heck who traveled the world non-stop for almost 8 years.

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