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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Windy City

Yesterday the Husband-fellow and I were driving to G-City (a "nearby" city so large it has a Wal-Mart AND a Home Depot... and an Applebee's!) to pick up some things for the yard. Well, I say they're for the yard but really they're to stop the archaeological excavations being performed by the esteemed landscaping duo, Doodles Inc. At some point Husband said, "They call Chicago the windy city, right? It can't possibly be windier than this, can it?" Ah, the keen observational sense of those Scots.

This launched me into one of my (many, many) favorite bits of trivia. Namely, that the moniker "The Windy City" has nothing to do with Chicago's lake effect winds. (It's slightly windier than New York on average, but less windy than Boston--for example.) There are a few hypotheses about just how Chicago's braggadocio earned their city such a nickname. One suggestion is that it started during the late 1800s when Chicago and Cincinnati were rivals. From the 1870s there are several examples in Cincinnati newspapers calling Chicago "that Windy City" in reference to Chicago's claims to have surpassed Cincinnati's pork production (which Chicago did actually do before the turn of the century), and again when speaking of Chicago's boast that their "White Stockings" were a better baseball team than Cincinnati's "Red Stockings." I love this 5 March 1879 poem from the Cincinnati Enquirer: There was a young man from Chicago,/ it was strange how he did make his jaw go./ One nice day he did to his pa go,/ saying "Really father, does ma know/ If for crime and deceit / any city can beat / the windy old town of Chicago. Ouch. (Although, it is to be noted that the residents of Milwaukee apparently didn't care much for Chicagoans either. From the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel, 4 July 1860, "We are proud of Milwaukee because she is not overrun with a lazy police force as is Chicago -- because her morals are better, he [sic] criminals fewer, her credit better; and her taxes lighter in proportion to her valuation than Chicago, the windy city of the West." Yowza, Milwaukee. Harsh.)

I prefer, however, the idea that the nickname really took hold during the 1890 World's Fair bidding. New Yorkers could not believe that the Chicagoans could beat them, that some upstart little "frontier town" could take prominence over New York City. Silly New Yorkers. There's a famous quote from New York newspaperman Charles Dana (though whether it's a direct quote or not seems to be under some question), "Don't pay attention to the nonsensical claims of that windy city. It's people could not build a world's fair if they won it." Tsktsk. Don't overlook the underdog. That should be added to the plaque at the Statue of Liberty. At any rate, Chicago won the fair (after a prolonged period of back-and-forth sniping between Chicago and NYC journalists) and they did manage to put on a spectacular show, much to the chagrin of those New Yorkers! I recommend "Devil in the White City" for both historical facts and decent storytelling.

Windy City, indeed. Chicago's average annual wind speed is 10.3mph. J-City, Kansas has an average annual wind speed of 9 m/s, or 20.1mph. Sorry Chicago. I know you want people to think you're called The Windy City because of the lake effect, but I'm officially changing it to the City of Swagger, and I'm awarding the title "The Windy City" where it belongs--HERE! Or, at least, here before it blows awaaaaayyyyyyyy!


  1. I love that map link! What on Earth is going on in South East Wyoming? Thanks for these facts. You amaze me.

  2. Southern Wyoming physically resembles the surface of the moon. It's the bit that opens up directly from the mountains, which allows wind to come screaming out of the Rockies completely unfettered by... you know... trees and stuff. Which, of course, you have happening all over the Great Plains but nowhere in such stark NOTHINGNESS as SWYO. It's the most boring place on earth to drive through and that's saying a lot from a KANSAN!