The Story Behind Chicago's Nickname

Everyone under the sun knows that Chicago is often called the Windy City. What not everybody knows is why. The obvious explanation is that it comes from Lake Michigan's freezing winds that billow through the city streets. However, the truth is stranger than fiction. According to Skydeck, Chicago is in fact not the windiest city in the United States. Boston, Massachusetts holds that honor. The origins of this nickname, however, possibly have to do with both the weather and politics.

Although the details remain unclear, some historians think the nickname comes from the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 (via The Daily Northwestern). New York City and Chicago (the largest and second-largest American cities at the time) were competing against each other to hold the fair that would celebrate Christopher Columbus's arrival in America. It is said that a meeting took place in New York where Chicago politicians and residents were incredibly outspoken about Chicago. In other words, they were blowhards, and thus, the nickname "Windy City" was born.

Per History, another theory revolves around a New York Sun reporter named Charles A. Dana. Dana wrote that the city's politicians were full of "hot air" and to "... not pay any attention to the nonsensical claims of that windy city." Nonetheless, Chicago ultimately won and ended up holding the World's Fair. Although Dana is often credited with coming up with the moniker, the article containing this quote has never been found and thus, it's heavily disregarded as a myth.

Chicago has more than one nickname

Although the Windy City is what first comes to mind when one thinks of Chicago, there are several more nicknames all with their own origins. Chi-town (pronounced shy-town) for example, is a shortened version of the city's name (via Skydeck). The City of Big Shoulders is another nickname taken from the first line of a poem called "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg. Finally, there's The Second City, a nickname that quite possibly has two meanings. The first is a reference to Chicago's history as the second-largest city in the U.S. in the 20th century, and the other has to do with Chicago rebuilding itself for the second time after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

As for the Windy City, according to History, etymologist Barry Popik, who has researched the origins of the nickname, believes it existed long before the World's Fair of 1893. In fact, he believes it had already existed in the 1870s. Popik concludes that what did start as a reference to the cold Chicago weather later took on a double meaning as the city's fame grew.