Chicago – Defining Moments

Chicago is one of the most storied cities in the United States. There have been historic occurrences of all kinds, from politics to crime to medical breakthroughs. The number of impactful events that took place in Chicago may surprise you. Here are just eight of them.



Abraham Lincoln nominated for president

It was at the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago that then-Congressman and Illinois native Abraham Lincoln was nominated for president of the United States. He was already known nationally as an outstanding speaker and debater, and was backed by both Illinois and neighboring Indiana.

It was a close nomination selection, with delegates wavering between Lincoln and his opponent, William Seward, for two days. Obviously, Lincoln won the nomination and later, the presidency.



The Great Chicago Fire

For three days in 1871, a massive fire engulfed the city of Chicago, destroying thousands of buildings and taking approximately 300 lives. This massive, prolonged tragedy went on from October 8 to 10 and affected more than three square miles of the city, including the business district.

The cause of the fire remains unconfirmed, but legend has it that a cow knocked over a lantern, which set a barn ablaze and resulted in the uncontrollable fire. Since the city’s infrastructure was mostly made of wood, and the weather had been particularly dry in the weeks leading up to October 8, the fire quickly spread out of control.

On the bright side, the reconstruction of the city after the fire sparked something else: an increase in economic development and city population.



The World’s Columbian Exposition

The World’s Columbian Exposition, commonly known as the Chicago World’s Fair, brought an influx of international visitors into Chicago in 1893. The fair celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival to the “New World,” and welcomed more than 27 million guests.


This six-month-long fair introduced impactful inventions that are now household items. These include Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum, spray paint, dishwashers, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, Aunt Jemima pancake mix, Cracker Jack, the zipper, and the Ferris wheel. One attendee, George C. Tilyou, was particularly impressed by the Ferris wheel and went on to create the first major amusement park in the United States.

These items are such an integral part of modern life that it’s incredible to think they were all unveiled during the Chicago World’s Fair back in 1893.



America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes

While the World’s Columbian Exposition filled Chicago with celebration and inventiveness, there was something sinister occurring in the shadows. During the six-month festival, America’s first documented serial killer, H.H. Holmes, was taking innocent lives.

H.H. Holmes built a booby-trapped “murder castle” hotel, where he lured World’s Fair visitors by promising cheap lodging. He outfitted the building with maze-like hallways, trap doors, secret rooms, and staircases to nowhere. These confusing elements were used to disorient and capture hotel guests, who Holmes ultimately murdered and hid in the basement.

It’s still unknown how many lives Holmes claimed. There are nine proven victims, but Holmes claims to have taken the lives of more than 20 people.



The first open-heart surgery

Chicago1893 was a big year for Chicago. Another monumental event that occurred this year was the first successful open-heart surgery in the United States.

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams was not only the first doctor to perform this surgery, but one of the first black doctors in the entire city of Chicago. He graduated from Chicago Medical College and went on to found Provident Hospital, one of the only hospitals in the city that accepted African-American patients.

This is why James Cornish, the recipient of the surgery, was brought to Provident Hospital in particular. Cornish was a young black man who had been stabbed in the chest, close to the heart. The surgery was successful, and the patient fully recovered in two months.



Al Capone and the Chicago Outfit

Al Capone is one of the most famous gangsters in American history and was most active in Chicago during Prohibition. He was part of the Chicago Mob, an Italian-American crime organization that originated in the South Side. His organized crime group made tens of millions of dollars through bootlegging, prostitution, and gambling.

One of the most notorious events in the gang’s history was the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, in which Capone’s group executed seven members of a rival gang. Al Capone was head of the group for seven years before his arrest in 1931.



The first blood bank in the United States

Donating and receiving donated blood seems like a normal part of modern medicine, but before 1937, the United States didn’t have the ability or infrastructure to do so. Instead, direct person-to-person blood transfusions were the only way to supply patients with blood.

This was until Dr. Bernard Fantus, a physician at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, introduced the idea of a blood bank. By implementing his methods, doctors were able to collect and examine blood before providing it to patients. The ability to do so revolutionized modern surgery in the United States. After Cook County Hospital established its blood bank, other hospitals throughout the country followed suit.



The tallest building in the world

ChicagoIn 1970, executives for Sears, Roebuck and Company wanted to create a central space for their 350,000 employees. The Sears Tower was completed three years later, replacing the World Trade Center as the tallest building in the world. The building is 1,450 feet tall and contains 110 stories. Sears and Roebuck Company remained in the building for 18 years before selling it in 1991 and moving out.

Willis Tower lost its title as “tallest building in the world” when the Petronas Towers in Malaysia measured in at just 10 feet taller. Even so, the Willis Tower remains the second-tallest building in the United States and the 17th-tallest building in the world.

Guests can experience the massive height of the building firsthand by visiting The Skydeck Ledge. There, see-through glass boxes extend out over the side of Willis Tower to provide a truly death-defying view.