Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Rollover text informationAmerican Experience Logo
Chicago: City of the Century
The Film and More
Special Features
People and Events
Teacher's Guide

spacer above content
Timeline: Early Chicago History

1671-1859 | 1860-1900  


May 18: The Republican Party nominates Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln as its candidate for the presidency in Chicago.


A field is built for the Chicago White Stockings baseball team. The Chicago ball club is quite successful in the 19th century. Later, they adopt a nickname given them in the local papers and change their name to the Cubs.


%July 18: In a stupendous feat of engineering (and with utter disregard for southern neighbors), engineers reverse the Chicago River's direction. Instead of carrying the city's waste into Lake Michigan, the source of the city's drinking water, the polluted water flows south toward the Mississippi. After a year, the river will stall and returns to static sludge.

October 8: The Great Fire starts at 9 o'clock Sunday night and burns until early Tuesday morning, October 10th. The history of Chicago and the life stories of 19th century Chicagoans will henceforth be demarcated as "before the Fire" and "after the Fire."


Summer: Chicago emerges as a center of labor agitation during a general strike of railroad workers. On July 26, workers from a variety of industries, many of them immigrants and socialists, riot in the streets, battling police and U. S. militia. The rioters seek an eight-hour work day and the restoration of slashed wages. The Great Uprising, as it is called, results in the deaths of 100 workers nationwide, 30 of them in Chicago. No Chicago police are killed or seriously injured. The uprising marks the beginning of a cycle of class warfare and labor violence in the United States, and Albert Parsons's emergence as a labor leader.


After buying out his previous partners, Marshall Field becomes the sole proprietor of the most elegant store in Chicago, Marshall Field and Company.


Charles L. Hutchinson and others found the Art Institute of Chicago. Society queen Bertha Palmer later donates her extensive collection of Impressionists paintings to the institute.


William LeBaron Jenney's Home Insurance Building uses, for the first time, an iron skeleton construction for support, leading to the development of the Chicago School skyscraper.


%May 3: A strike at the McCormick reaper factory turns violent. Police kill two workers.

May 4: A demonstration is held at Haymarket Square protesting the deaths of the day before. As it winds down, police enter the square and a bomb is thrown at them. Shooting ensues. Seven policemen are killed and more than fifty are injured.

%June 21: Eight men stand trial as accessories to murder for the Haymarket affair. No one is accused of actually throwing the bomb. All are found guilty.


The Marshall Field Warehouse, designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, is completed a year after the death of its architect.

November 11: Four of the eight Haymarket defendants are hung (of the others, two asked for clemency and received life sentences, one was sentenced to fifteen years, and one committed suicide in jail).


Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr open Hull-House, a settlement house offering educational and practical social services to immigrants and the working poor.

Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan's Auditorium Building is completed. Sullivan makes his architectural reputation; his assistant Frank Lloyd Wright flushes out most of the interior design drawings; and Chicago has a world-class stage for cultural performances.


Aaron Montgomery Ward begins his protracted legal battle to keep the lakeshore "Public Ground -- A Common to Remain Forever Open, Clear, and Free of Any Buildings, or Other Obstruction, Whatever." In 1909, the Illinois Supreme Court will support his position.


Theodore Thomas arrives in Chicago to head the Chicago Orchestra. Its first home is in the Auditorium Building.


October 1: Opening day of the new University of Chicago with William Rainey Harper as its president.


%May 1-October 30: Chicago hosts the World's Columbian Exposition. Twenty-seven million people visit the fair.

June: A monument to the Haymarket defendants is erected in Waldheim Cemetery. The living defendants are given an unconditional pardon and the trial is denounced by the new governor.

October 28: As the Exposition draws to a close, a madman murders the popular mayor Carter Harrison in his home.


%May 12: Workers at the Pullman factory go on strike, led by labor organizer and future presidential nominee Eugene Victor Debs. The strike will be broken by federal troops, but Pullman's behavior is so odious that his reputation is ruined even among fellow capitalists.


July 5: The Exposition site burns down.


October 18: George Pullman dies.


The town of Pullman is divested from Pullman's company.


January 2: The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal flows from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi. The Chicago River is forever reversed and Joliet's dream -- to effectively connect the Great Lakes with the Mississippi River -- is complete.

1671-1859 | 1860-1900  

Site Navigation

Chicago: City of the Century Home | The Film & More | Special Features | Timeline
Maps | People and Events | Teacher's Guide

American Experience | Feedback | Search & Site Map | Shop | Subscribe | Web Credits

© New content 1999-2003 PBS Online / WGBH

Exclusive Corporate Funding is provided by: