The city of Chicago has been known by many nicknames, but it is most widely recognized as the "Windy City".
The earliest known reference to the "Windy City" was actually to Green Bay in 1856. The first known repeated effort to label Chicago with this nickname is from 1876 and involves Chicago's rivalry with Cincinnati. The term "Windy City" came into common usage when it was popularized by New York City editor, Charles Dana, in The Sun during the bidding for the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Chicago won the Exposition, which did not please Dana. The popularity of the nickname has endured, long after the Cincinnati rivalry and the Columbian Exposition ended.
There are four main possibilities to explain the city's nickname: the weather, as Chicago is near Lake Michigan; the World's Fair; politics; and the rivalry with Cincinnati.
While Chicago is widely known as the "Windy City", it is not the windiest city in the United States. Some of the windier cities recorded by the NOAA/NCDC are Mount Washington, NH at 35.1 mph (56.5 km/h), Blue Hill, MA at 15.2 mph (24.5 km/h), Dodge City, KS at 13.9 mph (22.3 km/h), Amarillo, Texas at 13.5 mph (21.7 km/h), and Lubbock, Texas at 12.4 mph (20 km/h). Chicago is not significantly windier than any other U.S. city. For example, the average annual wind speed of Chicago is 10.3 mph (16.6 km/h); Boston: 12.4 mph (20.0 km/h); Central Park, New York City: 9.3 mph (15.0 km/h); and Los Angeles: 7.5 mph (12.1 km/h).
The following "windy city" explanation is from the Freeborn County Standard of Albert Lea, Minnesota, on November 20, 1892:
Chicago has been called the “windy” city, the term being used metaphorically to make out that Chicagoans were braggarts. The city is losing this reputation, for the reason that as people got used to it they found most of her claims to be backed up by facts. As usual, people go to extremes in this thing also, and one can tell a stranger almost anything about Chicago today and feel that he believes it implicitly.
But in another sense Chicago is actually earning the title of the “windy” city. It is one of the effects of the tall buildings which engineers and architects apparently did not foresee that the wind is sucked down into the streets. Walk past the Masonic Temple or the Auditorium any day even though it may be perfectly calm elsewhere, and you will meet with a lively breeze at the base of the building that will compel you to put your hand to your hat.
An explanation for Chicago being a naturally breezy area is that it is on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Chicago had long billed itself as an ideal summer resort because of its cool lake breeze. The Boston Globe of July 8, 1873, wrote that "a few years ago, Chicago advertised itself as a summer resort, on the strength of the lake breezes which so nicely tempered the mid-summer heats." The Chicago Tribune of June 14, 1876, discussed "Chicago as a Summer Resort" at length, proudly declaring that "the people of this city are enjoying cool breezes, refreshing rains, green fields, a grateful sun, and balmy air—winds from the north and east tempered by the coolness of the lake, and from the south and west, bearing to us frequent hints of the grass, flowers, wheat and corn of the prairies."
The February 4, 1873, Philadelphia Inquirer called Chicago "the great city of winds and fires."
Cincinnati and Chicago were rival cities in the 1860s and 1870s. Cincinnati was well known in the meatpacking trade and it was called "Porkopolis" from at least 1843. Starting from the early 1860s, Chicago surpassed Cincinnati in this trade and proudly claimed the very same "Porkopolis" nickname.
The baseball inter-city matches were especially intense. The 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings were the pride of all of baseball, so Chicago came up with a rival team called the White Stockings to defeat them. "Windy City" often appeared in the Cincinnati sporting news of the 1870s and 1880s.
Four of the first known citations of "Windy City" are from 1876, all involving Cincinnati:
- Chicago Tribune, April 20, 1876, headline: "The WINDY CITY Jay-Rollers La-Crosse Team Wins Inaugural Game against Cincinnati Nannies." That High.
- The Cincinnati Enquirer, May 9, 1876, headline: "THAT WINDY CITY. Some Freaks of the Last Chicago Tornado."
- The Cincinnati Enquirer, May 13, 1876: "Only the plucky nerve of the eating-house keeper rescued the useful seats from a journey to the Windy City."
- Chicago Tribune, July 2, 1876: "The Cincinnati Enquirer, in common with many other papers, has been waiting with great anxiety for the fulfillment of its prophecy: that the Chicago papers would call the Whites hard names when they lost. Witness these scraps the day after the Whites lost to the Athletics: There comes a wail to us from the Windy City."
As the 400th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the Americas approached, the United States planned to hold a world's fair to celebrate. This was considered an important time, due to the French successes at the previous World's Fair with the construction of the Eiffel Tower.
The prestige of holding the fair enticed several prominent cities to compete to host the fair. At the top, New York City, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. all fought hard for the right and many New Yorkers thought they had a win guaranteed. In the end, it came down to New York and Chicago. In 1890, Chicago won the bid to host the World's Fair, also known as the World's Columbian Exposition, after eight ballots. Many prominent New Yorkers were extremely irritated that a "frontier town" could beat them.
It is a popular myth that the first person to use the term "Windy City" was The New York Sun editor, Charles Dana. Charles Dana was New York's leading fair booster, but there is little evidence that he ever used the "Windy City" term. The first known attribution of Dana to the origin of "Windy City" was 40 years later in the Chicago Tribune, "Chicago Dubbed 'Windy' in Fight for Fair of '93," June 11, 1933:
"Don’t pay any attention", wrote Charles A. Dana, day in and day out in his New York Sun, "to the nonsensical claims of that windy city. Its people could not build a World’s Fair even if they won it".
Long-winded politicians and the frequent political conventions in Chicago have been suggested as the source of the nickname. Another related suggestion is the business boosterism that other cities resented.
The Hawk wind, or Hawkins
Chicago's wind is often called "The Hawk". This term has long been popular in African American Vernacular English. The Baltimore Sun's series of columns in 1934 attempted to examine the origin of the phrase, "Hawkins is coming", for a cold, winter wind. The first recorded Chicago citation is in the Chicago Defender, October 20, 1936: "And these cold mornings are on us—in other words 'Hawkins' has got us."
It is also referenced in the first line of Steve Goodman's song, "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request", is "By the shores of old Lake Michigan / Where the Hawk Wind blows so cold..."
Various other cities have also claimed the nickname "Windy City". They include: