WTTW News Explains: From Mud City to Second City, Where Did Chicago’s Nicknames Come From?

When it comes to nicknames, Chicago sure has gotten stuck with some stinkers.

Maybe it’s because the city’s actual name comes from a smelly wild onion. Or maybe it’s because other cities like to drag our city through the mud.

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In fact, one of Chicago’s first nicknames was “Mud City” — accurate, if not exactly flattering.

Then there’s Chicago’s best-known nickname: “The Windy City.”

Sounds about right to anyone who’s caught a face full of frosty lake wind in January, but Chicago is only the 12th windiest city in the U.S.

A lot of folks think the “Windy City” moniker came from New York.

When brash upstart Chicago was competing to host the 1893 World’s Fair, the New York Sun editorialized our politicians as “full of hot air.”

But, references to Chicago as “The Windy City” long predate that slander.

The Cincinnati Enquirer used it in an 1876 headline to report on a tornado that blew through Chicago. Though historians say there was likely a double meaning at play there too.

Fast forward to 1914 and a beefed-up Chicago.

In his poem “Chicago,” Carl Sandburg characterized the growing city as a young working man – in his words: stormy, husky, brawling.

A line from that poem gave us the nickname “City of Big Shoulders.”

Makes sense – all that hog butchering, wheat stacking and tool making will really build up your deltoids.

Chicago’s most contentious nickname might be “The Second City.”

Some believe it was sparked by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, when the city had to rebuild after the devastation – emerging as a stronger, more resilient second Chicago.

But Chicago was America’s second-most populous city for nearly a century, so it more likely started there.

And annoyingly, it was a New Yorker’s poison pen that made it stick. When writer A.J. Liebling found himself marooned in Chicago for a few years in the late 1940s, he wrote a collection of essays outlining all the ways he felt Chicago fell short of his hometown.

The book was titled “Chicago: The Second City.”

But in classic Chicago fashion, we embraced a name meant to run us down and used it to lift us up instead, because **** you: we’re from Chicago.

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