Chicago is the home of the first African-American President of the United States, but it is also home to many other firsts, such as the world’s first ferris wheel and the world’s first McDonald’s. Here’s a list of ten Chicagoland firsts that you may not know about.
The Home Insurance Building that was built in Chicago in 1885 is considered to be the world’s first skyscraper. It was the first building to use structural steel in its frame. It had 10 stories and was 138 feet tall. The building was demolished in 1931. Sears Tower, currently the tallest building in Chicago, is over 10 times taller than the Home Insurance Building at 1,451 feet with 108 floors. It was the tallest building in the world from 1974 until 1998, but today its rank has dropped to the 4th tallest in the world.
The McDonald’s business began in 1940 with a restaurant by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald in San Bernardino, California. But the present corporation dates its founding to the opening of a franchised restaurant by Ray Kroc in Des Plaines, Illinois, on April 15th, 1955. The site in Des Plaines is now a museum with a replica of the original. It all started with this one in Des Plaines and today there are more than 31,000 McDonald’s restaurants worldwide. In 54 years that’s over 550 new locations a year or one-and-a-half new McDonald’s restaurants a day!!
Spring Grove IL, which is located just north of Chicago, is home to the world’s first farm silo. The silo was invented in 1873 by Fred Hatch who constructed a square vertical storage box made of wood on his small farm. Before this farmers used to store their corn in long trenches, which caused considerable spoilage due to dampness. A small replica of the original invention can now be seen at Lyle Thomas Park in Spring Grove.
The ferris wheel in the above picture is the one at the end of Navy Pier in Chicago. It was installed in 1995 and has a 240 person capacity. The world’s first ferris wheel was constructed for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. And it was huge: it had a 2,160 person capacity. The largest ferris wheel today is the London Eye and that one can hold only 768 people at a time. The Chicago ferris wheel was built to rival the Eiffel Tower at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. Bridgemaker George Ferris built the immense contraption that carried people in train car-sized boxes around on the wheel. Carnivals would never be the same.
Chicago is famous for its deep dish pizza. Italian immigrants have been coming to Chicago since the 1850s and by the 1940s there was a significant population of Italians living in the Windy City. A man named Ike Sewell created the deep dish pizza in 1943 at his restaurant named Pizzeria Uno. His pizzas were so popular that soon he had to open a second restaurant, appropriately called Pizzeria Due.
The vacuum cleaner was invented in 1869 in the Chicago basement of Ives W. McGaffey. The Whirlwind was a hand-pumped vacuum cleaner made of wood and canvas. The machine was lightweight, but quite difficult to operate because of the need to turn a hand crank at the same time as pushing it across the floor. Unfortunately, many of McGaffey’s machines were lost in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and only two are known to survive. One of them is in the Hoover Historical Center in Ohio.
Another Chicago invention is the dishwasher! If it weren’t for the clever inventors in this city we’d all still be dusting floors with brooms and washing dishes by hand. A man named Joel Houghton tried in 1850 with a failed idea that required you to turn a wheel by hand, which was not very effective. It wasn’t until 1893 that Mrs. Josephine Garis of Shelbyville IL showed off her electric dishwasher at the World’s Fair in Chicago. Only some restaurants and hotels bought the machines and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the dishwasher was widely used.
Another invention that debuted at the Chicago World’s Fair, the zipper. Credit for this clever piece of zipping technology goes to Chicago’s very own Mr. Whitcomb Judson who marketed it as a Clasp Locker in 1893. It was a complicated hook-and-eye shoe fastener that debuted at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The zipper as we use it today is based on a system of interlocking teeth invented in 1913 by an employee of Swedish born scientist Whitcomb Judson.
Daniel Hale Williams is regarded as having performed the world’s first surgery on a heart. It was on 10 July 1893 at Provident Hospital that Williams repaired the torn pericardium of knife wound patient James Cornish. Williams was also the first African-American cardiologist.
The first version of softball was invented in Chicago on Thanksgiving Day in the year 1887 by George Hancock. He came up with the idea for softball as a winter version of baseball and he called it Indoor Baseball. It was intended to be a way for baseball players to keep in practice during the winter. Softball was introduced at the Summer Olympics in 1996, but both softball and baseball have been dropped as Olympic sports for the 2012 games in London.