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10 Chicago Firsts: Famous Inventions

Posted on Saturday, January 24th, 2009 at 3:13 am CET

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.

Home Insurance Building (1885-1890)
Home Insurance Building by drs2online

1. First Skyscraper (1885) ▲

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.

First Mc Donald's at the World - Des Plaines, İl USA
Old McDonald’s by erkanblack

2. First McDonald’s Franchise (1955) ▲

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!!

Silo Sam
Silo in New York state by excard1970

3. First Farm Silo (1873) ▲

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.

Navy Pier Ferris Wheel
Navy Pier ferris wheel by Atelier Teee

4. First Ferris Wheel (1893) ▲

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.

Deep dish pizza
Photo by BarelyFitz

5. First Deep Dish Pizza (1943) ▲

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.

Henry Hoover playing hide and seek
Photo by itspaulkelly

6. First Vacuum Cleaner (1869) ▲

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.

Gizmo finds the weirdest places to sit
Photo by jmatthew3

7. First Electric Dishwasher (1889) ▲

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.

Mr. Monster Mouth
Photo by massdistraction

8. First Zipper (1851) ▲

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.

Photo by spike55151

9. First Open Heart Surgery (1858) ▲

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.

Photo by chemisti

10. First Softball Game (1887) ▲

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.


Jan 28, 2009
2:30 pm
#1 stupid people wrote:

This article is incorrect………..The first McDonalds was opened in Airdrome in Arcada, California. The Airdrome was moved to San Bernardino, California in 1940.

Jan 28, 2009
2:41 pm
#2 Wolfstad wrote:

Thanks, stupid people, I have changed the text accordingly. You are correct, the first McDonald’s opened in California in 1940. But the first franchised restaurant opened in Des Plaines, Illinois, in 1955. That was the beginning of the McDonald’s corporation as we know it today. I have changed the section to “First McDonald’s Franchise”.

Oct 4, 2009
12:41 pm
#3 Jessica wrote:

Thank You!!!! I have a report on illinois due tomorrow and this made it sooo much easier!

Nov 23, 2009
4:29 pm
#4 cheyenna wrote:

can you find inventions made by people from illinois.

Dec 15, 2009
9:50 am
#5 Melissa Giovagnoli wrote:

This is such a great article to help our goal of putting the first innovation and collaboration center in Chicago to showcase these inventions. Thanks so much for this article. I will be sending all of those interested in our initiative to read this. And, great pictures by the way!

Warmest Regards,

Melissa Giovagnoli

Jan 12, 2010
3:24 pm
#6 omg wrote:

omgggggg help me win my history fair

Feb 25, 2010
5:48 pm
#7 Chanya wrote:

hey i jus wanted 2 say dat di would truley help me wit history fair dats due in a couple of wks cuzi wuz stck in i didn’t no wat i wanted to do for history fair….
now i no ……………… DEEP DISH PIZZA….
sounds good i would reallly use dat recipe
p.s. i luv 2 cook n i can get dwn wit dis pizza makin’

Feb 26, 2010
3:59 pm
#8 omar wrote:

does the vacum cleaner have anything to do with inovation?

Mar 10, 2010
3:22 pm
#9 Steve wrote:

Do you know if there was an electric stamping press made by Rockford Iron Works at the world’s fair?

May 18, 2010
12:03 pm
#10 HardyBoys1963 wrote:

I had my first born son on the Ferris Wheel true story!!!!

May 18, 2010
12:09 pm
#11 Maria wrote:

Are you serious? I can’t believe that you had your son on a Ferris Wheel! I had my third daughter at the show Wicked in Chicago. It was the worst of all my twelve deliveries.

May 18, 2010
12:13 pm
#12 HardyBoys1963 wrote:

Oh you poor dear! I was lucky that they already had an ambulance on the scene just in case something else happened!

May 18, 2010
12:13 pm
#13 Maria wrote:

How were you able to get on the ride if you were pregnant?

May 18, 2010
12:15 pm
#14 HardyBoys1963 wrote:

Nobody knew I was pregnant except for my boyfriend and I. I was still in High School and I was able to hide it by not gaining any weight! I still to this day don’t know how I did it!

May 18, 2010
12:17 pm
#15 Maria wrote:

Wow, I don’t either! Well, I hope you and your son are happy and healthy!

May 18, 2010
12:17 pm
#16 HardyBoys1963 wrote:

We are thank-you! And I hope you and your twelve are happy too!

May 25, 2010
6:14 pm
#17 runner_addict1 wrote:

who was the first person to invent cartoons???

Nov 2, 2010
1:44 pm
#18 duh wrote:

Hey … what about barb wire

Feb 3, 2011
5:52 pm
#19 lily wrote:

did illinois invent sillybands?

Feb 22, 2011
6:59 pm
#20 poop wrote:

i need to do good on a research paper. help me hahahahahah

Mar 31, 2011
6:02 pm
#21 Mairie wrote:

help me on the history fair!

Jul 23, 2011
2:13 am
#22 Retha wrote:

What about the ice cream cone? Wasn’t it introduced at the Chicago World’s Fair?

Dec 8, 2011
6:13 pm
#23 The Little Monster wrote:

This was great for deciding a History Fair Topic

Feb 5, 2012
2:19 pm
#24 Susan wrote:

Yay! This site helped a lot!

Mar 30, 2012
5:39 pm
#25 Janice wrote:

This helped a lot!

Apr 4, 2013
12:14 am
#26 Abdulbaseer wrote:

Awesome. This is fresh air, sigh of relief after all home sweet home – Chicago is 🙂

Proud citizen and dedicated volunteer.

Apr 12, 2016
6:21 pm
#27 HIHIHI wrote:


May 23, 2016
6:13 am
#28 emma linerberger wrote:

Mc donalds was created in illinois

Nov 26, 2016
3:16 pm
#29 Lotus Prins wrote:

Thank you for this wonderful page of inventions and firsts in Chicago.

“The first McDonald’s franchise opened in Phoenix in 1953 using the arches logo. Businessman Ray Kroc joined the company as a franchise agent in 1955 and subsequently purchased the chain from the McDonald brothers. Based in Oak Brook, Illinois, McDonald’s confirmed plans to move its global headquarters to Chicago by early 2018”

Apr 23, 2017
12:34 pm
#30 Jexicca wrote:

Thank you soo much. I have a state project about Illinois and this helps a lot.

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