Chicago: The Chicago History Museum


The Fields Museum of Natural History was simply too large to visit for the day. I thought it is better to spend the time in a smaller, more relevant museum for my trip. For a human history buff like me, I know that the Chicago History Museum would tell a better story of Chicago.

This time I headed north, again outside the city. I took the bus entirely and for a moment got disoriented after I got off the bus. It was like, oh, which direction do I head? I spent a few minutes walking in the wrong direction until someone pointed me to go back the way I came from.

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This is a small museum and there were not a lot of visitors. The museum don’t even open early because I remember waiting outside for the doors to open and there were only two other couples waiting.

This museum was exactly the type of museum I like a lot. If you want to learn about Chicago, this is just the place to go to.

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In this museum, I learned about the major formative events of Chicago.

Fort Dearborn is where the present day Chicago started from. It is built as a desolated outpost over 200 years ago. The name “Chicago” came from the Indian word shikaakwa, which means wild onion or wild garlic.

Chicago grew from this fort into a major transportation hub of the US. The access to the Great Lakes and the fact that almost all trains stops at Chicago, very quickly made Chicago into the 2nd biggest city behind New York. Today, Chicago is the third largest city in the US when LA overtook it a couple of decades ago.

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The next big event is the Chicago Fire of 1871. That fire raged for three days and when it was finally over, a third of the city lies in ruins.

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Amazingly, only 300 people died in the fire. The museum recorded in detail the entire episode.

As a result of the great fire, there was a great reconstruction effort which pretty much led to many of what we see in Chicago today. The reconstructions ushered in the first skyscraper in the world just six short years after the fire.

So in some ways, the fire is like a blessing.

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22 years after the Chicago Fire, the city rose from its ashes and hosted the the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

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All these events are reflected in the flag of Chicago.

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The most famous son of Illinois is Abraham Lincoln. The above is the deathbed of the president after he was fatally shot in Washington DC. Suanne and I visited the Ford Theatre and The House Where Lincoln Died just a couple of years ago.

The deathbed in the house where Abraham Lincoln died is just a replica. The real deathbed had been shipped to Chicago and the one above in the Chicago History Museum is the actual bed.

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OK, let’s talk about food. Chicago food.

Other than the deep dish pizza, the Chicago Hot Dog is what the city is famous for. I first had the Chicago Style Hot Dog in the early days of chowtimes. It is in fact one of the first few posts I had written.

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One thing that defines the Chicago Style Hot Dog is the absence of … ketchup. Oh yeah, absolutely no ketchup at all. If you put in ketchup, it is no longer the Chicago Style Hot Dog.

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Of course, there is the Wrigley’s Spearmint. That is why the most famous baseball stadium in Chicago and the home of the Chicago Cubs is called the Wrigley Field.

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These other food apparently also originated from Chicago. Interesting.

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The Weber Kettle Grill is also from Illinois. This classic design makes this the best charcoal grill and is copied the world over. Any self-respecting BBQ buff must first learn how to use this grill. Gas grills? Hah!

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Two of the nations biggest retailers came from Chicago. Back in the early part of last century, Sears and Montgomery Ward reigns supreme. Today, the Montgomery Ward name is no more and Sears is on a downhill. Instead we have Wal-mart and Target as the king of the hill.

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Montgomery Ward was the biggest mail order in the world during its hey days. There are learnings that if a company sits on its laurels and does not reinvent itself, it will become irrelevant. If only they latched on quick enough on the online ordering business when the internet started becoming prominent.

But we know … companies will go through a lifecycle. It will get so big that it will be hard to change fast enough and be competitive. Not too long ago, the small and nimble Microsoft was running riots around the big lumbering IBM. Microsoft picked off one competitor at a time. Remember Multiplan, Lotus 123, dBase, WordPerfect, Netscape? Today, Microsoft is like the lumbering IBM giant and we have Google doing the same to Microsoft. Companies will never learn. Companies will grow, get too big and they will eventually disappear.

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Another major display in the museum is the first car used on the famous “L” transit. The above is “Car No. 1” … restored to its original conditions.

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The car’s interior features include mahogany and rattan seats and etched glass windows.

These are but a few of the exhibits found in the Chicago History Museum.

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