Chicago Flag: A Fascinating City’s History on Display

Chicago city flags waving

Nothing symbolizes pride quite like a flag. Every American smiles to see our nation’s banner flying in front of a house or a school. Sports fans spot their fellow fanatics by the banners in windows and yards.

There is a flag for everyone—flags for causes, countries, and even cities. One of the oldest city flags in the United States is in the City of Chicago. The Chicago flag is a rich example of everything a flag should be—exemplifying the history and pride a city’s residents feel regarding their home.

So, whether you’re a proud native or an enthusiastic transplant, read on to learn more about the history and heritage of your iconic banner.

History

The original Chicago flag was surprisingly designed by a prominent poet, William Rice. In 1915, the current mayor of Chicago decided it was time the city had a Chicago city flag of its own and he appointed a flag committee in the city government. Committee members turned the flag creation into an open public competition.

William Rice was asked to develop the rules for the competition, which he himself ended up winning! There were thousands of entries received, but Rice’s submission stood out and was approved by the city council in April 1917. The original flag has only two red stars in the center white field. Another star was added on 1933, and the fourth in 1939.

City flag of Chicago

Symbolism

There is so much meaning packed into the minimalist design of Chicago’s banner. Each blue and white stripe and each red, six-pointed star tell the story of the geography and the history of one of America’s favorite cities. Get ready for a history lesson, piece by piece.

  • White Stripes: There are three white stripes on the flag that represent the areas of the city: the north, west, and south sides.
  • Blue Stripes: The two blue stripes represent the important bodies of water in the city—Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. The color of blue is sometimes called sky blue or pale blue, but the creator Rice originally described it simply as “the color of water.”
  • First Red Star: The first star on the far left of the field was the last star added to the flag in 1939. It represents Fort Dearborn, the first European settlement in the Chicago area. Each point of the star represents aspects of city life: transportation, commerce, finance, population, and health.
  • Second Red Star: The star second to the left was original to the 1917 design. It is a memorial for the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The fire destroyed nearly the entire city of Chicago. Most people know the story because of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow who is said to have initiated the blaze by knocking over a lantern. Each point of the star reflects virtues of city life: religion, education, aesthetics, justice, public benefit, and civic pride.
  • Third Red Star: This star is also original to the flag and is positioned second to the right. It represents the World’s Fair that was held in Chicago in 1893. Also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, this event commemorated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World. Forty-six different countries built exhibition halls and brought delegates to participate in the five-month-long fair. It was also the first fair with a dedicated area for amusements.

In the spirit of this international event, each point of the star represents a different country or entity that occupied or ruled over Chicago: France in 1693, Great Britain in 1763, Virginia in 1778, the Northwest Territory in 1789, the Indiana Territory in 1802, and Illinois as a territory in 1809—then a state since 1818.

  • Fourth Red Star: The star on the far right was added in 1933 to commemorate the Century of Progress Exposition that was held in 1933 and 1934. This was another world’s fair that celebrated the city of Chicago’s 100th This fair’s theme was science and innovation, and Chicago delivered magnificent scientific innovations at which the whole world marveled.

In this spirit of boastfulness, each point of the star represents a Chicago accolade. First, the city’s status as the United States’ second largest city (though it became the third largest after Los Angeles in 1990). Second and third are the city’s mottos—Urbs in horto or “City in a garden,” and “I Will.” The fourth through sixth points are nicknames the city has garnered: the Great Central Marketplace, Wonder City, and Convention City.

There have been a few times when the city had considered adding a fifth star—when the Chicago Bulls were dominant in the 1990s, for example—but the four-star Chicago flag endures for now.

Chicago city flag waving

Final Thoughts

The history of the City of Chicago flag is interesting, but the passion the flag inspires in the residents of the city is fanatical. There is an entire website dedicated to tattoos of the city flag! There is no doubt that the flag is a prime example of the pride a flag can engender. If you’re a Chicago resident, flying a flag is essential!

Show off your pride for your hometown, or just your favorite city, and hang the Chicago flag on your house.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *