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Why is Chicago called the Windy City?

Rahul Pandita Mar 12, 2019
Many theories explain the origin of Chicago's nickname. Some say it is due to the intermittent wind blowing off Lake Michigan, while others say it was a result of Chicago's intense rivalry with Cincinnati. Here are few theories to understand true origin of the nickname.
Windy (adjective) : 1. marked by strong wind or by more wind than usual; 2. lacking substance
Chicago's moniker 'Windy City' may symbolize its vicinity to Lake Michigan, but there are other cities in the US that beat Chicago hands down as far as windiness is concerned. Yes, Chicago isn't the windiest city in America; in fact, it doesn't even come close to justify the sobriquet that was bestowed upon it some 150 years ago.
Etymologists, historians, journalists, etc. - all have had a go at explaining the true origin of Chicago's nickname, but even after all these years, answers remain ambiguous.

While some claim Chicago was indeed windy enough for late 19th-century Chicagoans, others believe the byname was a veiled attack on the city's loquacious politicians of that time.
One theory even suggests that the epithet was given to Chicago by a New York journalist, when both Chicago and New York were competing to host a major world fair. And last, but not the least, we have the theory of an etymologist, who works as a parking ticket judge in the day, and gets down to find the true origins of popular words in the night.
According to his theory, Chicago's 'windy' label was created by Cincinnati, with which it competed fiercely to become the meatpacking hub of the US.

Giving every theory its due respect is something that we can afford, so let's get started on sleuthing Chicago's 'Windy' label.

How Chicago Became the Windy City: A Few Theories


Some observers are of the belief that Chicago might have really got the name because of the cool breeze that comes off Lake Michigan, and swirls into the innards of the city.
Many US states experienced hot and humid summers, but the rejuvenating air set Chicago apart, and made exasperated locals and tourists dub the city 'Windy'. The byname stuck and spread through word-of-mouth, making Chicago the 'Windy City' of US.


The Chicago of lateĀ 19th century was known for its garrulous politicians.
Midwest states intensely competed each other to lure potential investors. The verbose efforts of Chicago's politicians in promoting their city made their detractors label them as 'windy' - a metaphor for 'being hollow', or a 'bragger'. Many, including the Chicago Public Library, believe that this was indeed the reason for Chicago's nickname.


Some of the best US cities proposed to host the 400th anniversary celebrations of Christopher Columbus' discovery of the New World. Each city lobbied hard to become the host of the event, but the rivalry was particularly intense between the cities of New York and Chicago.
Charles Dana, who was a journalist with the New York Sun, dismissed Chicago's claim by allegedly writing, "Don't pay any attention to the nonsensical claims of that windy city. Its people could not build a World's Fair even if they won it."
Although Chicago eventually won the fight to become the host of the Fair, and did a good job of hosting it, Dana's remarks paved the way for popularizing Chicago's new moniker.
The problem with accepting the Charles Dana theory is there has been no conclusive evidence that Dana indeed wrote those disparaging lines, as nobody has produced the alleged editorial, or mentioned the date on which it was published. Many credit Charles Dana for coming up with the nickname, it can be that he merely popularized an already existing tag.

Most Plausible Theory

Barry Popik, one of America's leading etymologists, believes that the label 'Windy City' was coined long before Charles Dana's alleged editorial. He believes a number of newspapers had mentioned Chicago as a 'Windy City'.
Cincinnati and Chicago were important meatpacking hubs, and the former was colloquially known as 'Porkopolis' since 1843. In the early 1860s, Chicago began to take the lead in this sector, becoming the new 'Porkopolis' of the US. Chicago didn't stop at that, it created its baseball team and named it 'White Stockings' to rival the Cincinnati Red Stockings.
As a result of all this, the Cincinnati press went after Chicago, spoofing it in their editorials, and often making fun of the city for trying to emulate Cincinnati. Popik believes this tirade by the Cincinnati press led to the label 'Windy City'.
As we can see from the above-mentioned theories, the credit for Chicago's windy label shouldn't go to Lake Michigan, but to the cities it competed with, particularly Cincinnati and New York.
The nickname, apparently, was a result of the banter competitors have with each other, and the important thing is, it was taken in good humor by everyone; that's the reason the name stuck and is used even today.