In May of 1893 the fairgrounds to the World's Columbian Exposition opened to the public. This significant event over one hundred years ago is just one of the many historic milestones represented on Chicago's flag. The Chicago flag isn't just a beautiful representation of the city, but a flag rich in symbolism and history.
We're just a little bit obsessed with it. From street art (see the Pilsen mural below on 16th Street) to body art (mixology master Charles Joly is just one of many sporting a Chicago flag tattoo), you'll find the Chicago flag proudly plastered all around the city.
Let's take a look at the Chicago flag, starting with the stripes.
There are five stripes on the Chicago flag: three white and two blue. The white stripes on the Chicago flag refer to the different distinct sides of the city: the North, West, and South sides. The blue stripes refer to Chicago's two main bodies of water: Lake Michigan and the Chicago River.
Four stars = four historic events.
The most interesting symbolism lies in the four red stars of the Chicago flag.
- The first star on Chicago's flag represents Fort Dearborn, a United States fort that was built alongside the Chicago River, before Chicago was called Chicago.
- The second star on Chicago's flag represents the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, a devastating event for Chicago residents of the time that essentially cleaned the slate in terms of Chicago buildings and architecture. There are few neighborhoods that were unaffected, and the buildings that Chicago is best known for today were, for the most part, built after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
- The third star on the Chicago flag represents the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 (also known as a World's Fair). Erik Larson's book The Devil in the White City brought new life to this incredible event and undertaking by famous Chicago architect Daniel Burnham. At the same point in history (and the other focus of the book), another big part of Chicago history was in the making — the infamous killer H.H. Holmes was terrorizing victims in his creepy and strange hotel.
- The fourth and final star on the Chicago flag represents the Century of Progress Exposition (another World's Fair) in 1933-1934.
Every once in awhile, someone proposes that a fifth star be added to the Chicago flag for one reason or another. DNAinfo shares the story of finding a 5 star Chicago flag that shouldn't exist and the history behind the many different proposals for adding a 5th star. To this day, none have seemed important enough to add to a flag that's already rich in historical symbolism.
Seeing the stars on even another level.
Notice also that the stars on the Chicago flag are 6-pointed. It's known that 5-pointed stars are used to represent sovereign states. The 6-pointed stars are used on Chicago's flag to represent specific things relating to each of the stars:
- Fort Dearborn: transportation, labor, commerce, finance, populousness, and salubrity.
- The Great Chicago Fire of 1871: the virtues of religion, education, aesthetics, justice, beneficence, and civic pride.
- World Columbian Exposition of 1893: political entities Chicago has belonged to and the flags that have flown over the area: France 1693, Great Britain 1763, Virginia 1778, the Northwest Territory 1798, Indiana Territory 1802, and Illinois 1818.
- Century of Progress Exposition: bragging rights: the United States' 2nd Largest City (became 3rd largest in 1990 census when passed by L.A.), Chicago's Latin Motto ("Urbs in horto" — City in a Garden), Chicago's "I Will" Motto, Great Central Marketplace, Wonder City, Convention City.
Who would've thought that there would be so much to decipher in what appears to be a simple flag?
Now, take home a flag of your own!
You'll find the Chicago flag emblazoned on shirts, tote bags, shot glasses, dog collars... you name it! Bring a piece of Chicago history home with you. Try the shops at the Chicago Architecture Foundation or Chicago History Museum for the perfect souvenir.