The way the wind blows

October 30, 2012

Rick Kogan

It is windy today and so you will hear, again and again, “they don’t call us the Windy City for nothing.”

But it is not because of the wind.

The specific origin of this Windy City moniker is ever in shadows. But here's one story.

During the competition to host the world's Columbian Exposition that would mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America, editor Charles Dana in his New York Sun, commenting on the promises our upstart city was making, wrote, "Don't pay any attention to the nonsensical claims of that windy city. Its people couldn't build a World's Fair even if they won it."

We did, of course, build that World's Fair in 1893.

But we have never been able to shake that “windy city” tag, even though 14 U.S. cities have higher average wind speeds than Chicago's 10.4 mph.

Boston's is higher, with a 12.5 mph average. Honolulu is higher, with 11.3 mph average. Even Milwaukee's windier than we are, with an 11.5 mph average.

The Windy City…we have other, colorful nicknames: We are the Second City. We are the city of the big shoulders. We are the city that works…the city on the make.

But Windy City is the most frequently employed—and part of the reason is newspapers. In the last couple of years, writers have used the term hundreds of times, offering such sentences as this, last week: “Before Chicago was developed in the middle of a marshy nowhere, the Windy City was home to coyotes
and other large mammals.”

Headline writers too: Life in the Windy City, Windy City’s got talent. A recent Tribune event was labeled Windy City White House.

There is another reason the phrase remains so deeply embedded. It is that so many businesses have eagerly adopted it.

There have been dozens over the decades, from Windy City Air to Windy City 2-Steppers. Some of my favorites are Windy City Cat Sitters, Windy City Gyros II, Windy City Ink & Iron, Windy City Foam and Windy City Comics. There is a Windy City Wrestling Hotline. There is a Windy City Car Wash, but it should not be confused with Windy City Car Wash & Detailing.

For those of you out and about today, remember this: the highest recorded wind speed in Chicago was clocked in the downtown area at 87 mph, way back on February 12, 1894.