Why “Chicagoland”

WBEZ’s Curious City looks into “Chicagoland,” the term, its origins, purpose, and definition—its boundaries.

Chicago Tribune publisher Robert R. “Colonel” McCormick commissioned James O’Donnell Bennett to write a series of Chicago region travel articles.

That’s how the word made its first appearance nearly 100 years ago in the July 27, 1926 edition of the Chicago Tribune. Across the front page was a story by O’Donnell Bennett titled “Chicagoland’s Shrines: A Tour of Discoveries.”

The subhed for that first story was notably “Our Own Midwest, Scenic and Historic, Revealed.” Chicagoland was the Midwest with Chicago at its center, a Tribune-defined region Tribune readers identified with or would-be Tribune readers wanted to identify with, a region invented and boosted to sell newspapers.

Curious City argues that this early Chicagoland major gave way over time to a more localized, more suburbanized, near-Chicago Chicagoland minor—even though one of their own exhibits, the fantastic Chicago Tribune 1927 Special Detailed Road Map of Chicagoland, shows that the Chicagoland minor existed alongside the Chicagoland major essentially from the very start. The point stands, though, the the idea of “Chicagoland” being a term that could be applied to the Midwest has largely faded.

I’ve generally disliked the term, but I can see its usefulness as potential a way for us suburbanites to accurately express where we’re from without saying we’re “from Chicago”—a geographic rounding or exaggeration that drives actual Chicagoans crazy.