The Chicago Flag

chicago city flag

Want a way to bolster your general Chicago knowledge? Sure, most people know the story about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, but the meanings behind the Chicago flag are more impressive to slip into conversations.

Originally designed in 1917, the flag’s simple design may appear unimaginative at first glance, however, the significance of the stars and stripes contains a lot of historic Chicago information.

Two horizontal blue stripes represent the major waterways crucial to Chicago. The top blue stripe stands for Lake Michigan and the North branch of the Chicago River. The bottom blue stripe conversely represents the South branch of the Chicago River and the Great Canal.

The three white stripes meanwhile are symbolic of the different sections of the city: the top stripe represents the North side, the center is for the West side, and the bottom is for the South side. The center stripe is widest because the West side is the largest section of the city. Clever, huh?

When the flag made its debut, the four red stars in the middle were only two; however, the City Council has since voted to add more to signify important historical events and places. The four stars not only embody various meanings themselves, but the six points on each star also represent something as well. That’s a lot of symbolism; 24 different parts of Chicago are depicted on the flag.

The first star stands for Fort Dearborn, a United States military fort built on the Chicago River in 1803. The six points on this star represent: transportation, labor, commerce, finance, populousness, and salubrity (or, favorable health). This star was added to the flag in 1939.

The second star, one of the originals, stands for the Chicago Fire that decimated the city in 1871. Its six points represent: religion, education, esthetics, justice, benevolence, and civic pride.

The third star, the other original from 1917, stands for the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. This World’s Fair celebrated Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the new world and garnered 26 million visitors. The six stars represent the history of Chicago: France-1693, Great Britain-1763, Virginia-1778, Northwest Territory-1798, Indian Territory-1802, and Illinois Statehood-1818.

Finally, the fourth red star represents the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933 (the star joined the flag the same year). This World’s Fair celebrated Chicago’s centennial. The points on the star signify: World’s Third Largest City, City’s Latin motto (“urbs in horto,” or “city in a garden”), Chicago’s “I Will” motto, Great Central Market, Wonder City, and Convention City.

The Chicago City Council discussed adding a possible fifth star to the flag if chosen to host the 2016 Olympics, but scrapped the idea when Rio de Janeiro got the nod instead. For now the flag remains the same as it was in 1939.

Jamie Hansen

About Jamie Hansen

I like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. And I still love reading newspapers. After growing up in the suburbs I took a four-year Chicago hiatus to the University of Iowa where I majored in journalism and English. Now I’m back and ready to help you make the most of the Windy City. As Kanye says, I’m a Chicagoan until Chicago ends… but I wouldn’t mind a vacation home in Florida.

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