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The Historie of Chicago is full of events and political or other happenings. This brochure was not created to mention all of them, but to give an overview about a few important and interesting ones, which were mostly bad for the inhabitans of Chicago.

So it will be reported about the Great Fire, which destroyed the downtown of Chicago and it will be informed about the Prohibition, its reasons, its consequences, its end and what attitudes the people had during this time. Furthermore many riots and strikes will be mentioned in this folder. The latest happening which will be talked about is The Democratic Convention of 1968, after which the “Chicago Seven” were impeached.

It was not my intention to list up every little point by writing about this facts. The mission of this folder constitutes making people curious about more. Chicago is a modern and beautiful city, in spite of the sad events mentioned in this folder. It is worth visitting Chicago yourself and getting to know more to receive an own point of view.


The Great Fire

On October 8th to October 10th an enourmous fire destroyed an big part of Chicago. The “Great Fire” is even said to be bigger as the fire in Moscow of 1812 was, when Napoleon had been there.

Nearly 300 000 people lost their home, but “only” 300 people died.

There are many theories about how and where the fire originated:
A legend says that all this was caused by a cow bowling over a lantern in the barn of a lady called Catherine O’Leary. She was a an immigrated Catholic woman and so the ideal scapegoat.
Nevertheless historians guess, that the fire was caused by Daniel “Pegleg” Sullivan, who reported about the fire first. A short time before he died, he admitted to be the one to blame for this disaster. Probably he tried to steal milk in Catherine O’Leary’s barn dropping his lantern.
Another theorie says that a comet lighted the fire. This idea was invented, because two other towns burned at the same time: Peshtigo, Wisconsin and Holland, Michigan.

Reasons for the bigness of this fire were a very dry period, a lack of water, wooden houses and sidewalks, the polluted Chicago River, which was on fire itself, and a strong wind.

At least there is one positive thing to point out about the Great Fire: Many architects came to Chicago creating a modern downtown of scyscrapers and other modern buildings. Many Problems of the past could be fixed. In 1880 the “reborn” town had already over 500000 residents.

The Haymarket Square Riot

On May 1st , 1886 a big riot started in Chicago. It was initiated by labor unions to enforce a reduction of the daily working time from 12 to 8 hours.

This event is the origin of the international May Day observances. Albert Parsons, head of the Chicago Knights of Labor, with his wife Lucy Parsons and two children led 80,000 people down Michigan Avenue. This is regarded as the first May Day Parade.

On May 3 striking workers met near the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. plant. The Chicago police intervened and attacked the strikers, killing two. Several others were wounded and this sparked outrage in the city’s working community.

In response to the McCormick killings, prominent anarchists like August Spies created flyers with the call for revenge.The situation escalated when on May 4th a bomb was thrown into the crowd. 20 People died, 8 of them were police men. Historians guess, that it was done by an anarchist, because many of them were speakers on this day.

After the Riot and the massacre 8 man were impeached, because they made the riot start and so they had been blamed for the 20 dead people.

The Pullman Strike

The Pullman Strike occurred when 50,000 workers of the Pullman Palace Car Company went on a strike in Illinois on May 11th , 1894

Pullman’s workers lived in a “company town” where everything was owned by the corporation, including their housing and local store. The Pullman Company controlled every aspect of their lives, and practiced “debt slavery”, that means the money, that the workers earned, was automatically deducted from their paychecks.

In the year 1890, as the business ran badly, the company cut the wages of his workers without an equivalent decrease or other advantages. These joined the American Railway Union (ARU), led by Eugene V. Debs, and decided to stage a strike.

The Progression of the strike was very good and even lead to a lockout (workers make other employees stop their work).
With a historic use of an injunction, the strike was broken up by United States Marshals and some 2,000 United States Army troops, commanded by Nelson Miles. He as sent in by President Grover Cleveland on the basis that the strike interfered with the delivery of U.S. Mail. 13 striking workers were killed and 57 wounded.

The Race Riot of 1919

Unfortunately Chicago developed to a city, which was known as cauldron of specifically “racial” conflicts and violence.

Chicago’s most famous race riot occurred between July 27th and August 3rd , 1919. The violence was precipitated by the drowning of an African American teenager. Stone throwing blacks and whites on the beach prevented the boy from coming ashore safely.

Soon, white and black people, especially in the residential areas in the south around the stockyards, engaged in a seven-day orgy of shootings, fire raising, and beatings that resulted in the deaths of 15 whites and 23 blacks with an additional 537 injured (342 black, 195 white). The police force, were powerless.They were understaffed and they had a open sympathy with the white rioters. Only a long-delayed intervention of the state militia stopped the violence, and heavenly intervention in the form of heavy rain was probably an important factor as well.


The Prohibition

Prohibition was a period in the 1920s during which the manufacture, transportation, import, export, and sale of alcoholic beverages were restricted or illegal.

It all began with the Eighteenth Amendment, which was followed by the National Prohibition, or the Volstead Act. This act set up guidelines for enforcements and determined that alcohol is only allowed for medicine. Prohibition was introduced to reduce the consumption of alcohol, seen by some as the devil’s advocate, and thereby reduce crime, poverty, death rates, and improve the economy and the quality of life.

In spite of this plans the opposite was accomplished. Many people smuggled liquor from oversees and Canada, stole it from government warehouses, or produced it on their own. There were also illegal speakeasies which replaced saloons after the start of prohibition. Furthermore, the illegal liquor business fell under the control of organized gangs, which overpowered most of the authorities.

As it can be seen in th graphics above most people ignored the law and went on drinking alcohol. The biggest amount of alcohol were taken by hard liquors, because beer and other drinks with a low percentage of alcohol were more difficult to smuggle and brought to less money for the gangs.

If it is talked about gangs and crime during the Prohibition, one name is strictly connected with Chicago: Al Capone.

Alphonse Gabriel Capone was an infamous American gangster in the 1920s and 1930s moving to Chicago and becoming Chicago’s most notorious crime figure. His business branches were selling alcohol, illegal game of hazard and Prostitution. He was the first criminal who did money laundering by running a laundrette. Capone’s downfall occurred in 1931 when he was indicted and convicted by the federal government for income tax evasion.

It is obvious that the Prohibition, a “noble experiment”, was not so successful and a miserable failure on all accounts. It missed all targets it wantet to pursue and damaged the people and society that was meant to help.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

The infamous St. Valentine’s Day massacre occurred on February 14th , 1929 on Chicago’s North Side. It was the result of a dispute during the Prohibition between Al Capone’s South Side Italian Gang and Bugs Moran’s North Side Irish-German Gang.

The massacre was part of a plan by Capone’s gang member “Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn” to kill Bugs Moran in order to eliminate the competition. It also was a revenge for an earlier (and obviously unsuccessful) attempt on McGurn’s life by two gang members of Moran.

The plan was to lure Moran to the garage of the S-M-C Cartage Company with promises of bargain bootleg whiskey. McGurn guessed Fred Burke and his team of five would then burst into the building disgused as police officers. When the Moran gang members were disarmed, they should be killed.

Because Capone conveniently was on vacation in Florida at this time, the plan was carried out. But it did not work as planned. Moran was not there. He had seen the approaching police car and left the scene.
At about 10:30 a.m., inside the garage, seven members of Moran’s gang complied with orders by the fake police to line up against the wall. The police were, after all, mostly on the take, and the gang members of Moran had no reason to fear them. Nevertheless they were shot to death.

Although the plan to kill Moran failed, the event did in fact end Capone’s competition on the North side. Because his gang was broken, Moran never challenged Capone again.

The 1968 Democratic Convention

In the summer of 1968, Chicago held the Democratic National Convention from August 26th to August 29th, 1968 for the purposes of choosing the Democratic nominee for the 1968 U.S. presidential election. The decision was particularly difficult for the Democrats that year because of the Vietnam War and the assassination of popular candidate Robert F. Kennedy.

Meanwhile outside from all parts of the nation the youth of America gather to protest against the Democratic members and political powers, and most of all the war in Vietnam.
Lincoln Park for example was host to hundreds of protesters and gatherers.

The mayor of Chicago Richard J. Daley tried to stop these young people by costituting the National guard, and other police enforcement. This led to conflicts and violence.

Some of the more famous protesters, such as Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, and Dave Dellinger known as the “Chicago Eight” (later “Chicago Seven”) were charged with conspiracy in connection with the violence.

The actions in Chicago where considered a large mistake. 1996 was the first time the convention was held in Chicago since the riots in 1968. The year of 1968 was a turning point in America. The youth had ideas different from the generation before them and they wanted a change. America was never the same after that year.
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The historie of Chicago
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