Chicago was hardly the gleaming, modern metropolis it is today in the mid-nineteenth century. The city was constructed on a marsh and was about 4 feet above Lake Michigan at most. The powers that be hadn't given much attention to how to guarantee that water and sewage were adequately drained. There were no sewers!
The population of Chicago was less than 500 people in 1851, but it had grown to more than 200,000 by the end of the 19th century.
Almost 16 million visitors visit Chicago's O'Hare International Airport each year. If you include its smaller counterparts, such as Midway and William Morris, the total number of passengers increases to over 40 million.
Currently, there are nine airports within 30 minutes' drive of downtown Chicago. Two of them (O'Hare and Midway) account for nearly half of all flights arriving and departing from the city.
Most other large cities across the country are also building new airports, but only in Chicago do people complain about too many choices.
In fact, some experts believe that Chicago could one day have as many as two dozen major airports, which would be too many for the industry to handle.
But we'll never know because nobody can decide what purpose any of these places should serve.
Chicago started on a mission to actually raise itself out of the dirt in the middle of the nineteenth century. Because the low-lying city's streets could not drain, they created impenetrable bogs. Chicago concluded that the most sensible option was to elevate the entire goddamn city by 4 to 14 feet. This would allow for better drainage and flood control and create new opportunities for development.
When it was all said and done, the city was raised and remains the highest in the US. Building techniques and materials had improved enough that houses were now affordable to average Americans. Wallboard, hot air balloons, and elevator technology were all introduced to America in Chicago.
Also worth mentioning is that Chicago has always been about progress. If something isn't working, then someone will go ahead and fix it. This includes everything from industrial infrastructure to public services. There is never any delay when it comes to fixing things in Chicago because there is always something else that needs to be fixed first. This attitude has served the city well with regard to improvement and innovation.
In addition to all this progressiveness, Chicago has always been a welcoming place for immigrants from around the world. This began as early as 1848 with its founding by former Illinois residents who believed that a new country needed a new capital. Today, more than 200 different languages are spoken in homes across the city.
Finally, Chicago is a big city with small town sensibilities.
Unlike most other cities, Chicago is just a few feet above Lake Michigan's water level. Because water runs downward, creating a system that effectively drains all of Chicago's rainfall and sewage would need a lot of excavating. The city's layout suggests it was built on top of an older site, because there are holes in the ground where buildings used to be. Some of these holes are very old—one can see them today in downtown streets—and others were filled with rubbish that was later removed.
In fact, Chicago was probably built on top of several other cities that were already inhabited when it first started growing around 1836. Evidence of this can be seen in the town's layout: areas of the city that were originally islands now connect to the main land, and some of these areas are much older than others. Also, parts of Chicago's lakefront have been developed over time, but there are still large patches of forest and open space left over from when they were settlements first. One of these early sites is now called "Honeymoon Island," since there are actually two sets of remains found there: those of a village dating back to about 1250 and those of a new settlement that grew up around 1780.
The city has grown steadily since then, incorporating more and more area until now it covers 472 square miles (1220 km2).