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It’s the largest city in Illinois and the third-most populated city in the whole of the United States, but how well do you really know the Windy City? From the world’s first skyscraper to the home of the twinkie, here are a few interesting facts about Chicago that might surprise you.

Interesting facts about Chicago

1. Chicago has the world’s only backward-flowing river

The Chicago River is actually a whole system of rivers and canals measuring a little over 156 miles (251 km). In 1887, the Illinois General Assembly decided to reverse the flow of the Chicago River by taking water from Lake Michigan and discharging it into the Mississippi River watershed. They hoped this would reduce rates of waterborne diseases caused by water contamination.  Completed in 1900, the project reversed the main stem and South Branch of the river using canal locks and increasing flow. It’s been billed as the “Civil Engineering Moment of the Millenium”.

3 day itinerary Chicago

2. Chicago has the most railroads in America

Chicago is nicknamed the “Railroad Capital” for good reason – it has more major railroads than any other city in the United States. Around 1,300 trains carry passengers and goods across the city daily.

It also has the country’s second-largest public transport system, operating more than 450 million bus and train rides per year.

3. The world’s first skyscraper was built in Chicago

Chicago’s Home Insurance Building was the world’s first skyscraper. William LeBaron Jenney designed the structure in 1885. Located on the corner of Adams and LaSalle Streets, the skyscraper originally had ten stories and reached 138-feet high. In 1890, authorities added two additional floors. By the time New York built its first steel-frame skyscraper, Chicago already had five.

While Chicago may no longer claim the world’s tallest building, it does boast the world’s tallest building designed by a woman. The 82-storey Aqua is the tallest free-standing structure in the world built by a female architect. Jeanne Gang designed the soaring skyscraper, which is located in downtown Chicago. The mostly residential tower features gardens, gazebos, pools, hot tubs, and a running track.

interesting facts about Chicago
Chicago Skyline

4. Route 66 starts in Chicago

America’s most famous road starts in Chicago. Built in 1926 and known as “The Mother Road”, this historic route stretches all the way from Illinois to Los Angeles. The road originally started on Jackson Boulevard at Michigan Avenue, but the starting point is now Jackson Boulevard at Lake Shore Drive. The road was the United States’ first continuous stretch of paved highway.

interesting facts about Chicago

5. The twinkie was born in Chicago

America’s favorite cream-filled pastry was invented in Chicago in 1930. Jimmy Dewar, a Hostess Brands Manager, invented the sweet snack after seeing an advert for Twinkle Toe Shoes.

Other gastronomic claims to fame also include the deep-dish pizza, invented in the 1940s, and the chocolate brownie, invented by the wife of millionaire Potter Palmer to serve at the World Trade Fair in 1893. The city is also renowned for its Chicago-style hot dogs. There are more than 2,000 hot dog stands dotted across the city.

Editorial credit: calimedia / Shutterstock.com

6. Chicago is home to nearly 615 parks

Chicago might be synonymous with soaring skyscrapers and museums, but it’s much greener than most people give it credit for. In fact, its motto urbs in horto (city in a garden) is a reference to its fantastic park system. As well as over 600 parks, it also boasts dozens of nature reserves and hundreds of hiking trails, ranging from leisurely strolls to hardcore hikes. The Chicago Lakefront Trail offers 18-miles of superstar Lake Michigan views, while Deer Grove offers up 2,000-acres of wetlands, prairies and dense woodlands in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. That’s just the start of it too.

Interested in hiking in the Windy City? Check out the seven best walks in Chicago. 

best walks in Chicago

7. You probably don’t know why Chicago is called the Windy City

Chicago is a reasonably windy city, but that’s not how it got its moniker. In fact, a New York Sun reporter named Charles A. Dana coined the term in 1893 while Chicago and New York went head to head to host the World Fair. He described the city’s politicians as “full of hot air”. The Cincinnati Enquirer used the phrase to describe a tornado, as well as a slight against local politicians “full of wind”. The rest, as they say, is history. The city is also described as “The Second City”, “Chi-town” and “The City of Big Shoulders”.

interesting facts about Chicago