Accessibility links

Breaking News

THIS IS AMERICA - October 1, 2001: Chicago - 2001-09-28


Chicago, Illinois, is a major center of business and the arts. Almost three-million people of many races and ethnic groups live in this middle western city. I'm Shirley Griffith.


And I’m Sarah Long. Today we visit the city with the third largest population in the United States on our VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.



Steel factories and tall oil storage containers are part of the Chicago skyline. Hills of iron and limestone lie along many roads, looking like small mountains. Huge containers of grain appear to reach for the clouds. Smoke rises from many factories.

Chicago, however, offers much more than heavy industry. It is also a center of music, art, theater and museums. It has hundreds of churches, temples, mosques and other religious centers. The city’s many parks offer rest, games and sports among crowded business and living areas.

People of many races and ethnic groups have settled in Chicago. Some people say that more Polish people live in the city than in Warsaw. Germans, Irish, Italians, Ukrainians, Slovaks and Russians live in the city. So do Pakistanis, Indians, Afghanis , Chinese and Koreans. An increasing number of people from Spanish-speaking countries have moved to Chicago in recent years.


Chicago extends about forty kilometers along the southwest shores of Lake Michigan. The lake is the largest body of fresh water in the United States. Some of the city’s most valuable property lies along the lake. In some areas tall buildings of metal and glass seem to grow along shore.

Historians believe American Indians lived around the lake five-thousand years ago. Explorers probably reached the area during the Sixteen-Hundreds. A black trader named Jean Baptiste Point du Sable established a trading center along the Chicago River in the late Seventeen-Hundreds. This business became the center of a permanent settlement of the city. By Eighteen-Seventy-One, hundreds of thousands of people had settled in Chicago.


In October, Eighteen-Seventy-One, the Great Chicago Fire almost completely destroyed the city. The fire spread quickly and burned for twenty-four hours. Thousands of people fled into Lake Michigan. At least three-hundred died. Chicago was left in ashes.

The city soon rose from the ashes. Chicago continued to grow. It now covers more than five-hundred-ninety square kilometers of land.



Chicago is one of America’s busiest ports. It became a seaport when the Saint Lawrence Seaway opened in Nineteen-Fifty-Nine. This seaway links the Great Lakes and the Atlantic waterway.

The lake provides millions of dollars worth of trade and business. It also provides fun. People fish, swim, water-ski and sail in Lake Michigan. During the warm seasons the sails of small boats look like tiny clouds against the blue water.

The roads along Lake Michigan lead to some of Chicago’s most interesting places and events. Visitors can follow the edge of the lake to visit the city.


The Museum of Science and Industry seems a good place to start. This huge white building is along the lake in Jackson Park, on the south side of Chicago.

Two exhibits in the museum are extremely unusual. One is a coal mine, about one-hundred-eighty meters under the building. It demonstrates the mining process

Visitors to the mine learn about mining methods in Nineteen-Thirty-Three and in modern times. A museum official says working conditions have improved. But a trip to the mine makes it clear that the life of a coal miner still is difficult.

The elevator that carries people down into the mine looks like an animal cage. Dark spaces cut out of real coal lie at the bottom. A guide demonstrates the machines that cut the coal. She also shows several devices that miners have used over the years to protect against methane gas. This dangerous gas has caused many deadly mine accidents.


The Museum of Science and Industry also has a German U-boat. This submarine was captured during World War Two. People wait in long lines to walk through the captured submarine, the U-Five-Oh-Five. Sixty German sailors crowded into this extremely hot, noisy undersea boat during World War Two. The fighting ended for the U-Five-Oh-Five crew on a hot afternoon in June, Nineteen-Forty-Four.

The boat was near the coast of French West Africa when the United States Navy ship Guadalcanal seized it. The Americans did not know whether the submarine would explode. A young man from the Chicago area was among the first to enter U-Five-Oh-Five. This was the only time since Eighteen-Fifteen that the American Navy has captured an enemy warship at sea.



Further north along the lake is Grant Park. This area has several points of interest. One is the Field Museum of Natural History. It tells about prehistoric people and animals. It shows the most complete set of bones of a Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur in the world. Nearby is the John G. Shedd Aquarium. It has more than seven-thousand fish and other water animals.

A short distance from the museum and aquarium is the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum. Visitors can see the night skies in the planetarium theater. They say “oooh” as the theater darkens and the stars and planets light up above their heads.


Two lion statues await visitors on the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago, also on the lakefront in Grant Park. The lions seem to invite people to see the many permanent collections inside. Art experts especially praise the exhibit of Chinese, Japanese and Korean art. Some of these sculptures and other objects were made thousands of years ago.

Officials of the Art Institute of Chicago also plan temporary exhibits. For example, works of Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh are being shown until January. The exhibit examines their private lives as well their art.



Thousands of people recently listened to classical music under the stars in Grant Park. People in the Petrillo Band Shell heard music including “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky. Such programs are free. So are Chicago Jazz Festival programs. This world famous concert series takes place each year. Dave Brubeck, the Greg Osby Quartet and the Salty Dogs were among the most recent performers.

Hundreds of other festivals are held in Chicago each year. These events take place at all seasons. Some are musical events, like the jazz festival. Others are ethnic or artistic celebrations.


One of the largest yearly festivals is called “Rock the River.” It takes place in late summer. Most of its events are held on Michigan Avenue, on the Chicago River near the lake. Visitors to the most recent festival heard rock music and watched Irish dancing. They ate Chinese food and watched Chinese boats race on the river.

The Chicago River is unusual. It has flowed backwards for more than a century. In Nineteen-Hundred, engineers changed its natural flow. They did this to prevent wastes from getting into Lake Michigan. The lake supplies the city’s water.



Visitors to Chicago usually enjoy walking down Michigan Avenue. This street has some of the city’s best known stores, hotels and businesses. People also can walk a short distance west from the avenue to see other major sights of the city.

The central downtown area of Chicago is called the Loop. The Chicago Transit Authority offers free tours of the Loop on its trains. The name “Loop” comes from the way these trains travel. They operate above the ground in a shape that is partly a circle, or a loop.

The trains stop at LaSalle Street, Chicago’s financial center. That area contains the Chicago Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board of Trade and large banks. In the Bank One Plaza, people like to rest beside walls of colorful works by artist Marc Chagall.


Chicago also has a sculpture by artist Pablo Picasso. The steel structure stands in the government center. The center is called Richard J. Daley Plaza. The name honors the nationally known politician who served as the city’s mayor for more than twenty years.

Richard J. Daley died in Nineteen-Seventy-Six. One of Mayor Daley’s sons has carried on the family tradition. Richard M. Daley is now mayor of Chicago.

The Picasso sculpture in the Rihard J. Daley plaza stands eighteen meters tall. It weighs many tons. It looks huge. Still, perhaps it is just the right size for Chicago, a city of so many people and so many strengths.



This VOA Special English program was written by Jerilyn Watson. I’m Shirley Griffith.


And I’m Sarah Long. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.