What is the origin of Chicago's old title: "The Second City"? Did the title originate soon after the Chicago Fire in 1871, because it was a new rebuilt second city; or,in comparing it to New York city's population or prestige, Chicago was considered only second to New York city?
I don't know whether the phrase "Second City" was used earlier, but it was the name given to the improvisionational comedy group that was formed by some of the players from Hyde Park's The Compass Players in around 1959. Both Second City and Compass Players are detailed on Wikipedia.
I've just been looking through the [i]Tribune[/i] archives. Though the term is used for statistical references as early as 1888, and for the improv group from its founding, the first use as an appelation or nickname isn't until [b]1965[/b]. A.J. Liebling's 1952 book [i]The Second City[/i] is usually [url=http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/410156.html]given as the source[/url] of this usage.
Paul Petraitis Wrote:
> Perry Duis, the dean of chicago historians in his
> intro to The Gem Of The Prairie sites Liebling's
> book as the source as well and I never argue with
> Professor Duis!
--I took one of Prof. Duis' classes at UIC back in the 80's. He's a fountain of Chicagoana.
The name "Second City" actually comes from the rebuilding of the city after the Chicago Fire. Read any well researched history of Chicago and the area, (and I apologize, but do not have any references handy), and it will tell you the name is applied to the new or second city which was rebuilt. The first city, mostly wood and timber, was destroyed (about 80%, I am guessing) save for the old water tower on Michigan Avenue.
For decades, Chicago was second to New York in city population rankings and New Yorker magazine writer Abbott J. Liebling used the term as a title for his 1950s tongue-in-cheek book titled, Chicago: The Second City. The book was not well received. Today, Chicago is actually the third largest city in the United States following New York and Los Angeles.
Liebling, however, did not originate the Chicago nickname. Chicago was often referred to as the “second city” during the battle with New York as the selection for the site of the Columbian Exposition. At that time Chicago annexed a large portion of the south side and her population was approaching New York levels. New York responded by combining all five boroughs and never looked back. Los Angeles surpassed Chicago’s in 1984.
But, there is another way of looking at the term. Chicago burned in 1871 and it provided the residents an opportunity to build a new and better constructed city – this time, not of wood. To Chicagoans, the Great Fire meant a “do-over.” Thus, Chicago today, is the second city, the first being pre-fire. And, many historians separate Chicago’s history into pre and post fire. In Mayer’s and Wade’s 1969 The Growth of a Metropolis, a chapter was entitled “The Second City” enforcing this theory.
So when I said actually in my last post, I should have said plausably. It might be one of many explanations. I am fond of this one, so I sort of sided with it.
No offense to anyone meant. :-)
To the best of my knowledge, Leibling's book was the first to use the term widely (there may be previous uses, but it never caught on as much until after Leibling published his book). Shortly thereafter, a newly-formed improv comedy group in Chicago glommed onto the name for themselves, which spread the term to even wider audiences.
We were the 2nd largest city for nearly a century, so the population level makes more sense to me. Around 1871, we were just an average size city, be if there was no fire, we would be like Milwaukee or Cleveland, instead.