August 10, 2009
Why is Chicago Called the "Second City?"
Chicago is often referred to as "the second city," but to its citizens, it is second to none.
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.
But, I believe 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, in my opinion, is the second city, the first being pre-fire. And, many historians separate Chicago's history into pre and post fire.
Recommended reading: The 1890 Census and "Second City" (Chicago Tribune)