Welcome to Chicago... Go out on the Ledge, if you dare!

Take the Chicago challenge and step outside the tallest building in the western hemisphere and the third tallest in the world! At 1,353 feet in the air, the Ledge’s glass boxes extend out 4.3 feet from Skydeck! Are you brave enough to do it!? Just a couple of inches of glass between you and the ground almost 1500 feet below!

With marquee assets such as America's tallest building, outstanding restaurants, theaters, and museums, Chicago is clearly among the premier visitor destinations in the world.

From the bottom of the sea to the tops of the stars, Chicago has it all on display. Start your adventures on the famous Museum Campus along Lake Michigan. Three world-renowned museums call it home: The Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum, The Field Museum, and The Shedd Aquarium, and all are filled with opportunities to stretch your mind.

For art lovers, the Art Institute of Chicago offers masterpieces from ancient to ultra-modern, and our cultural institutions cover everything from famous historical events to current GLBT issues. We celebrate African American heritage, Jewish tradition, Mexican art, Lithuanian culture, and more. We even have museum dedicated to surgical science.

The City of Chicago covers an area of 60,000 hectares and sits 176 meters (578 feet) above sea level on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan. At 190 km wide and 495 km long, its the 5th largest body of fresh water in the world. The city is traversed by the Chicago and Calumet rivers. Chicago's extensive parklands, including 3,000 hectares of city parks attract an estimated 86 million visitors annually.

As a multicultural city that thrives on the harmony and diversity of its neighborhoods, Chicago today embodies the values of America's heartland-integrity, hard work and community and reflects the ideals in the social fabric of its 77 distinct neighborhoods.

Chicago is recognized across the United States as a very passionate sports town.

Chicago is a leader in reforming public schools, enhancing public safety and security initiatives, providing affordable housing in attractive and economically sound communities, ensuring accessibility for all and fostering, social, economic and environmental sustainability.

Some historical facts:

"It is hopeless for the occasional visitor to try to keep up with Chicago. She outgrows his prophecies faster than he can make them." - Mark Twain, 1883

Chicago was only 46 years old when Mark Twain wrote those words, but it had already grown more than 100-fold, from a small trading post at the mouth of the Chicago River into one of the nation’s largest cities, and it wasn’t about to stop. Over the next 20 years, it would quadruple in population, amazing the rest of the world with its ability to repeatedly reinvent itself.

And it still hasn’t stopped. Today, Chicago has become a global city, a thriving center of international trade and commerce, and a place where people of every nationality come to pursue the American dream.

Early Chicago
Chicago’s first permanent resident was a trader named Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a free black man apparently from Haiti, who came here in the late 1770s. In 1795, the U.S. government built Fort Dearborn at what is now the corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive (look for the bronze markers in the pavement). It was burned to the ground by Native Americans in 1812, rebuilt and demolished in 1857.

A Trading Center
Incorporated as a city in 1837, Chicago was ideally situated to take advantage of the trading possibilities created by the nation’s westward expansion. The completion of the Illinois & Michigan Canal in 1848 created a water link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, but the canal was soon rendered obsolete by railroads. Today, 50 percent of U.S. rail freight continues to pass through Chicago, even as the city has become the nation’s busiest aviation center, thanks to O’Hare and Midway International airports.

The Great Fire of 1871
As Chicago grew, its residents took heroic measures to keep pace. In the 1850s, they raised many of the streets five to eight feet to install a sewer system – and then raised the buildings, as well. Unfortunately, the buildings, streets and sidewalks were made of wood, and most of them burned to the ground in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The Chicago Fire Department training academy at 558 W. DeKoven St. is on the site of the O’Leary property where the fire began. The Chicago Water Tower and Pumping Station at Michigan and Chicago avenues are among the few buildings to have survived the fire.

"The White City"
Chicago rebuilt quickly. Much of the debris was dumped into Lake Michigan as landfill, forming the underpinnings for what is now Grant Park, Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago. Only 22 years later, Chicago celebrated its comeback by holding the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, with its memorable “White City.” One of the Exposition buildings was rebuilt to become the Museum of Science and Industry. Chicago refused to be discouraged even by the Great Depression. In 1933 and 1934, the city held an equally successful Century of Progress Exposition on Northerly Island.

Hull House
In the half-century following the Great Fire, waves of immigrants came to Chicago to take jobs in the factories and meatpacking plants. Many poor workers and their families found help in settlement houses operated by Jane Addams and her followers. Her Hull House Museum is located at 800 S. Halsted St.

Chicago Firsts
Throughout their city’s history, Chicagoans have demonstrated their ingenuity in matters large and small

• The nation’s first skyscraper, the 10-story, steel-framed Home Insurance Building, was built in 1884 at LaSalle and Adams streets and demolished in 1931.
• When residents were threatened by waterborne illnesses from sewage flowing into Lake Michigan, they reversed the Chicago River in 1900 to make it flow toward the Mississippi.
• Start of the "Historic Route 66" which begins at Grant Park on Adams Street in the front of the Art Institute of Chicago.


Did you know?
  • The world’s largest commercial office building is Merchandise Mart located at 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza
  • The world’s largest illuminated fountain is Buckingham Fountain located in Grant Park
  • The world’s largest public library is Harold Washington Library Center located at 400 S. State St.
  • The Lincoln Park Zoo, one of only three free major zoos in the country, is the country’s oldest public zoo with an attendance of three million people.
  • The world’s tallest masonry building is Monadnock Block located at 53 W. Jackson Blvd.
  • The world’s largest free-admission food festival is the Taste of Chicago located in Grant Park
  • The world’s largest convention facility is McCormick Place located at 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive
  • The world’s highest steeple above ground is at the United Methodist Church, 77 W. Washington St.
  • The world’s busiest futures exchange is the Chicago Board of Trade located at 141 W. Jackson Blvd.
  • The Chicago Park District has the nation’s largest municipal harbor system.
  • The world’s largest stand-alone theater is the Uptown Theatre located at 4810 N. Broadway
  • The world’s largest parochial school system is the Archdiocese of Chicago
  • The world’s largest water filtration plant is the Jardine Water Purification Plant located at 600 E. Grand Ave.
  • Chicago produced the first Roller skates in 1884
  • Chicago produced the first Elevated railway in 1892
  • Chicago produced the first Cracker Jacks in 1893
  • Chicago produced the first Zipper in 1896
  • Chicago produced the first Steel-framed skyscraper in 1885
  • Chicago produced the first Window envelope in 1902
  • Chicago was incorporated as a city in 1837.
  • The "Historic Route 66" begins in Chicago at Grant Park on Adams Street in front of the Art Institute of Chicago.
  • Chicago is home to eleven Fortune 500 companies, while the rest of the metropolitan area hosts an additional 21 Fortune 500 companies.
  • McCormick Place, Chicago’s premier convention center, offers the largest amount of exhibition space in North America (2.2 million square feet).
  • The first Ferris wheel made its debut in Chicago at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Today, Navy Pier is home to a 15-story Ferris wheel, modeled after the original one.
  • The game of 16-inch softball, which is played without gloves, was invented in Chicago.
  • In 1900, Chicago successfully completed a massive and highly innovative engineering project – reversing the flow of the Chicago River so that it emptied into the Mississippi River instead of Lake Michigan.
  • Chicago was one of the first and largest municipalities to require public art as part of the renovation or construction of municipal buildings, with the passage of the Percentage-for-Arts Ordinance in 1978.
  • The Chicago Cultural Center is the first free municipal cultural center in the U.S. and home to the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany dome.
  • When it opened in 1991, the Harold Washington Library Center, with approximately 6.5 million books, was the world’s largest municipal library.
  • The Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at 110 stories high. Its elevators are among the fastest in the world operating as fast as 1,600 feet per minute.
  • The first steel rail road in the United States was produced here in 1865.
  • The first mail-order business, Montgomery Ward & Co., was established here in 1872.
  • The world’s first skyscraper, the Home Insurance Company, was built here in 1885.
  • The first televised U.S. presidential candidates’ debate was broadcast from Chicago’s CBS Studios on September 26, 1960, between John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Richard Milhous Nixon.
  • The 1,450-foot Sears Tower, completed in 1974, is the tallest building in North America and the third tallest in the world.
  • Our sole female mayor, Jane M. Byrne, served from 1979 to 1983, and was succeeded by our first African-American mayor, Harold Washington, who served until his death in 1987. Richard M. Daley (1989 – 2011) became the longest serving mayor in December of 2010 surpassing his father Richard J. Daley’s (1955-1976) record of 22 years in office. Richard M. Daley reformed education and public housing, strengthened community policing and overseen construction of billions of dollars of schools, libraries, police stations and infrastructure, as well as the renovation of Soldier Field and the creation of Millennium Park.

Chicago was the birthplace of:

  • the refrigerated rail car (Swift)
  • mail-order retailing (Sears and Montgomery Ward)
  • the car radio (Motorola)
  • the TV remote control (Zenith)
  • The first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, ushering in the Atomic Age, took place at the University of Chicago in 1942. The spot is marked by a Henry Moore sculpture on Ellis Avenue between 56th and 57th streets.

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