The Flag of Chicago: A Symbolic Emblem with Rich History

The Flag of Chicago: A Symbolic Representation

The flag of Chicago, a city nestled in the heart of Illinois, United States, is a distinctive emblem with a rich history and profound symbolism. Adopted in 1917 after a design competition won by Wallace Rice, this flag has evolved to encapsulate the essence of Chicago's past and present.

Flag Composition

The flag of Chicago boasts a unique composition. It features two horizontal light blue bars, each occupying one-sixth of the flag's height. These bars are strategically positioned slightly less than one-sixth from the top and bottom of the flag. A pristine white field forms the backdrop for these blue bars. In the middle third of this white canvas, four striking red stars, each boasting six sharp points, are aligned closely side by side.

Historical Evolution

The Chicago flag has seen a fascinating evolution over the years. It originally bore two stars, but in 1933, a third star was added. Since 1939, the flag has sported four stars, each carrying profound historical significance.

Symbolism of Stars

  • Fort Dearborn Star (Added in 1939): This star commemorates Fort Dearborn and symbolizes the various political entities that have held sway over the Chicago region throughout history. The star's six points represent France (1693), Great Britain (1763), Virginia (1778), the Northwest Territory (1789), Indiana Territory (1802), and Illinois (territory, 1809, and state, since 1818).
  • Great Chicago Fire Star (Original to the 1917 Flag): This star serves as a poignant reminder of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Its six points embody the virtues of religion, education, aesthetics, justice, beneficence, and civic pride.
  • World's Columbian Exposition Star (Original to the 1917 Flag): Symbolizing the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, this star's six points signify transportation, labor, commerce, finance, populousness, and salubrity (health).
  • Century of Progress Star (Added in 1933): Added to celebrate the Century of Progress Exposition (1933–34), this star references Chicago's status as the second-largest U.S. city at the time of its inclusion. Its points represent Chicago's Latin motto, Urbs in horto ("City in a garden"), the city's "I Will" motto, the Great Central Marketplace, Wonder City, and Convention City.

Proposed Additional Stars

Over the years, several proposals have emerged for the addition of a fifth star to Chicago's flag:

  • Nuclear Age Star: In the 1940s, a letter published by the Chicago Tribune suggested adding a star to commemorate Chicago's role in the nuclear age.
  • Harold Washington Star: In the 1980s, a star was proposed in honor of Harold Washington, Chicago's first African-American mayor.
  • 1992 Chicago Flood Star: Some suggested adding a star to acknowledge the 1992 Chicago flood, akin to the existing star for the 1871 Great Chicago Fire.
  • Entrepreneurial Spirit Star: In the early 1990s, a group of Chicago real estate professionals considered a fifth star to represent the city's entrepreneurial spirit.
  • Olympic Star: When bidding for the 2016 Summer Olympics, Chicago proposed adding a star to the flag in commemoration. However, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, won the bid.
  • Special Olympics Star: Anne Burke, Tim Shriver, and others have advocated for a fifth star to commemorate the Special Olympics, founded in Chicago.
  • Sports-Related Stars: Suggestions include recognizing the Chicago Bulls' dominance in the NBA in the 1990s and adding a star if the Chicago Cubs win the World Series.
  • Public Engagement: The Chicago History Museum allows the public to vote for a potential fifth star.
  • COVID-19 Response Star: Mayor Lori Lightfoot suggested that Chicago's response to the COVID-19 pandemic could warrant adding a fifth star to the flag.

Unlawful Private Use

It's worth noting that the Municipal Code of Chicago prohibits the use of the city's flag, or any imitation or design thereof, except for customary decorative or display purposes. Violations can result in fines ranging from $5.00 to $25.00 for each offense. However, constitutional provisions, such as the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, may prevent the enforcement of some of these restrictions.

Historical Background

In 1915, Mayor William Hale Thompson appointed a municipal flag commission, which included notable figures like Charles Deering and Lawton S. Parker. Wallace Rice, a lecturer and poet, was tasked with establishing the rules for an open public competition to design the city's flag. Over a thousand entries were submitted, and the winning design laid the foundation for the iconic flag of Chicago. The 318th Cavalry Regiment even incorporated the flag into their insignia. The flag of Chicago stands as a testament to the city's rich history and vibrant spirit, symbolizing its enduring connection to the past while embracing the promise of the future.

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