The Chicago flag has 3 aspects by which it is defined: the white stripes, the blue stripes and the 4 red stars.
The 3 white stripes represent the north, west and south side neighborhoods that Chicago residents call home (as the east is Lake Michigan). The 2 blue stripes represent the water. The upper stripe represents Lake Michigan and the North Branch of the Chicago River, while the lower stripe represents the South Branch of the Chicago River and the Great Canal. The 4 red stars represent Fort Dearborn, the Chicago Fire, the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933.
- The Great Canal once linked Lake Michigan to the Mississippi river before railroads were laid. In 1900 the Army Corps of Engineers completed the reversal of flow of the Chicago River to flow away from Lake Michigan for sanitary reasons.
- The first star represents Fort Dearborn, an American built fort at what is now Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive that was used by early American settlers as protection from Native Americans.
- The second star represents the Great Chicago Fire of October 8-10, 1871. This fire has had a monumental impact on the architecture of the city and was noted as one of the largest US disasters of the 19th century. The fire exposed Chicago’s lax fire precautions and helped define Chicago as a safer, more contemporary city.
- The third star signifies the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. This World’s Fair was a grand display put on by Chicago who bested the likes of Washington, D.C., New York City and Saint Louis for the honor. In celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World, this fair centered on architectural concepts and was the first fair to have a midway for entertainment. One of many firsts at this event was a one day record attendance of over 700,000 people and the first Ferris Wheel that was 264 feet high.
- The fourth star represents the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933. Another World’s Fair set to celebrate the city’s centennial, its focus was on technological innovation. It involved many architectural, auto, home and scientific exhibits that would present cutting edge and futuristic concepts. The fair also played host to such performers as Judy Garland. Lasting 2 years, it was the first international fair in the US that had paid for itself.