The 10 forgotten things Chicago gave the world

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The August 15 episode of the Freakonomics podcast features author (and Chicago native) Thomas Dyja promoting his new book, “The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream.” On the podcast, he argues that Chicago’s contributions to society have gone under-appreciated and unrecognized.

To help fix this egregious error, here are Thomas Dyja’s 10 things Chicago gave the world.


There’s a reason even lifelong Chicagoans aren’t ashamed to admit they still take architecture boat tours in the summer.

AP Photo


Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters birthing Chicago blues. The Smashing Pumpkins and Tom Morello adding a distinct edge to rock in the ’90s. Kanye West reinventing the rap game. Chicago’s contributions to music are as varied as the genres themselves.

Getty Images


There is already global recognition of Chicago’s pizza contributions (even though extra-thin crust is the REAL Chicago pizza) so I’ll offer up the city’s lesser appreciated culinary contribution: italian beef. Whether you take it dripping wet or dry, topped with hot or sweet peppers, mozzarella cheese or on garlic bread, there is no doubting this is the definitive Chicago food.

Sun-Times file photo

University of Chicago

The university gave us the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction, Kurt Vonnegut and the Chicago School of Economics, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a grander contribution than a simple little cabaret show started by a few undergrads. It went by The Second City, ever hear of it?

Joan Rivers, Second City alumni. File photo


It wasn’t invented here, but television found a decidedly Midwestern voice in Chicago. Nothing personifies that better than the queen of TV, Oprah.

AP Photo

The modern Civil Rights movement

It was the decision of a grieving mother from Chicago’s South Side to hold an open casket funeral for her son after his body was pulled from a Mississippi River. Emmett Till was buried in September of 1955. Just three months later, Rosa Parks committed her famous act of civil disobedience on a Montgomery bus.

The Institute of Design

Founded in 1937, the IIT Institute of Design impacted generations of graphic designers. Logos for NBC, Chase, PBS all came from students of the school.

Wikipedia photo

Urban preservation

Humboldt Park’s Richard Nickel was obsessed with the work of architect Louis Sullivan. As areas of the city were being redeveloped in the ’60s and ’70s, many Sullivan buildings that had fallen into disarray were slated for demolition. Though Nickel wasn’t always successful in preserving the buildings, his activism sparked a wave of urban preservation.

The Old Federal Building. Richard Nickel photo~Sun-Times Archives

The relationship between Nelson Algren and feminist Simone de Beauvoir

If those names aren’t familiar, you must be slacking on your post-World War 2 literature scene. Nelson Algren was a Chicago writer best known for The Man with the Golden Arm who encouraged one-time lover Simone de Beauvoir to write The Second Sex, a book that became the jumping-off point for second wave feminism.

Sun-Times file photo

Hugh Hefner

Thomas Dyja summed it up nicely – “He’s going to start this dream magazine that he’s alway wanted to do and it’s goin to be a men’s magazine for people like him who don’t hunt or fish, a guide to how to deal with this new consumer culture that has exploded in America in the ’50s. And it’s going to have pictures of naked women.”

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