How Chicago's Neighborhoods Got Their Names

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Wikimedia Commons

It's often said that "Chicago is a city of neighborhoods." This may seem redundant—isn't every city a city of neighborhoods?—but Chicago really is a big, wonderful amalgamation of unique enclaves. Where do the names for all these neighborhoods come from? We sought to find out.

Keep in mind that there are at least 200 neighborhoods in Chicago. While this list is extensive, it isn't absolute. For example, some areas were left off because they were obvious extensions of other neighborhoods (hello, West Rogers Park), while others lacked reliable info (or any information at all). If you don't see your neighborhood below, please write your alderman, who will then negotiate with us and we'll hash out an under-the-table deal.

The Chicago History Museum's Encyclopedia of Chicago and the Chicago Park District's parks database were extremely helpful resources for this—be sure to check them out.

Andersonville

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After the Chicago Fire, many of the city's Swedes moved to this area on the North Side to rebuild their lives. It's believed that the neighborhood is named after Reverend Paul Andersen Norland, who was integral in attracting folks to join the community during its early years (neighborhood's pros: not engulfed in flames).

Archer Heights

Named after Archer Avenue, which itself is named after William Beatty Archer, the first commissioner of the Illinois and Michigan Canal.

Ashburn

Not the most glamorous of origins, but in the 1800s, Chicago families would dump their furnace ashes in this area, and the name "Ashburn" stuck.

Austin

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Named for Henry W. Austin, the real estate mogul who acquired and subdivided the land in 1866. The area was originally in the township of Cicero. Austin held the most power in that municipality, and its politicians brought major roads and elevated trains to the neighborhood. The other Cicero citizens objected and voted to expel Austin and have it annexed into Chicago.

Un-fun fact about Henry W. Austin: He was an ardent temperance advocate and worked to ban all saloons and liquor sales within his community.

Avalon Park

This neighborhood was originally named "Pennytown" for Penny, a local general store owner who sold popcorn balls. The area's Avalon Park Community Church lobbied to have the name changed, and Pennytown—and Penny's popcorn balls—are no more.

Back of the Yards

Union Stock Yards, 1947 via Wikimedia Commons

Named for its location in relation to the famed Union Stock Yards, this neighborhood was home to most of the Yards' workers. It's where the hog butchers for the world rested their heads at night.

Beverly

There is some argument about whether this neighborhood is named after Beverly, Massachusetts, or Beverly Hills, California. It's often referred to as "Beverly Hills" because it sits on a glacial ridge that, at 672 feet, is the tallest natural point in Chicago.

Boystown

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This informal, colloquial name for the LGBT community area that stretches along North Halsted Street started being used in the 1970s, around the time of the first Gay Pride Parade.

Bridgeport

This area was a fur trading outpost named "Hardscrabble" for years until it officially became the town of Bridgeport in 1836. Some insist that it's named after a bridge that spanned a canal on or near Ashland Avenue. There are no records of this bridge ever existing, however, leaving some to doubt this explanation. 

Bronzeville

This area on the South Side was apparently named "Bronzeville" by Chicago Bee theater editor James J. Gentry because he said it reflected the skin tone of its residents.

Bucktown

Early Polish immigrants raised goats in the area and called it "kozie prery," or "goat plain." That name evolved into "Bucktown," as "buck" is the term for a male goat. No goats remain today, of course (unless they're served in gourmet tacos).

Burnside

Illinois Central Railroad built a station in the area and named it after Civil War General Ambrose Burnside (who also worked as the railroad's treasurer). Colonel W.W. Jacobs subdivided the neighborhood in 1887 and named it after the station.

Canaryville

Depending on who you ask, this neighborhood is named either for the sparrows which populated it or for roving gangs of violent teens, dubbed "wild canaries" in the late 1800s. Either way, it was wise to keep your head on a swivel.

Dearborn Park

This park and housing development was planned in the 1970s and takes its name from General Henry Dearborn, Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of War. 

Douglas Park

Named after Stephen A. Douglas, who is most famous for his participation in the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Dunning

Cook County originally purchased this property in 1851 to build a "poor farm," insane asylum, and tuberculosis hospital. After the Civil War, a man named Andrew Dunning bought a tract of land to the south of this area to plant a nursery. In 1888, the hospital and asylum were bought by the city after they found gross mismanagement. The entire area, including Dunning's plot, soon took his name as redevelopment began.

East Garfield Park

The park that this neighborhood is named after was originally called "Central Park" when it was built in 1869. After President James A. Garfield's assassination in 1881, the city changed that, and the area to the east developed into East Garfield Park.

Edgebrook

The "brook" that this area edges is actually the North Branch of the Chicago River. Edgebrook was plotted in 1894 to be a golf course-adjacent suburb. The course remains, although the suburb has long since been absorbed by Chicago.

Edgewater

This North Side neighborhood hugging Lake Michigan was dubbed "Edgewater" in 1885 by John Lewis Cochran, a tobacco salesman from Philadelphia who purchased and subdivided much of the land. (Remember that name — old John Lewis Cochran comes up a lot when talking about the origins of Chicago's North Side.)

Edison Park

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Etiquette states that you should wait for someone to die before you name your town after them, but in 1890, the citizens of Edison Park eschewed manners and named their village after the very-much-alive inventor. Given that nobody loved Thomas Edison more than Thomas Edison, he gladly gave the township his blessing.

Englewood

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This neighborhood was originally named "The Junction" because of its railroad crossing. But after Henry B. Lewis, a wool and grain merchant, moved to the area in 1867, he and his wife convinced residents to start calling the neighborhood "Englewood," inspired by the New Jersey town.

Fernwood

Fernwood Village was founded by Dutch farmers and they named it after the surrounding woodland. (You see, it was full of ferns.) The village was annexed into Chicago in 1891.

Fuller Park

Named after Melville Fuller, a Chicagoan and Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1888 to 1910.

Gage Park

South Park Commissioner George W. Gage died in office in 1875 while developing this park. The city soon honored his memory by naming it after him, and the surrounding neighborhood eventually followed suit.

Garfield Ridge

A section of 55th Street, which runs through the neighborhood, was renamed Garfield Boulevard to honor President Garfield after his assassination.

Gladstone Park

Named after British Prime Minister William Gladstone. Gladstone served in the office a record four separate times which, in Chicago, is considered short-term.

Gold Coast

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This North Side area along Lake Michigan was originally called "The Astor Street District," taking the name of John Jacob Astor. Astor didn't actually live in Chicago, but the residents so desperately wanted to project an air of wealth that they used his name anyway. It worked, and when a section of Lake Shore Drive opened in 1875, rich families began building homes in the neighborhood. The community officially became known as the "Gold Coast" at the turn of the century. 

Goose Island

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Goose Island is an actual island located in the North Branch of the Chicago River. It was created when William Ogden, Chicago's first mayor, built an auxiliary canal to facilitate shipping routes. The name "Goose Island" comes from a separate, smaller island in the river, but the name was soon attached to the man-made land mass when Irish squatters moved from the old island to the new one. The term comes from the abundant geese they hunted.

Grand Boulevard

This area is named after the former moniker of its main thoroughfare. The road was briefly changed from Grand Boulevard to South Park Way before being renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in 1968.

Greater Grand Crossing

This area has its roots in a railroad company dispute, or "frog war." Both Illinois Central and Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroads laid claim to the real estate. Roswell B. Mason, a future Chicago mayor and executive for Illinois Central Railroad, secretly put tracks over some of Lake Shore & Michigan Southern's rails using an illegal connector. In 1853, two trains crashed, killing eight and injuring 40. During the aftermath, real estate developer Paul Cornell came in and used the site of the deadly intersection to build a new suburb.

Greektown

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Greek immigrants came to Chicago in the 1840s as ship captains and started selling food and opening restaurants in this Near West Side neighborhood. The Eisenhower Expressway displaced the community in the 1960s, but it regrouped a couple blocks north and retained the name "Greektown."

Hamilton Park

This park was designed by the Olmsted brothers and planned by Henry Burnham. It opened in 1904 and was named after Alexander Hamilton.

Hegewisch

Adolph Hegewisch, president of the U.S. Rolling Stock Company, aimed to develop a workers' utopia and established the community in 1883. He also moved his factory to the area to facilitate growth.

Your daily Adolph Hegewisch fun fact: During WWII, Hegewisch's first name started to appear as "Achilles" in texts and histories, either as an honest mistake or as a deliberate attempt to distance the man's legacy from Hitler.

Hermosa

In 1889, the city of Chicago annexed this area, which was part of Garfield, and changed the name to Hermosa, Spanish for "beautiful." No one knows why, but everyone agrees it's very nice.

Hollywood Park

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John Lewis Cochran, our friend from Edgewater, named Hollywood Avenue after that Hollywood (he lived in California for part of his life).

Humboldt Park

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In 1869, area residents requested that the newly built park in their neighborhood be named for Prussian scientist, explorer, geographer, writer, and celebrity Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt, who was born 100 years prior. (Fancypants Heights was another option.)

Hyde Park

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In 1853, Paul Cornell (the cousin of Cornell University founder Ezra Cornell) bought 300 acres of land by Lake Michigan and named it "Hyde Park" after the location in London.

Irving Park

Charles T. Race, who bought the land, named it after Washington Irving, the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Island

The Island is actually a metaphorical island. When the neighborhood was built, there were three rail lines that made up its north border. To the south and west are suburbs (Cicero and Oak Park, respectively), and to its east is an uninhabited factory area.

Jackowo

Jackowo gets its name from the Polish spelling of Saint Hyacinth's Basilica (Bazylika Św. Jacka) at the center of the neighborhood.

Jackson Park Highlands

Named for the hill that overlooks Jackson Park (which itself was named after President Andrew Jackson). Originally named "South Park," Jackson Park was home to the World's Columbian Exposition.

Jefferson Park

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Originally called "Jefferson Township," this independent area was named after Thomas Jefferson and was separate from Chicago until 1889 when it was incorporated by the city.

K-Town

This part of North Lawndale gets its name because of all the streets in the area that start with the letter "K"—Karlov, Kedvale, Keeler, Kenneth, Kilbourn, Kildare, Kolin, Kolmar, Komensky, Kostner, and Kilpatrick, to name a few.

Kelvyn Park

The park was named after the surrounding subdivision, which was named for British physicist William Thomson Kelvin. Kelvin is most famous for calculating absolute zero (-273.15 Celsius), which comes in handy in Chicago quite often.

Kenwood

Dr. John A. Kennicott, one of the first homeowners in the neighborhood, named the area after his family's territory in Scotland.

Kilbourn Park

Named after Kilbourn Street, which honors a city in Wisconsin that is now more commonly known as water park dystopia Wisconsin Dells.

Kosciuszko Park

"The Land of Koz" was dedicated to Thadeuz Kosciuszko in 1916. Kosciuszko came from Poland to assist the Americans during the Revolutionary War and became a brigadier general.

Lake View

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Named for the Hotel Lake View, which was built in 1854 on what is now the convergence of Sheridan Road and Lake Shore Drive.

Lakewood Balmoral

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John Lewis Cochran—of Edgewater and Hollywood Park fame—purchased the land in 1885 and named the streets after train stops from outside his home town of Philadelphia (hence "Balmoral").

Lincoln Park

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Lincoln Park was originally a cemetery for cholera and smallpox victims. Shallow graves located so close to the city's water supply rightly raised some alarms, so Chicago began converting it into a massive park called "Lake Park" in the 1860s. After Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, the park was renamed in his honor.

Lincoln Square

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This area was originally known as "Celeryville" or "Pickletown" in the 1800s. At the time, proud farmers claimed that it was the celery capital of the United States (woohoo!). Eventually, the cluster of neighborhoods around Celeryville and Pickletown took the name of the main commuter road that ran through it, Lincoln Avenue.

Little Italy

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This area (also known as University Village for the UIC campus) was once home to nearly all of Chicago's Italian immigrant population.

Logan Square

A square located at the center of the neighborhood is dedicated to John A. Logan, a Civil War general and politician who is credited with popularizing Memorial Day.

The Loop

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Chicago's main business district is named for the circular route taken by the L lines that service it.

McKinley Park

This park was under development in 1901 when President McKinley was assassinated. The park and the neighborhood that surrounds it took his name.

Mount Greenwood

In 1879, George Waite developed Mount Greenwood cemetery and planted dense plots of beautiful trees. The surrounding area became known as Mount Greenwood too, and the neighborhood was annexed into Chicago in 1927.

New City

This neighborhood gets its name from University of Chicago sociologists who drew up boundaries for new community areas in the 1920s. Why "New City?" Because they're sociologists, not poets.

Noble Square

Named for civic leaders Mark and John Noble. The square that was built in the area was part of a controversial Department of Urban Renewal development that displaced many residents.

North Lawndale

Shortly after Cicero was incorporated into Chicago in 1869, Alden C. Millard and Edwin J. Decker quit their stationery business to develop real estate in this new area. They chose the name "Lawndale" and pumped money into the neighborhood by building a hotel, shops, and housing. The two were bankrupt by 1876.

North Park

The "park" this area refers to is Peterson Park (named after Swedish community leader Pehr Samuel Peterson), which was purchased by the city and turned into the Chicago Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium in 1911. While it doesn't sound like it'd be beautiful, the city purposely preserved the area's natural features to use as a buffer between the patients and the rest of the city. What is currently the Nature Center served as a Sanitarium building until the 1970s. The area remains lush because community activists successfully fought a plan to turn it into bland strip malls and condo buildings in the 1980s.

Norwood Park

This area—incorporated into Chicago in 1874—was named after Norwood, or Village Life in New England, a book by Henry Ward Beecher. You can read the novel here (feel free to leave your book report in the comments).

O'Hare

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O'Hare International Airport (and its surrounding neighborhood) was named after Edward "Butch" O'Hare, a Chicagoan and WWII Navy aviator. O'Hare received a Medal of Honor in 1942 for single-handedly attacking a squadron of advancing Japanese bombers while defending the Lexington. He was killed in battle a year later during a night interception mission. The city renamed Old Orchard Depot Airport for him (that's why the airport code is still "ORD").

His father, Edward J. O'Hare, was one of Al Capone's lawyers and advisors. The elder O'Hare eventually turned important information over to the government that helped send Capone to jail for tax evasion. In 1939, Edward J. was assassinated by two shotgun-wielding henchmen on the West Side, near Douglas Park.

That info should give you plenty of small talk fodder for your next delay at O'Hare.

Old Town

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During World War II, the triangle made up by North Avenue, Clark Street, and Ogden Avenue was designated as a "neighborhood defense unit" by Chicago's Civil Defense Agency. After the war, the residents stayed closely bonded and threw community art fairs, calling them “Old Town Holidays.” The name "Old Town" stuck.

Palmer Square

This tiny area located within Logan Square is named for Potter Palmer, a successful early Chicago businessman who opened a dry goods store in 1852 and eventually sold it to Marshall Field.

Pill Hill

This rhyming South Side enclave was named for all the doctors who called the neighborhood home.

Pilsen

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Manufacturing jobs brought thousands of immigrants to this area in the 1870s. Many were Czechs, and they came to call the area "Plzeň" after the second-biggest city in West Bohemia. The name soon morphed into "Pilsen," which persevered.

Polish Downtown

Polish Downtown essentially served as a capital of sorts for Polish immigrants soon after they started moving to the United States. During WWI, the movement to create a free Poland was started and ran from this neighborhood.

Portage Park

Originally a park district (the park in the center of the neighborhood remains), this area is named for the nearby portage routes used by fur traders and Native Americans between the Des Plaines and Chicago Rivers.

Printer's Row

Printing and publishing houses dominated this area for a century, starting in the late 1800s. Most of the remaining buildings have since been converted to residential use.

Pulaski Park

This neighborhood within West Town is named after its park, which was dedicated to Casimir Pulaski, a Polish nobleman and cavalry commander who fought and died for the Americans during the Revolutionary War. Pulaski is a name that comes up a lot in Chicago, so study up on him.

Pullman

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Industrialist George Mortimer Pullman purchased 4000 acres of land south of Chicago to develop a town for the men and women who built his company's luxury railroad sleeping cars. Pullman Town was an initial success, offering workers affordable housing and providing a safe, private community away from the distractions of the city.

Soon, Pullman's paranoia took over, and residents were subjected to random house searches and draconian limits on free speech and worship. According to the Pullman State Historical Site, employees took to saying, "We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman Church, and when we die we shall go to the Pullman Hell."

After Pullman cut wages but kept rents at the same levels, workers went on strike and the Illinois Supreme Court ordered that Pullman Town be annexed into Chicago in 1898. George Mortimer Pullman died of a heart attack shortly thereafter.

Ravenswood

This neighborhood began as one of the city's first suburbs in 1868 when the Ravenswood Land Company, a group of businessmen and developers, started buying up land for residential use.

River North

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This area along the north branch of the Chicago River was known for years as "Smokey Hollow" because of the factories that linked to the waterway and nearby railroad tracks. After the area's main port moved in the 1920s, this riverside district became a seedy hub. Still, the location was desirable enough for eager developers, and in the 1970s, real estate mogul Albert Friedman thought to rename the area "River North." It worked, and yuppies eventually followed.

Riverdale

In 1835, George Dolton settled in this area alongside the Calumet River near a Potawatomi Indian reservation. He built a toll ferry, which became known as the "Riverdale Ferry." A bridge soon followed, and the area was called both "Dolton" and "Riverdale" for years as it became an industrial epicenter.

Rogers Park

Early settler Philip Rogers bought this lakeside land in 1836 for $1.25 an acre. His son-in-law Patrick L. Touhy developed the area and started its rise to the bustling residential community that would eventually be incorporated into Chicago.

Roscoe Village

While not 100 percent verified, it's assumed that this neighborhood name comes from John Lewis Cochran, again. Like Balmoral, Roscoe Street was probably named after a train stop outside of Philadelphia because Cochran's creativity was boundless—within the limits of Philadelphia train stations.

Roseland

Settled by Dutch farmers, this fertile and lush area full of flowers was dubbed "Roseland" in 1873 by James H. Bowen, the president of the Calumet and Chicago Canal and Dock Company.

Sauganash

Potawatomi chief Sauganash was born in Canada in 1780 to a Wyandot mother and an Irish father. Sauganash means "The Englishman." He moved to Chicago in 1820 and became a prominent citizen during the city's early days and was elected a justice of the peace. The government granted him a 1200-acre reservation along the Chicago River, and part of this area bears his name to this day.

Sheridan Park

Sheridan Park was named in honor of Civil War hero Philip Henry Sheridan in 1912. Sheridan was a successful Union Army cavalry commander and was the subject of Thomas Buchanan Read's poem "Sheridan's Ride."

Smith Park

Named for 32nd ward Alderman Joseph Higgins Smith in 1929 (who was the alderman of the area from 1914 to 1933).

South Deering

This area was originally named "Irondale" for its many steel mills. The village was bought up in 1902 by the International Harvester Company and further developed by the Deering Harvester Company, who inspired the new name.

Streeterville

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"Cap" George Wellington Streeter was a boat captain along the Mississippi River and a classic, big-time jerk. Legend has it that he and his wife "Ma" Streeter were cruising in their boat around Lake Michigan in 1886 when they hit a sandbar. (Others maintain Streeter deliberately crashed his boat into the shoreline.) Perfectly comfortable in their precarious position, the couple decided to stay put.

Silt accumulated around the ship and soon a land bridge connected them to Chicago. At that time, the city was filling in the lake in that area to build Lake Shore Drive. Cap Streeter was having none of Chicago's crap and he defended the swampy dump around his boat with a shotgun. Aided by the liquid courage he was known to pull from liberally, "Cap" had multiple standoffs with authorities before finally being arrested and tried.

Despite having the land stripped from him by the court, Cap had the last laugh: The neighborhood is named after him to this day.

Stony Island

Tens of thousands of years ago, glacial runoff formed Lake Chicago, which spread over the entirety of the modern-day city. Stony Island was an actual rocky island that eventually poked to the surface when the waters began to recede. In the 1920s, the "island" (which was just a boulder-covered hill) was destroyed to make way for drainage systems and a road, which is all that remains.

Tri-Taylor

The triangular convergence of avenues at the western end of Taylor Street gives the area the name "Tri-Taylor."

Ukrainian Village

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After the Great Fire, this area was mainly inhabited by German immigrants. In the early 20th century, Russian, Ukrainian, and other European residents started to call the neighborhood home, and by the end of WWI it was primarily an enclave for Ukrainians. In 1983, Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne designated Ukrainian Village as an "official neighborhood," the first such location in Chicago to receive this honor.

Uptown

For most of Chicago's early history, this neighborhood was the northern terminus for commercial rail lines. It became a popular shopping destination, and wealthy Chicagoans soon flocked to the area and bought up residential property.

Wacławowo

Like its neighbor Jackowo, Wacławowo is named for the local parish, St. Wenceslaus Church (Kościół Świętego Wacława in Polish).

West Lawn

Real estate developers James Webb and John F. Eberhart founded West Lawn on sprawling marshy lands in 1877. The village was annexed to Chicago in 1889.

Wicker Park

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Brothers Charles G. and Joel H. Wicker owned a subdivision in Chicago and in 1870 they gave a small area of it to the city. It was sectioned off so cattle couldn't graze on the fertile land, and soon a neighborhood sprouted around the park, which took its name from the men who donated it.

Wrigleyville

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This neighborhood is named after Wrigley Field, which was itself named after gum magnate and Chicago Cubs owner William Wrigley in 1926. While the area is known for its crowded bars and young, rowdy revelers, the Cubs themselves are all business and signs point to this being their year.*

*This will not be their year.

We're slowly working our way across the country. See how the neighborhoods in other cities got their names.

11 Sharp Facts About Annie Oakley

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Getty

You probably know that Annie Oakley was an outstanding sharpshooter who became famous while performing in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. But if your knowledge of her life is limited to Annie Get Your Gun, we’ve got you covered. In honor of her birthday, here are 11 facts about Oakley, the Little Sure Shot of the Wild West.

1. SHE MADE HER FIRST SHOT AT 8 YEARS OLD.

Born on August 13, 1860 in a rural part of western Ohio, Phoebe Ann Moses grew up poor. Her father’s death in 1866 meant that she had to contribute to help her family survive, so she trapped small animals such as quail for food. At eight years old, she made her first shot when she killed a squirrel outside her house. “It was a wonderful shot, going right through the head from side to side. My mother was so frightened when she learned that I had taken down the loaded gun and shot it that I was forbidden to touch it again for eight months,” she later said.

2. SHE USED HER SHOOTING SKILLS TO PAY OFF HER MOM’S MORTGAGE.

Despite Oakley’s top-notch shooting skills, her widowed mother struggled to make ends meet. She sent Oakley to work for another family in exchange for her daughter getting an education. As a teenager, Oakley returned home (after working as a servant for an abusive family) and continued to hunt animals. She sold the meat to an Ohio grocery store, earning enough money to pay her mom’s $200 mortgage. She later wrote: "Oh, how my heart leaped with joy as I handed the money to mother and told her that I had saved enough to pay it off!"

3. SHE BEAT HER FUTURE HUSBAND IN A SHOOTING MATCH.

At 15 years old, Oakley participated in a shooting match on Thanksgiving with Frank Butler, an Irish-American professional marksman. The match, which happened in Cincinnati, was a doozy. To Butler’s surprise, the teenage girl outshot him by one clay pigeon, and he lost the $100 bet he had placed. Rather than feel embarrassed or emasculated by his loss, Butler was impressed and interested, and the two married the following year.

4. DESPITE HER PROFESSION, SHE EMPHASIZED HER FEMININITY.


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At the end of the 19th century, shooting was a predominantly male activity, and Oakley certainly stood out. But rather than dress or behave like a man to fit in, she emphasized her femininity. She wore her own homemade costumes on stage, behaved modestly, and engaged in "proper" female activities such as embroidery in her spare time.

5. SHE WAS ONLY FIVE FEET TALL.

In addition to Oakley’s gender, her diminutive stature made her stand out in the world of sharpshooting. In 1884, the Sioux chieftain Sitting Bull befriended Oakley when the two performers were traveling across the country. Acknowledging both her height and her shooting skill, Sitting Bull nicknamed Oakley Watanya Cicillia (English translation: Little Sure Shot). The American Indian warrior liked Oakley so much that he gave her his special moccasins to "adopt" her as his daughter.

6. SHE PERFORMED FOR KINGS AND QUEENS IN EUROPE.


Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Although the concept of the Wild West is firmly rooted in Americana, Oakley showed off her shooting skills across Europe as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. In 1887, she performed for Queen Victoria at the American Exposition in London, and the queen reportedly told Oakley that she was a "very clever little girl." In 1889, Oakley performed at the Paris Exposition and traveled to Italy and Spain. The press loved her, the king of Senegal wanted her to come help control the tiger population in his country, and Italy’s King Umberto I was a fan.

7. SHE OFFERED TO LEAD FEMALE SHOOTERS IN WORLD WAR I.

Wanting to use her shooting skills to serve her country, Oakley wrote a letter to President McKinley in 1898. She offered to provide 50 female sharpshooters (with their own arms and ammunition) to fight for the United States in the Spanish-American War, but she never got a response. Similarly, in 1917, she contacted the U.S. Secretary of War to offer her expertise to teach an army unit of women shooters to fight in World War I. She didn’t hear back, so she visited army camps, raised money for the Red Cross, and volunteered with military charities instead.

8. SHE SUED THE PRESS FOR PUBLICIZING HER (NONEXISTENT) DRUG ADDICTION.

In August 1903, two of William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers in Chicago reported that Oakley was a cocaine addict who was arrested for stealing a black man’s pants. Other newspapers ran the story, and Oakley—who was neither a drug addict nor a thief—was horrified. "The terrible piece … nearly killed me … The only thing that kept me alive was the desire to purge my character," she said.

The woman who had been arrested in Chicago was a burlesque performer whose stage name was Any Oakley. Most newspapers published retractions, but Hearst didn’t. He (unsuccessfully) hired a private investigator to uncover anything sordid about Oakley. Oakley sued 55 newspapers for libel, ultimately winning or settling 54 of them by 1910. Despite winning money from Hearst and other newspapers, costly legal expenses meant that she ultimately lost money to clear her name.

9. THANKS TO THOMAS EDISON, SHE BECAME A FILM ACTRESS.

In 1888, Oakley acted in Deadwood Dick, a financially unsuccessful play. At the Paris Exposition the next year, though, she met Buffalo Bill Cody’s friend Thomas Edison. In 1894, Oakley visited Edison in New Jersey and showed off her shooting skills for the inventor’s Kinetoscope. The resulting film, called The Little Sure Shot of the Wild West, featured Oakley shooting a rifle to break glass balls. Although she didn’t continue acting in film, she did act in The Western Girl, a play in which she portrayed a sharpshooter, in 1902 and 1903.

10. TWO SERIOUS ACCIDENTS HALTED HER CAREER.


Annie Oakley in 1922

Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

In 1901, Oakley was injured in a train accident while traveling between North Carolina and Virginia for a performance. Although reports differ about the severity of her injuries, we do know that she took a year off from performing after the accident. Two decades later, Oakley was injured in a car accident in Florida. Her hip and ankle were fractured, and she wore a leg brace until 1926, when she passed away from pernicious anemia in Ohio at age 66. Frank Butler, her husband of 50 years, died 18 days later.

11. HER NAME BECAME AN IDIOMATIC EXPRESSION.

You know you’ve made it when your name becomes an idiom. Because of her shooting skills, the phrase "Annie Oakley" acquired a meaning of a free ticket to an event. Performing with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, Oakley shot holes in tiny objects, making targets out of everything from playing cards to a dime to a cigar dangling out of her husband’s mouth. Because free admission tickets for theatrical shows had holes punched in them (so they wouldn’t be sold to someone else), these tickets came to be called "Annie Oakleys."

A Brief History of Canada's Iconic Hudson’s Bay Blanket

Jessica via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Jessica via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Hudson’s Bay Company blanket may appear to be a fairly plain household item, but it’s perhaps the most remarkable blanket in the world. The off-white wool patterned with slender stripes of green, red, yellow, and indigo played a vital role in how modern Canada came to be—and it's still for sale today.

The Hudson’s Bay Company is now a well-known retail group that claims to be the oldest company in North America, and it includes Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord and Taylor among its department stores. But as far back as 1670, the company, then under royal charter from England, operated as a fur trading business, pioneering the exploration and settling of Canada. In many of the farther regions, the Hudson’s Bay Company was the effective government of the vast territory, and was at one point the largest landowner in the world, controlling approximately 15 percent of North America.

And it was the striped Hudson’s Bay Company point blanket that helped pioneer the way.

According to the official company history, blankets had been taken to Hudson Bay as trade goods as far back as 1668. But it was in 1779 that the Company first commissioned the English textile mill of Thomas Empson in Oxfordshire for “30 pair[s] of 3 points to be striped with four colors (red, blue, green, yellow) according to your judgment.”

The durable and warm blanket was prized by the early fur traders, miners, and prospectors. “I have in my possession,” wrote one such explorer, “one of a pair of blankets which I purchased in your store 30 years ago this month … packed north all through the mountains and received some of the roughest usage that any fabric could possibly survive. I could not truthfully estimate how many tons of river gravel was dumped onto it and washed in our attempts to find gold.”

But more importantly, the striped blanket proved highly popular with the native inhabitants of Canada. Easier to sew than bison and seal skins, and much quicker to dry, the blankets provided superb insulation during the harsh winter months. Often the blankets were converted into winter coats, known as “capotes.” As fur trade increased, it was the striped blanket that often paved the way for the early relationships between the company adventurers and the native tribes, and it was often traded for beaver pelts.


Steelbeard1 via Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0

As well as the traditional stripes, the iconic blanket was also known for its “points”: a series of thin black lines located just above the lower stripes. These “points” were not, as is sometimes commonly believed, an indicator of how many pelts the blanket was worth in trade, but an easy-to-read measurement of how large the blanket was. When folded, the lines, or “points” would be displayed, easily indicating the exact size of the blanket. The term stemmed from the French empointer (to make threaded stitches on the cloth). According to the company’s specifics:

A full point measured 4 – 5.5 in.; a half point measured half that length. The standard measurements for a pair of 1 point blankets was: 2 ft. 8 in. wide by 8 ft. in length; with a weight of 3 lb. 1 oz. each. Points ranged from 1 to 6, increasing by halves depending upon the size and weight of the blanket.

As the lucrative fur trade expanded into Canada, with an increasing number of trading posts, forts, and settlements, the highly prized point blanket became a primary trading commodity. Demand was so great that production back in England was expanded to the A.W. Hainsworth Company in Yorkshire toward the end of the 18th century. Their wool was known for being well-made and had been used in everything from billiard tables to the felt on piano hammers. Still made there today, Hainsworth is so prestigious, it was worn by both Prince William and Harry at the 2011 royal wedding.

By the 19th century, the Hudson’s Bay Company had evolved into a vast mercantile retail empire, often transforming their frontier trading posts into general stores, catering to—as their official history put it—“one that shopped for pleasure and not with skins.” Today the company is one of the oldest existing in the world, and still bears the distinctive colored stripes on some versions of its logo.

Despite its iconic status, the blanket is not without controversy. Disturbing claims have accused British administrators in North America of using the Hudson’s Bay blanket to spread smallpox among the native tribes as the British Empire expanded further into Canada. General Sir Jeffrey Amherst, commander of the British forces in North America during the Seven Years War, suggested in a letter to one of his colonels that the deadly pox might be introduced to the local population, and the colonel’s reply put forward the horrific idea that it could be conveyed in blankets. But according to their official history, “Hudson’s Bay Company had nothing to do with the story of the use of smallpox as biological warfare.” Complicating matters even further, while there was an outbreak of smallpox in native communities the following spring, the disease was already present in those areas before Amherst’s letters, so it’s unknown if he actually went through with the plan or merely mentioned it.

These days, the distinctive stripes can be found on everything from iPhone cases to golf balls to beach chairs. But the blanket itself is still for sale, looking much as it did when the original orders were placed in London over 230 years ago, paving the way for the birth of modern Canada.

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