Given our city’s rich history, the long list of colorful Chicago nicknames should come as no surprise! Call it the Windy City, Chi-town, or the City of Big Shoulders—but one nickname has seen an especially interesting evolution over the years: the Second City. 

What exactly makes Chicago a “second” city, and is the nickname related to the legendary Second City Chicago improv troupe? While the origins of this moniker may have been rooted in tough times and rivalry, it has since joined the list of beloved Chicago nicknames and now reflects the spirit and tenacity that the city is known for—proving that Chicago is never one to be sidelined.

The Meaning Behind Chicago, the “Second City”

It’s definitely one of the more mysterious Chicago nicknames, so there are several theories about why Chicago is called “the Second City”: 

  • The Great Chicago Fire: In 1871, the city was destroyed by a raging fire that lasted for days. With so many buildings and infrastructure destroyed, city planners were basically given a clean slate to start rebuilding from scratch. The result was a new Chicago that looked very different from the original version, with stronger building materials and more thoughtful design. According to this theory, Chicago is a “second” city because it was actually built twice!
  • Rivalry with NYC: In the early 20th century, Chicago found itself competing with New York City in hopes of becoming a similarly remarkable metropolitan area. But the midwest couldn’t compete with the east coast’s size and population, keeping Chicago locked into the second-place slot. The name was cemented after a New York native named A.J. Liebling published a snarky travelogue entitled “Chicago: The Second City” detailing how the city couldn’t keep up with his beloved hometown. 

What is Second City Chicago?

Despite the connotation that Chicago is somehow perpetually trying to rise up out of its second-place billing, The “Second City” Chicago nickname has seen quite a journey over the years, evolving from its somewhat negative connotation of being less-than-best into a showcase for the tenacity of its residents, who never back down from a fight. 

In 1959, an improv comedy troupe named itself The Second City in an act of self-deprecation, but it was no joke as to how successful and influential the entertainment group became. Based out of Chicago, the revolving cast of comedians became home to some of the most well-known entertainers of our time, including: 

  • Bill Murray
  • Gilda Radner
  • John Candy
  • Eugene Levy
  • Catherine O’Hara
  • Steve Carell 
  • Tina Fey
  • Amy Poehler
  • And many more 

Without Second City Chicago, the world may not have come to know these incredible talents!

See Chicago As You’ve Never Seen It Before

Skydeck Chicago is an observation deck located on the 103rd story of the city’s tallest building, Willis Tower. The Skydeck has been a top Chicago attraction since opening in 1974, but an innovative new feature provides a gravity-defying experience that’s certainly not for the faint of heart! The Ledge’s glass boxes extend 4.3 feet from the side of the tower, 1,450 feet above Wacker Drive and the Chicago River. From here, visitors can enjoy a unique and unobstructed view of the city.

Skydeck Chicago offers even more than the city’s very best skyline views, too. It’s also a fantastic all-day event for families—with interactive and educational attractions that highlight Chicago history, architecture, sports teams, pop culture, history, food, music, and people.

Make Skydeck Chicago Your First Stop in the Second City!

Chicago may be the second city, but this incredible city has so much to do and explore, we know you’ll think it’s first-rate! Plan a visit to Skydeck today and see everything Chicago has to offer from over 1,000 feet in the air, and save time by getting your tickets online today.