Why is Chicago Called “The Second City”?

Chicago at night

Chicago is known for many nicknames: the Windy City, Chi-town, the City of Big Shoulders. But one nickname–The Second City–has seen quite an evolution over the years. While the origins of this moniker may have been rooted in tough times and snide intentions, it now reflects the spirit and tenacity of the city, proving that Chicago is never one to be discounted. 

The Meaning Behind Second City Chicago

There are multiple theories as to why Chicago is called “the Second City”: 

  1. 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. Chicago essentially became a “second city” because it was built twice. 
  2. 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 compare with the east coast’s size and population, keeping Chicago firmly in 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?

Despite the connotation that Chicago is somehow perpetually trying to rise up out of its second billing, The Second City nickname has seen quite a journey over the years, evolving from the somewhat negative meaning of being less than best into showcasing how the city and its residents never back down from a fight. 

In fact, in 1959 an improv comedy troupe named itself The Second City in an act of self-depreciation, 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 known these incredible talents!

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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!. Save time when you get your tickets online today.