Second City Firsts — Monumental Moments in Chicago History

Chicago's Sears Tower among other skyscrapers. Photo via Wikimedia, by Dori.

Chicago’s Sears Tower among other skyscrapers. Photo via Wikimedia, by Dori.

[Disclosure: This article was brought to you with support from our partners]

Chicago’s nickname is the “Second City,” but this city is home to quite a few firsts, including the first skyscraper, the first Twinkie and the first pinball machine.
The First Skyscraper

When you walk around Chicago, you will be dazzled by the modern architecture and the towering skyscrapers of this elegantly designed city. When it comes to architecture, Chicago is the birthplace of the modern skyscraper and many commercial buildings around the world have been inspired by the styles that were developed here. The Home Insurance Building, built in 1884, was thought to be the very first skyscraper in the world. At 10 stories, it wasn’t the tallest, but it was the first to use a structural steel frame that set the precedent for all future skyscraper construction. This building was unfortunately destroyed in 1931 to make way for what is now the LaSalle National Bank Building.

The First Twinkie

This sugary snack cake — and American Icon that made headlines when it was discontinued (don’t worry, it’s back, and slightly lower in calories)  — was invented in Chicago! James Dewar worked at the Hostess bakery facility in Schiller Park as deliveryman in 1920. He stayed with the company and worked his way up to the position of manager by 1930. At the time, Hostess made a product that was known as “Little Shortbread Fingers” with strawberry filling which could only be produced during the six-week strawberry season. For the rest of the year, the long pans were unused. In 1930, Dewar’s first year in management, he developed a new recipe that would use the elongated pans but with banana-cream filling instead. He was inspired to come up with the name when he saw a billboard advertising the “Twinkle Toe” Shoe Company.

The banana-cream inside was eventually replaced with vanilla during World War II, out of necessity when bananas were scarce as the ships used to transport them were being used by the military. Until November 2012, when Twinkies went under, Americans ate approximately 500 million Twinkies per year, and Chicago led the way with more Twinkies per person eaten than any other city.

The First Pinball Machine

The ancestor of the modern pinball machine was a 19th century contraption known as the “Bagatelle-Table” which looked more like a pool table than a pinball machine. Players used cue sticks to hit the balls into holes at the opposite end of the table.

Building on this idea in a new way, the very first coin-operated “pinball machine” was built in Chicago by a company called Gottlieb. The game, with a playfield under glass and a plunger device to dispense the ball, was called “Baffle Ball” and it was a huge hit.

Later, a man named Raymond Maloney who distributed the product was having trouble obtaining more Baffle Ball units to sell. He founded Lion Manufacturing and produced a game he had designed himself, Ballyhoo. These two games were the prototypes for all pinball games to follow.

If you are on the search for Chicago city ideas for a vacation, why not head to an arcade and try your luck at the pinball machines?

The First Homosexual Rights Organization in America

In 1924, Chicago was the first city in the United States to have a homosexual rights organization. It was called the Society for Human Rights and the organization published the first American publication written for homosexual readers, entitled “Friendship and Freedom.” Unfortunately, the group only lasted a few months as several of the members were arrested. However, despite the fact that it was small and short lived, the Society for Human Rights has been recognized as a very important precursor to the gay rights movement.

The First Television Remote Control

Next time you change the channel when watching TV, say a little silent thanks to the memory of Eugene Polley, the inventor of the first wireless channel changer. These days it is essential to have a remote control for navigating our hundreds of channels, but back in 1955 when the “Flash-Matic” was first released, it was considered a luxury item. As cable television became more popular, the remote control started to be thought of as a necessity for TV watchers. Mr. Polley, who passed away in 2012, shared an Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1997 for his contribution.

Chicago has been a city of innovation and progress for many years. These are just a few of the inventions and firsts that took place here.

About the Author: Robert Snowman is a freelance writer and travel blogger. He has lived in Chicago for 14 years and has fallen in love with the city’s charm.


About Guest

World Travel Buzz is always looking for new contributors and collaborators. For more information, please contact us