Chicago has a lot to be proud of. We have a rich scientific, sports, political, musical, artistic, and social history. And there are many ways to express Chicago pride. But there are two specific symbols adopted by the city council in 1917 that are becoming increasingly popular today–the Municipal Flag and the Y Symbol.
Many cities have official flags. But Chicago’s flag perhaps has made its way into local popular culture and the hearts of Chicagoans. You can find the Chicago flag on t-shirts, posters in college dorm rooms, framed in restaurants, as stickers on car bumpers, and on guitar cases of hip local bands, or, perhaps most notably, tattooed on more than a few people.
So What Is It?
The flag has alternating stripes (3 white, 2, blue) with four six-pointed red stars on the center white stripe.
What Does It Mean?
The top white stripe represents the North Side, the middle white stripe represents the West Side, and the bottom white stripe represents the South Side.
The top blue stripe represents Lake Michigan and the North Branch of the Chicago River. The bottom blue stripe represents the Great Canal and the South Branch of the Chicago River.
The four six-pointed red stars (going left to right) each signify something on their own while their points also have individual meaning.
Star 1: Fort Dearborn
The points of Star 1 represent: transportation, labor, commerce, finance, populousness, and salubrity.
Star 2: the Chicago Fire of 1871
The points of Star 2 represent: religion, education, aesthetics, justice, beneficence, and civic pride.
Star 3: the 1893 World Fair
The points of Star 3 represent the history of Illinois’s governing bodies: France 1693, Great Britain 1763, Virginia 1778, Northwest Territory 1798, Indian Territory 1802, and Illinois Statehood 1818.
Star 4: 1933 Century of Progress Exposition
The points of Star 4 represent significant attributes of the city: world’s third largest city (in 1933), Chicago’s motto “Urbs in Horto,” the “I will” motto, Great Central Market, Wonder City, and Convention City.
When Did The Flag Become Popular?
Though the original flag was adopted in 1917 (with two stars–the 3rd and 4th stars were added in 1933 and 1939 respectively), the flag did not become widespread throughout the city in popular culture until the 1990s.
Why Is The Flag Popular?
While it is difficult to fully explain the flag’s popularity, part of it is probably because of its great design. The North American Vexillological Association, which is dedicated to the study of flags, performed a survey in 2004 to rate American city flags. Chicago’s flag finished second, just behind the Washington D.C. flag.
The Y Symbol
Also known as the Municipal Device, the Y Symbol represents the Chicago River and its two branches (North and South, which divide at Wolf Point). The Y Symbol was first created in 1892 for a Chicago Tribune contest. It was adopted in 1917 by the city council–the same time as the city flag.
The purpose of the Y Symbol is to allow Chicagoans and businesses to promote the city in their own manner. People are encouraged to fill in the design and decorate as they like. And over the years, many have. The results have been impressive and quite artful.
As the Chicago River flows like a piece of public artwork itself, over the years the Y Symbol has appeared in public places in Chicago as public art.
The Chicago Theatre’s marquee famously features the Y Symbol filled in with bright lights.
The Y Symbol appears in many other notable places that you probably recognize–but may have not noticed The Y Symbol.
The Y Symbol is present at the Chicago Cultural Center, City Hall, the Civil Engineering Monument of the Millenium, Grant Park, Harold Washington Library Center, LaSalle Street Bridge, the Millenium Park light fixtures, the Rookery Building, Navy Pier, and the Riverwalk Gateway.
Though it still lags behind the city flag in popularity, the Y Symbol has increasingly found its way onto T-shirts, belt buckles, art canvases, and tattoos. You just have to look a little bit harder to find it.
Urban Scavenger Hunt
In a way, The Y Symbol is like a good old-fashioned scavenger hunt in Chicago. It lurks in many places, and there is no comprehensive list of all of its locations. While you are going about your daily activities in Chicago, if you find the Y Symbol in more places than we have noted here, please let us know. It is interesting to find and reclaim some of the Chicago pride hidden over the years.
Two Great Symbols For Second City
These are two wonderful symbols for our wonderful city. Notice them when you are out in the city. Incorporate them in you artwork. Give them as gifts. Use them to show your Chicago pride!