THE MUNICIPAL FLAG OF CHICAGO
A historical summary of the municipal flag of Chicago accepted by city council on April 4, 1917.
1917 – 1933
1933 – 1939
1939 – Present
In 1915, Mayor William Hale Thompson appointed a municipal flag commission, chaired by Alderman James A. Kearnes. Among the commission members were wealthy industrialist Charles Deering and impressionist painter Lawton S. Parker. Parker asked lecturer and poet Wallace Rice to develop the rules for an open public competition for the best flag design. Over a thousand entries were received. In the end, the commission chose the design by Wallace Rice himself. On April 4, 1917, the commission’s recommendation was accepted by the city council.
The city flag was officially adopted by the City Council in 1917. Its designer, poet Wallace Rice, who four years later wrote the semi-centennial festival play, explained its symbolism: “Every flag in the world requires explanation, and the Chicago flag is no exception. The key to the flags symbolism comes from a description provided in 1928 by Mr. Rice. It is white, because its population is a composite of all the nations, dwelling here in peace. The white is divided into three parts, the uppermost signifying the North Side, the larger middle bar the great West Side, with an area and population greatly exceeding that of the other two sides, and the lowermost the South Side. The two stripes of blue signify primarily Lake Michigan, and the North Branch of the Chicago River above, bounding the North Side, and the South Branch of the River and the great Canal below. On the broad middle white bar are two six-pointed stars–(five pointed stars in the language of flags standing for sovereign states). That nearest the staff symbolizes the Chicago fire of 1871, the other the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1892-93, the two great formative events in local history.”
An excerpt from the Chicago Daily Tribune, March 29, 1917:
Design for a Chicago Flag, to be emblematic of a robust municipal ideal, was submitted to the city council yesterday by the Chicago municipal flag commission, appointed by Mayor Thompson eighteen months ago. The commission describes the flag thus:
“Its uppermost stripe, of white, is eight inches broad; the second stripe, of blue, is nine inches; the central bar, of white, is eighteen inches, and the two lower stripes correspond with the uppermost two. Near the staff on the broad white stripe are two six pointed red stars, fourteen inches tall.”
“Viewed locally, the two blue stripes symbolize the Chicago river with its two branches and the three white bars represent the three sides of the city. The red stars stand for the Chicago fire and the World’s fair, two great influences on the city’s history. The six points in the first star stand for transportation, trade, finance, industry, populousness, and healthfulness; those in the second for religion, education, aesthetics, beneficence, justice and civism [sic].”
“Considered nationally, the blue stripes stand for the mountain ranges which flank the plain of which Chicago is the center. The central white bar stands for this plain and the two outer white bars for the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.”
The flag was designed by Wallace Rice, 2701 Best avenue.
The symbolic meaning of the Flag is as follows:
The White Stripes
- Top White Stripe represents the North side of the city.
- Center White Stripe represents the West side of the city.
- Bottom White Stripe represents the South side of the city.
The Blue Stripes
- The top Blue Stripe represents Lake Michigan and the North Branch of the Chicago River.
- The bottom Blue Stripe represents the South Branch of the Chicago River and the Great Canal.
The Red Stars
- The First Red Star represents Fort Dearborn (added by City Council in 1939). The Points of the First Red Star Signify: Transportation, Labor, Commerce, Finance, Populousness, and Salubrity [sic].
- The Second Red Star represents the Chicago Fire of October 8-10, 1871. The Points of the Second Red Star Signify: Religion, Education, Esthetics, Justice, Beneficence, and Civic Pride.
- The Third Red Star represents the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The Points of the Third Red Star Signify History of the Area: France 1693, Great Britain 1763, Virginia 1778, Northwest Territory 1798, Indian Territory 1802, and Illinois Statehood 1818.
- The Fourth Red Star represents the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933 (added by City Council in 1933) The Points of the Fourth Red Star Signify: World’s Third Largest City, City’s Latin Motto, “I will” Motto, Great Central Market, Wonder City, and Convention City.
NOTE: The order of the stars has changed with each version of the flag, the above descriptions are in relation to the current flag.
RELATED MUNICIPAL CODE
MCC 1-8-020 Design of Flag, Emblems and Badges. The forms, devices, symbols and colors in this chapter described and set forth, respectively, for the purpose mentioned, shall be and they are hereby adopted for the municipal flag, the municipal standard, the municipal pennant, the municipal device, and the municipal badge of the city. (Prior code 2-2)
MCC 1-8-030 Municipal Flag – Design Requirements. The municipal flag shall be white, with two blue bars, each taking up a sixth of its space, and set a little less than one-sixth of the way from the top and bottom of the flag, respectively. There shall be four bright red stars with sharp points, six in number, set side by side, close together, next to the staff in the middle third of the surface of the flag. The said red stars on the municipal flag shall be designated from the hoist outwards as follows: Fort Dearborn; The Great Chicago Fire of October 8-10, 1871; The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893; The Century of Progress of 1933. The proportions of the municipal flag and standard shall be preferably two in height to three in breadth, or three in height to five in breadth, in banners to be borne by hand, and as one to two in flags to be flown from masts and staffs, or in any of the dimensions officially prescribed for the national ensign by the government of the United States. When suspended from windows or over a street, the municipal flag may be pointed or notched. The municipal standard shall be made of silk, and be fringed with gold. (Prior code 2-3)
MCC 1-8-040 Municipal Flag – Display. The municipal flag shall be displayed on the City Hall, and on other municipal buildings and other public places, on all holidays and other occasions when the national flag is ordered to be displayed. Provided, always, however, that such municipal flag shall never be displayed in any position that shall indicate superiority to or precedence over the flag of the United States. Every public building owned by the city shall be equipped with a flagpole mounted on the outside thereof. (Prior code 2-4)
MCC 1-8-090 Private Use of Flags and Emblems Unlawful. It shall be unlawful for any person to use the municipal flag, standard, pennant, or badge, or any imitation or design thereof, except for the usual and customary purposes of decoration or display. No person shall print or stamp thereon or cause to be displayed thereon any letter, word, Iegend or device not herein provided for. Any person violating this section shall be fined not less than $5.00 nor more than $25.00 for each offense. (Prior code 2-9)
- Chicago Daily Tribune (March 29, 1917). “Offer Design for City Flag; What it Means.” Retrieved from Print, Page 13. Accessed January 1, 2010.
- Chicago Historical Society (1996). “Flying the Flag, 1921.” Retrieved from ChicagoHS.org. Accessed January 1, 2010.
- Chicago Public Library. “Municipal Flag of Chicago.” Retrieved from ChiPubLib.org. Accessed January 1, 2010.