The Chicago flag

Chicagoans are fond of their city, showing their pride by displaying icons associated with the city on Chicago clothing, as tattoos and on other objects. One such icon is the city flag. The Chicago flag is proudly flown by businesses, residents and municipal entities to demonstrate their love for their city. Not only is the flag symbolic. It is also aesthetically pleasing in design and color, and each design element represents an important part of Chicago's geography and history.
At Chicago Shirts, we celebrate our city's symbol on a variety of apparel such as our Chicago flag hoodie or our Chicago t shirts. Read what makes it so unique.

History of the Chicago Flag

In 1915, city officials felt that Chicago should have an official flag to establish its identity as a distinctive, vibrant, global city, just as other prominent cities in the U.S. and Europe had done. The city opened a competition inviting the public to submit designs for a flag. Wallace Rice, a flag enthusiast and lecturer at the Art Institute of Chicago Illinois, wrote the rules for the contest.
The selection committee reviewed more than 1,000 submissions. However, they chose a design submitted by Rice himself. In April 1917, the Chicago City Council unanimously approved Rice's submission.

The Chicago flag was ranked second best by the North American Vexillological Association in 2004 in a survey of the best city flags in the United States. In a discussion about what contributed to the high ranking, officials outlined the qualities that make a good flag, including:

  • Simplicity.

  • Meaningful symbolism.

  • Two to three basic colors.

  • No seals or lettering.

  • Distinctiveness or relevance.

The Chicago flag exhibits each of these design principles. Aaron Renn, a prominent urban analyst, notes that Chicago's flag is aesthetically pleasing, recognizable and reflects the city's distinctive character. He also notes that the flag is embraced by the citizens of the windy city, prominently displayed in neighborhoods, motorways, public buildings, and Chicago t shirts. In addition, its individual icons have been adapted as design elements of other objects, including police cars, local newspaper mastheads and internet sites.

Explanation of the Chicago Flag

The flag consists of three white and two blue bands that represent geographical elements of Chicago. The flag today contains four red stars situated in the central white field between the blue bands. Each star has six points instead of the traditional five. Each star represents significant events in the history of the city, and each point symbolizes a value or ideal that contributes to the city's prominence. The flag designed by Rice had only two stars, both placed toward the staff to leave room for others to be added when appropriate.

The White Bands in the Chicago Flag

The three white fields of the flag represent the sections of the city. Rice considered each to have local, national and international significance. He felt that white comprises all the colors, just as Chicago is a city comprised of people from all nations. The upper bar represents Chicago's North Side. Nationally, it stands for the Atlantic Ocean. Internationally, it marks the position of the U.S. in relation to its northern and southern neighbors.
The middle white band, larger than the top and bottom bands of white, represents the West Side, the most populous area of the city. Rice also considered the second band to represent the Great Plains. Chicago is the most prominent city in the Great Plains region. He noted that two stars in the middle band represented the two major cities of the U.S. At that time, Chicago was the second major city in the nation and of the Americas.
The lower white band represents the South Side. Nationally, it stands for the Pacific Coast. Internationally, it represents the nations that lie south and west of the U.S.

The Blue Bands in the Chicago Flag

The upper blue band of the flag represents the North Branch of the Chicago River that divides the city into two sections. Nationally, the upper band represents the Allegheny Mountains, the Great Lakes and the two oceans that border the continent.
The lower blue band of the flag stands for the South Branch of the Chicago River, the Chicago Portage and the Chicago Drainage Canal. Rice also associated the lower band with the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Stars in the Chicago Flag

Rice insisted that the stars have six points. He felt that five-pointed stars represented states and nations and, as such, were out of place for a city flag. He further explained that six-pointed stars distinguished the stars and the Chicago flag from all others. Rice also took special care in the design of the points, making them narrower and sharper than the points of five-pointed stars.
The flag as Rice designed it had only two stars. The first stood for the Great Chicago Fire that burned for three days between October 8 and 10, 1871. It destroyed more than 17,000 buildings and left more than 100,000 people homeless. 
The second star stood for the first World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus. Also known as the Chicago World's Fair, it was host to pavilions of 46 nations and was attended by almost 26 million people.
Today's flag has four stars, representing events important in Chicago's history and culture in chronological order:
  • Fort Dearborn. The six points of the star represent the countries and political entities whose flags have flown over Chicago: France, Great Britain, Virginia, the Northwest Territory, Indian Territory and Illinois.
  • The Great Chicago Fire. The points symbolize the rebuilding of Chicago and stand for commerce, finance, labor, populousness, salubrity and transportation.
  • The World's Columbian Exposition. The six points stand for aesthetics, beneficence, civic pride, education, justice, and religion.
  • The Century of Progress Exposition of 1933. The points represent the international standing and important values of Chicago: The world's third-largest city at that time, the Latin motto "Urbs in Horto," the city's motto "I will," and the city's nicknames Convention City, Great Central Market and Wonder City.

There have been suggestions for a fifth star. However, none have been added to the Chicago flag so far.

Chicago t shirts and the Chicago hoodie

Many Chicagoans wear their pride for their city with the flag featured on Chicago sweatshirts, Chicago t shirts or other apparel. Check out our collection and next time someone asks about the flag on your new Chicago hoodie, you’re in the know about what you are wearing. Have fun!

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