August 9, 2014


In last week’s post I discussed some intriguing information that was discovered about the Thorsen home (still standing!) here in Chicago.  While I was learning more about the home though I also realized so much more about Chicago history, and I just had to share.


chicago workers Chicago-River-Reversi_Leml_smChicago had the fastest population growth of any city in the 19th century.  It was incorporated as a city in 1837, and in 1840 had a population of a mere 4,470. Yet due to its proximity to the Great Lakes and its railroads, Chicago essentially became a boomtown overnight. New residents made their way in flocks each day, seeking the many job opportunities that Chicago offered from its thriving industries in grain, slaughter-houses, packing plants, tanneries, lumberyards, construction, shipping and more.  By 1880 the population had swelled to 500,000, and by the turn of the century it had reached one million!


ruins of chicago fire

Aftermath of The Great Fire

Chicago is known as a city of perseverance, and it’s easy to understand why given its history. Most of its growth and progress happened after the massive reconstruction phase following The Great Fire of 1871, which destroyed much of the city. Perhaps this incredible event inspired the resolute spirit that Chicago became known for.


opening day

Opening Day of The World’s Fair

Not twenty-two years later Chicago won the bid to host The World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, which generated over 27 million visitors to the then 56-year-old city.  Inventions such as the zipper, the vacuum cleaner, the dishwasher, the telephone (albeit some controversy), and the first cartoon character where all developed by Chicagoans.


Chicago became known as the birthplace of the modern skyscraper, the “Prairie School Style” (said to be the first American architectural style), and “The City in a Garden” due to its parks and rooftop gardens.  It’s known around the world as a cultural hub for music, the arts, sports and food.  Chicago not only survived.  It thrived.



Chicago immigrants

Like many other US cities, Chicago was literally built by people from all backgrounds, and today is still known for welcoming “transplants” from all over the Midwest, nation and the world.  Many would say it is one of the largest US cities, yet still with that small town feel about it.


Although Chicago is considered just a baby when compared to that of Copenhagen, which was founded in the 10th century as a Viking fishing village and became the capital of Denmark in the 15th century.   The Thorsen family seems to have embodied the essence of having a true Chicago spirit.  Perhaps it’s because there are many similarities between their first and second homes.


Copenhagen Harbor 1885

Copenhagen Harbor 1885

When they left Copenhagen it too had experienced a great amount of turmoil and devastation.  In 1711 nearly one-third of the population died from the bubonic plague and in 1728 several fires nearly completely destroyed the city. The early 19th century in Denmark ushered in the The Danish Golden Age, a period of great cultural creativity, reconstruction and modern advances.


The Thorsen family was a part of all of this change and growth both in their home country and in their new country. It is easy to see how they prospered as Chicagoans after their arrival in 1869.


Their story is one that describes yet another American Dream scenario!


Do you have an interesting family story?  I’d love to hear about it!