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Chicago Transformed

Chicago Transformed

World War I and the Windy City

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Joseph Gustaitis


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
368 pages, 6 x 9, 101 illustrations


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About the Book

WINNER, Russell P. Strange Book of the Year Award from the Illinois State Historical Society, 2017!

It’s been called the “war that changed everything,” and it is difficult to think of a historical event that had a greater impact on the world than the First World War. Events during the war profoundly changed our nation, and Chicago, especially, was transformed during this period. Between 1913 and 1919, Chicago transitioned from a nineteenth-century city to the metropolis it is today. Despite the importance of the war years, this period has not been documented adequately in histories of the city. In Chicago in World War I: How the Great War Transformed a Great City, Joseph Gustaitis fills this gap in the historical record, covering the important wartime events, developments, movements, and people that helped shape Chicago.
Gustaitis attributes many of Chicago’s changes to the labor shortage caused by the war. African Americans from the South flocked to Chicago during the Great Migration, and Mexican immigration increased as well. This influx of new populations along with a wave of anti-German hysteria—which nearly extinguished German culture in Chicago—changed the city’s ethnic composition. As the ethnic landscape changed, so too did the culture. Jazz and blues accompanied African Americans to the city, and Chicago soon became America’s jazz and blues capital. Gustaitis also demonstrates how the nation’s first sexual revolution occurred not during the 1960s but during the World War I years, when the labor shortage opened up unprecedented employment opportunities for women. These opportunities gave women assertiveness and freedom that endured beyond the war years. In addition, the shortage of workers invigorated organized labor, and determined attempts were made to organize in Chicago’s two leading industrial workplaces—the stockyards and the steel mills—which helped launch the union movement of the twentieth century. Gustaitis explores other topics as well: Prohibition, which practically defined the city in the 1920s; the exploits of Chicago’s soldiers, both white and black; life on the home front; the War Exposition in Grant Park; and some of the city’s contributions to the war effort. The book also contains sketches of the wartime activities of prominent Chicagoans, including Jane Addams, Ernest Hemingway, Clarence Darrow, Rabbi Emil Hirsch, John T. McCutcheon, “Big Bill” Thompson, and Eunice Tietjens.
Although its focus is Chicago, this book provides insight into change nationwide, as many of the effects that the First World War had on the city also affected the United States as a whole. Drawing on a variety of sources and written in an accessible style that combines economic, cultural, and political history, Chicago in World War I: How the Great War Transformed a Great City portrays Chicago before the war, traces the changes initiated during the war years, and shows how these changes still endure in the cultural, ethnic, and political landscape of this great city and the nation.


Joseph Gustaitis, a freelance writer and editor living in Chicago, is the author of Chicago’s Greatest Year, 1893: The White City and the Birth of a Modern Metropolis and many articles in the popular history field. Previously, Gustaitis worked as an editor for Collier’s Year Book and Collier’s Encyclopedia.  He has also worked in television and won an Emmy Award for writing for ABC-TV’s FYI program.


"Chicago Transformed deserves a wide audience and could prove an effective supplementary text for college classes in Chicago history."—Roland L. Guyotte, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

“World War I started several national trends, including the Great Migration, the spread of jazz, anti-German sentiments (which contributed to Prohibition, which contributed to organized crime), labor unrest, Mexican immigration, and the first sexual revolution. In the highly readable Chicago Transformed, Joseph Gustaitis . . . expertly analyzes how Chicago—a microcosm of America—was the focal point for the forces these developments unleashed.”—Greg Borzo, author of The Chicago “L” and Chicago Cable Cars

“Exhaustively researched and packed with exceptional detail, this book is a must-read delight for any fan of Chicago and its history.”—Richard Lanyon, author of Building the Canal to Save Chicago
“A broad survey, Chicago Transformed unfolds the interplay of Chicagoans during World War I to reveal and explain many key ingredients in the history of the Windy City that still influence the Chicago we know today.”—Patrick T. McBriarty, author of Chicago River Bridges