Ah, Chi-Town. The Windy City. Beirut by the Lake. Paris on the Prairie. City of the Big Shoulders. Hog Butcher for the World. The name “Chicago” is the French version of the Miami-Illinois word skikaakwa, meaning “Stinky Onion.” Whether the name referred to the wild Allium that grew along the banks of the Chicago River, or to what would, on day, be the subtle aroma of a warm Dos Equis remains an unresolved historical debate. Several years later, however, in 1833, William Lill & Co. founded the first commercial brewery in America, thereby paving the way for a Northwestern Kallipolis bathed in sudsy goodness.
But trouble was a-brewing! On April 21, 1855, the Lager Beer Riot, Chicago’s very first civil disturbance, erupted when Mayor Levi Boone proposed a new city ordinance intended to close taverns on Sundays, raise the cost of liquor licenses from $50 to $300, and lower the liquor license validation from one year to three months. The move, perpetrated by the Know-Nothings, a charming assembly of anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic nativists, was ostensibly designed to oppress Germans and Irish accustomed to sipping an affordable brew on the sabbath. German leaders raised a defense fund to support tavern owners arrested for noncompliance, and a legal test case was scheduled for April 21. A brief, but festive, riot ensued wherein sixty were arrested, one was pronounced dead, and Chicago’s immigrant voters were sufficiently mobilized to defeat the Know-Nothings in the 1856 election. The $50 liquor license was restored. Suds reigned supreme on Sunday. And modern political partisanship in Chicago city elections was born. How do you like them stinky onions?