City of the Big Shoulders

Why do we call Chicago the “City of the Big Shoulders”? One look at the men should tell you why! We grow them strong and rugged here!

big shoulders

That’s a nice idea. Imagine a city where every man has a cover model’s physique… happy sigh!

But the real story behind the phrase is a little more complex. In 1914, Carl Sandburg published the first of his Chicago poems, a series of nine poems about the city. The poem was a celebration of the city’s working-class, industrious ethic, something that remains as true of Chicago’s character now as it was a century ago. Sure, some of the people worked in offices then, same as now. But there were enough laborers swinging mallets and hauling sides of beef to give the people a reputation for sturdy, muscular builds.

Here’s how the famous line from the first verse appeared in the original publication.


Just look at that layout! We don’t incorporate as many graphics and different fonts in our book designs today, but it does have a visual appeal even if it’s old-fashioned. Anyway, the fifth line, “City of the Big Shoulders,” was an instant hit and has been a nickname for Chicago ever since it first appeared. We’re proud of that nickname and proud of the generations of brawny men who made it true!





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