Navy Pier

Chicago, Illinois | C.1916

Photo Credit: Sam Abrahams

The Navy Pier has served the city of Chicago for well over a century. Encompassing almost fifty-five acres of parks, gardens, and sights, it is the Midwest’s top tourist and leisure destination, with around two million annual visitors.

In 1909, Daniel Burnham, architect of the World’s Fair, ambitiously envisioned five piers in his “Plan of Chicago,” but Navy was the only one built. Reaching 3,300 feet along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, it was the world’s largest pier, supported by 20,000 logs felled in Oregon. The surrounding area would also become the original home of the first-ever Ferris wheel.

Although Burnham’s plans called it the “People’s Pier,” instead it was inaugurated in 1916 as the Municipal Pier, and wouldn’t receive its current name until 1927, honoring the military housed there during the Great War. But it wasn’t just for personnel—the pier also served as a prison for

draft dodgers, and became an army base and pilot training center in World War II as Lake Michigan offered landlocked protection against Nazi U-boats and Japanese Zeros.

After decades of underutilization, the pier was revitalized in 1989 as a tourist destination, chang- ing the scene significantly since days when the huge wharf teemed with some 15,000 young aircraft carrier pilots. Among them was a future president: George H. W. Bush.

Today, Navy Pier might well be renamed its intended “People’s Pier”: among the busiest attractions in Chicago, it features a mix of shops, restaurants, rides and even a World Record. In May 2013, park operations manager Clinton Shepherd spent 48 hours, 8 minutes, and 25 seconds on the Ferris wheel without sleeping—and made the Guinness Book of World Records for the “longest marathon on a fairground/theme park attraction.”

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