Classic Chicago

Before Navy Pier Had Tourists

Navy Pier wasn't always a tourist attraction. What went on their first?


Before people headed toward the Ferris Wheel, before crowds gathered every Wednesday and Saturday nights to watch fireworks, before the Navy bought naming rights to the property … wait, what?

Oh, that last part didn’t happen. Sure, it may sound like the United Center or U.S. Cellular Field, but Navy Pier actually was, ultimately, named for the Navy. While it was initially built in 1914 for $4.5 million and then opened to the public as Chicago Municipal Pier in 1916 as a place for commerce and entertainment, it eventually was taken over as a naval training area in 1941 to prepare sailors for World War II. Even before that, however, the name was changed to Navy Pier to honor navy personnel from the First World War. Even George H.W. Bush trained there prior to WWII.

After the war, the Pier was granted to University of Illinois and it held classes until the mid-’60s when it started moving into the social, entertainment place we know it to be today with restaurants, bars, rides, an IMAX theater and the Chicago Children’s Museum.

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