This week in Illinois history: Dec. 24-30
Dec. 24, 1880—Arcola. Children’s author and cartoonist Johnny Gruelle is born. Gruelle was not just any kid-lit writer; he was the mastermind behind the iconic Raggedy Ann doll and its sibling, Raggedy Andy. Gruelle’s father, an Impressionist painter, is said to have influenced young Johnny, according to publisher Pook Press in the United Kingdom. Well into adulthood and his career as a cartoonist, Gruelle invented the dolls by inscribing a face upon a “dusty, faceless rag doll” around 1915 for his daughter, Marcella. His story has a bittersweet end. Not too many years after publishing Raggedy Ann stories and having the doll created, Marcella passed away from diphtheria.
Dec. 25, 1865—Chicago. The Union Stock Yards open, helping Chicago become “hog butcher for the world.” National Public Radio called the Union Stock Yards “infamous,” but why? As author Dominic A. Pacyga wrote in Slaughterhouse: Chicago's Union Stock Yard and the World It Made, even 1950s-era schoolchildren visited the site, where millions of livestock were butchered annually. The attraction? It allowed city dwellers to witness the food chain on a personal level, rather than regarding it as a far-off process. “It was actually the miracle of mass industrialization,” Pacyga said. The yards ceased operation in 1971.
Dec. 26, 1911—Chicago. Steve Kordek, pinball machine designer, born is born. If you’re going to design a game around swatting a small ball around a chute in a box while bells and whistles sound, there are two ways (at least) to do it. Kordek designed the most popular and widely known method of using two paddles to send the sphere ricocheting from barrier to barrier. Earlier machines had one flipper or six. Kordek brought the concept down to two, debuting his machine at a 1948 trade show. “Not only was Mr. Kordek’s two-flipper game less expensive to produce; it also gave players greater control,” the New York Times noted. Besides pinball, Kordek is credited as the creator of dozens of other games.
Dec. 27, 1824—Clinton County. The county, named after Erie Canal pioneer DeWitt Clinton, is formed. Although he was a New York senator and governor, Clinton’s good reputation stretched well beyond that state’s borders. As the county’s historical page reports, “nine states, including Illinois . . . have a Clinton County, but Illinois is the only state to also have a DeWitt County.” His efforts to create a canal “opened the old Northwest corridor of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois to the land-hungry New Englanders and facilitated upper New York State commerce.”
Dec. 28, 1886—Shelbyville. Josephine Garis Cochrane receives the first U.S. patent for a commercially successful dishwasher. Cochrane came from a family of engineers; her father is credited with a hydraulic pump, and her great-grandfather received an early steamboat patent (his name: John Fitch). At age 44, Cochrane, low on cash, developed the idea for the labor-saving appliance to prevent housekeepers from “chipping her heirloom china.” She enlisted mechanic George Butters to help build the prototype. Her company is now known as Kitchen-Aid, and she was posthumously inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.
Dec. 29, 1938—Evergreen Park. Business titan and sports-team owner Wayne Huizenga is born. As publisher The Balance tells it, Huizenga occupies a unique niche in American capitalism for launching three Fortune 1000 companies. They include Waste Management, Blockbuster Entertainment and AutoNation, the site reports. In addition, “he is the only person to have developed six NYSE-listed companies.” His Miami Dolphins and Florida Marlins, plus the Panthers hockey team, also qualify him for the title of “only person ever to own three pro teams in a single market, two of which won national championships.”
Dec. 30, 1903—Chicago. A deadly blaze breaks out in Chicago’s Iroquois Theater, claiming hundreds of lives. According to the Illinois History Journal’s Digital Research Library, comedian Eddie Foy was delivering a matinee performance when the fire started. The Iroquois Theater was claimed to be fireproof courtesy of an asbestos curtain (it turned out to be cotton), and it had more than two dozen exits. Once theatergoers realized the flames were real and not a stunt, “chaos filled the auditorium as the audience began rushing for the theater's Randolph Street entrance.” Iron panels in place to limit people from slipping in without paying hampered escape efforts. In all, 602 died, including 212 children.