Chicago’s 8-Track Story, part 1

March 13th, 2014by Jill Austin Filed under: Collections, Exhibitions, Stories

The 8-track, a plastic cartridge containing an endless loop of magnetic tape, revolutionized how and where people could listen to music. While browsing through the Museum’s artifact storage, I found myself fascinated by a recordable 8-track deck. Depending on your personal aesthetics, its design isn’t much to look at. But, in this case, function far outweighs the form.

Montgomery Ward Airline brand recordable 8-track
tape deck, c. 1975

Chicago History Museum purchase, ICHi-68420

In conversation, the 8-track conjures much emotion, derision, even a sense of mystery. Is there a more often maligned example of music technology from American pop culture history? We love to hate it, love to love it, love to be curious about it. While I grew up within the 8-track generation, I confess I never had a player of my own (the coveted relic from my childhood is the Disco Barbie record player). But I remember listening to a Gloria Gaynor 8-track at my neighbor’s house and knowing when 8-tracks went out of fashion in the early 1980s.

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African American Foreign Correspondents

January 16th, 2014by Gary Johnson Filed under: Stories

In his Author! Author! blog series, Museum president Gary T. Johnson highlights works that draw on our collection.


Jinx Coleman Broussard. African American Foreign Correspondents: A History. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press (2013).

Broussard tells a story that needs to be heard: the work of a succession of African American foreign correspondents, beginning in 1850 and continuing for more than 100 years. One of the central figures was Chicago’s Claude A. Barnett, whose Associated Negro Press fed content to newspapers in communities throughout the country. This is a very carefully researched account, one that makes a significant contribution to understanding a growing international awareness of African Americans.

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Chicago’s “I Have a Dream” Rally

January 13th, 2014by Peter Alter Filed under: Collections, Exhibitions, Stories

On a summer Sunday afternoon, Jim Zartman sat on a platform with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Zartman along with hundreds of other Chicagoans helped organize Dr. King’s appearance at Soldier Field on June 21, 1964. Many of the more than 70,000 people in the stands wore their “I Care I’ll Be There” buttons to show their support for civil rights.

Illinois Rally for Civil Rights program, 1964
Chicago History Museum, ICHi-68214

The audience listened to Dr. King speak about racial segregation and the fight to end it. He echoed themes from his most famous remarks—the “I Have a Dream” speech delivered less than a year before at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. Chicago organizers even named this event the “I Have a Dream” Civil Rights Rally.

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A cheeky little New Year’s T

January 3rd, 2014by Petra Slinkard Filed under: Collections, Stories

On January 31, 1978, the Museum acquired this sassy little T-shirt. Distributed in late 1977 by the Chicago Reader, most likely as a promotion, the shirt helped readers ring in the New Year. It features an illustration of a donkey adorned with a Santa hat and mittens and, of course, the Reader’s signature backwards R logo.

“Happy 1978 From Your R’s Backwards Friends” T-shirt, 1977
Gift of Archie Motley, Chicago Historical Society, 1978.11
Photograph by Museum staff

The Chicago Reader, first published on October 1, 1971, is one of the largest alternative weekly newspapers in the country. During the last 42 years, the paper has received much acclaim for being one of the first to adopt a free distribution policy and particularly for focusing reporting efforts on stories of everyday life and ordinary Chicagoans.

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Menus, menus, and more menus

November 27th, 2013by Ellen Keith Filed under: Collections, Stories

With Thanksgiving upon us, this seemed like an excellent time to peruse the Museum’s menus collection. The Research Center houses a collection of Chicago restaurant menus from 1853 almost to the present. 

One is a 1937 Thanksgiving menu from Isbell’s at 590 Diversey Parkway. Diners had their choice of appetizers, soups, main course, drinks, sides, and dessert all for $1.35. If a whole turkey was included (for parties of six or more), the price went up to $2.00. Selections included “Half Florida Grapefruit, Maraschino,” “Roast Young Pig with Cinnamon Glaced [sic] Apples,” and “Thanksgiving Ice Cream.”

A year later in 1938, a better deal was to be had at the Auditorium Hotel, where the price of a Thanksgiving dinner ranged from $1.00 to $1.50 and the most expensive cocktail was $.40 (it was a Horse’s Neck, in case you were wondering; see below for a link to the recipe). These are just two of the menus in this extensive collection. If you have a favorite memory of dining out at one of Chicago’s restaurants, check out this collection and remember that meal gone by.

Foster House menu, one of the earliest in the collection, 1856
Chicago History Museum, ICHi-50800

Thanksgiving menu at the Auditorium Hotel, November 24, 1938
Chicago History Museum, ICHi-68216

> See the finding aid for the Museum’s menus collection

> Visit the Research Center

> Enjoy a Horse’s Neck