Giants Gone: The Men Who Made Chicago by Ernest Poole, who won me over with The Harbor, is a delightful read. Published in 1943, Giants Gone introduces readers to the people (Jane Addams was the only woman included) who built Chicago.
Till I read this, I had no idea why Ogden Avenue got its name, or why Astor, Harrison or Kinzie Streets got theirs. Poole illuminated these names by acquainting me with fur trader John Jacob Astor and “Indian trader” (sic) John Kinzie. I learned that William Ogden came to Chicago to get rid of what he thought was a stupid investment his brother-in-law had made. His brother had purchased $80,000 in land and Ogden planned an auction to cut his losses quickly. Well, Ogden had made back all the money after selling just a third of the property. Then he decided there was more to this muddy city than he first thought. He stopped the auction, went back East to settle his affairs before returning to Chicago to make a fortune. Ogden did make and lose money. He also became the city’s first mayor. So of course a street and school should be named after him.
Poole was born in Chicago and his father worked for P.D. Armour, the meat tycoon (pre-“The Jungle” era, we’re assured). Poole knew Leiter’s son and Jane Addams. His family socialized with many of the important families of the late 19th century. So the book contains personal anecdotes in addition to researched information. Best of all the book reads like a novel. It’s lively, smart and sometimes funny.