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Navy Pier History

July 20, 2012

Navy Pier is the Midwest’s number one tourist and leisure destination, attracting more than 8 million visitors per year but most people don’t know the unique history associated with this tourist attraction.


Early History- Municipal Pier

In 1916, Municipal Pier opened to the public as a home for freight and passenger docks.  Soon after, when the US entered World War I, it housed several regiments of soldiers, Red Cross and Home Defense units. As years passed, Municipal Pier became more popular by adding its own streetcar line, theater, restaurants and an emergency hospital. In 1921, Chicago Mayer William H. Thompson held “Pageants of Progress” which drew over one million visitors in a fifteen-day time period. It was the only pier of the time to combine the business of shipping with the pleasure of public entertainment. Soon after the war, Municipal Pier was renamed to Navy Pier as a tribute to Navy personnel who served during World War 1.



As the Great Depression swept the country, the freight traffic at Navy Pier dramatically declined. That being said, recreational use of the pier continued. In 1933, the Century of Progress Exposition drew 1,500 conventions and 1.5 million visitors. During this time, the Navy continued using the pier as a place to enroll and train soldiers. By the time the Navy’s usage ceased in 1946, sixty-thousand people were trained at Navy Pier. As the Navy moved out, the University of Illinois moved in. The facility was transformed into an undergraduate branch campus that remained in existence until 1965.


In the 1970’s, Navy Pier underwent renovation as part of the city’s observance of the country’s Bicentennial Celebration and was named a ‘Chicago Landmark’ by Chicago City Hall. In 1978, Navy Pier hosted Chicagofest which brought millions of visitors to the Pier with music, food and entertainment.


Navy Pier

Since its first Chicagofest, Navy Pier has continued to grow and expand for visitors. In the 1990’s, Navy Pier was renovated as part of the $150 million redevelopment project. Because of this, shops, restaurants, attractions and a mix of year round entertainment was added to Navy Pier.

Every year, Navy Pier holds exciting events and attractions to give visitors a memorable experience. From the amazing fireworks display, to the exciting tall ships festival – Navy Pier is the place to be in Chicago.



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