A Green Galore: Chicago’s Green River

A crew dyeing the Chicago River for Saint Patrick's Day | Source: Bruce Leighty / Alamy Stock Photo

1962 was the first time Chicago had dumped 100 pounds of green dye into the Chicago River. 60 years later, the river’s periodic emerald green and ethereal gleam are tied to Saint Patrick’s Day Celebration in the United States. So, how does the tradition of dyeing a large body of water with a special powder come to be? 

The History of the River

In the 1800s, Chicago was one of the several cities that drew a large population of Irish immigrants. A few decades later and a fifth of Chicago’s population was Irish, and what had then been an unofficial celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day became a Chicago tradition that has only strengthened in recent years. The green dye actually originated as an effort to clean the river. It is a well-known fact in the late 1900s, the Chicago river was exceedingly dirty, filled with bacteria, indigenous creatures, and land waste. This led it to even don the name “the Bubbly River” because of the methane gases that would quite literally bubble in the river. The Chicago Plumbers Union had noticed that the white overalls the plumbers wore bore a green hue because of the solution they used to find sewage in the river. The next year, the Chicago River had its signature green color on Saint Patrick’s Day. This lasted for an entire week, allowing all to see the green spectacle. The initial proposal was to dye Lake Michigan but after a consultation with the business manager of the Chicago Plumbers Union, they decided to dye the more manageably sized Chicago River. In recent years, they’ve controlled the amount of dye they put into the river so that it lasts a few hours rather than a few weeks. 

How They Dye The River

The dye was originally an oil-based product that was actually detrimental to the river’s health. After environmentalists pleads to transition to an environmentally friendly vegetable-based dye in 1966, they did and oddly enough the dye is orange, not green. To dye the river, one motorboat dumps the powder and the other stirs the water, turning the river green. 

Green dye being spilled into the Chicago River | Source: CNN

Spots to View The River

There are plenty of great spots that fully encapsulate the river’s emerald green. The dyeing of the river happens the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day, during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. To watch the river turn green in real-time, the Chicago River Walk is the perfect venue. It allows for a sizeable view even when taking thousands of other people into consideration, which allows you to get an up-close view of the river. If you do arrive early, the sight is simply magnificent.

A crowd looking at the green-dyed Chicago River | Source: NPR

About the Author

David Dickson
I am from a noble village in Illinois. You might not have heard of it, but it is called Chicago. I enjoy writing, listening to different types of music, computer games, and singing. Everywhere.

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