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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
I am from Chicagoland originally so I ordered this DVD with great interest. How much I didn't know!

Like other reviewers have stated, to them Chicago is a city of African Americans and Poles. What this DVD chronicles, however, is the city's first 80 years, from its days as a stinking city along Lake Michigan of the 1820s, to the 1871 fire that destroyed a fourth of the town to the end of the 19th century when Chicago had become the largest city in the hinterland and had hosted the largest World Fair up to that time. Chicago had undergone a fast metamorphosis that no other town in the US can replicate.

Its location along Lake Michigan had made Chicago an ideal spot for trade and routes to the Mississippi. We learn about the building of canals linking the lake to Illinois rivers flowing into the Mississippi, canals that were built primarily by the Irish. The other large ethnic group in town were the Germans, who disliked the Irish immensely. They were, as the narrator mentioned, the "group that drank on Sundays." Imagine that! Neighborhoods were often defined by natural barriers such as canals and rivers.

Prominent industrialists and merchants like Marshall, Pullman, McCormick helped design the Chicago Loop area, but it was the laborers who made the city. From hog slaughters to tunnel and canal diggers, factory workers, sky scraper builders, all of them contributed to the fast rise of this city. People flocked here for jobs. The Irish moved here to get away from the English back East.

With this migration west came ethnic groups that before had not been dominant. Overcrowding resulted, and with that came political corruption, gambling, prostitution, drug abuse and the leading people of those vices. Religious, political and ethnic clashes opened, and one understands why even today Chicago is one of the most ethnic segregated city.

"Chicago, City of the Century" is an excellent work of social history offered in archival photographs (thanks to the Chicago Historical Society) and narrated by Chicago historians. Presented in three DVDs (the fourth one is more interactive), three of them 90 minutes long each, the viewer gets a great overview of how fast the Chicago rose to prominence. It's only a shame that the documentary ends in 1897. American Experience should make a second part to this, chronicling Chicago of the 20th century, when its neighborhoods became more eastern European; Poles crowded out the Irish, and Jews moved in near the German neighborhoods. At any rate, this production would interest anyone fascinated by social history and American emigration: what happened in Chicago between the drinking Irish and Germans offended many hard-working Protestant women in town; when women won the right to vote in 1920 they were a pivitol reason why Prohibition was passed a decade later (and why so many once-wealthy German brewers were economically ruined)

Kudos to the Illinois Department of Commerce and the Community of Affairs/Illinois Bureau of Tourism for funding this production.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2006
This outstanding addition to the PBS American Experience series is based on David Miller's "City of Century," the history of Chicago's meteoric rise from a swamp on the edge of Lake Michigan to America's second largest metropolis at the end of the 19th Century. Between 1833-1899 Chicago stood at the center of, and symbolized America's rise from a rural republic to an industrial giant. The first modern city of the United States and, much as Manchester was to England's Industrial Revolution, the "shock city" of American capitalism.

Chicago-City of the Century presents Chicago's history with all of its glory and its warts (which is why many Chicagoans hate the film). It is about the often overlooked impact of Chicago in the 19th Century and it is not about Chicago in the 20th Century.

I suspect that the book and this documentary may ultimately help launch dozens of histories about Chicago's impact on the wider world during the 19th Century.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2014
This four DVD set is sensational. The narrator's voice is authoritative and seductive. The historical sequencing and overlaps between each DVD ensures that referencing major events becomes more memorable.
The fourth DVD with the mini doco on the trains is a practical guide as you get to travel each train route and see the main sites. make sure that you keep a notebook handy. I found this DVD a great back up to the Eyewitness Essential Guide Book of Chicago. It was also terrific to watch the four DVDs and refer to my map of Chicago.
The only disappointment was the packaging as the plastic outer casing tore away with the security seal at the top. To buy a replacement four DVD cover was an expensive and unwarranted extra. (This stopped you getting the Five Stars!)
This is minor compared to the many hours of repeated viewings to assist us in our "immersion travel experience" of Chicago.
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32 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2005
The subtitle is "City of the Century" because it stops at 1899, roughly. Thus, the infamy of gangsters and the mayoralty of the Daleys, father and son, are never brought up. At the very last second of the 3rd, really last, DVD they mention the arrival of African Americans. I can't even think of Chicago without blacks. They made the blues and house music. Harold Washington made history. This city still suffers from severe segregation. But I guess all of that arose in the 20th century. This DVD gives scant attention to Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable and every black school in the City emphasizes that he founded Chicago. Actually, Chicago has more Polish people than any city besides Warsaw and yet they scarcely get brought up either. Heavy attention is placed upon the Irish, however.

This documentary focuses heavily upon business leaders. One learns much about famous names like Fields, Pullman, and others. This work seemed to emphasize that class and ethnicity were the big dividers in that era. It seems so different from now when race plays that role, and has done so for decades.

For real, this series could have been held on 2 DVDs, rather than 4. I guess it looks better as 4 in the libraries and dens of those who collect it. The last DVD gives you a great tour of the City now. I think it's actually not related to the first 3 discs. However, it does cover much info that those discs miss. It emphasizes churches and I found that surprising. I love the way the last disc shows that communities are in flux. Something that was majorly Irish in the past can be majorly Mexican-American now; places that once were home to European immigrants are now home for Asian and Latino newcomers.

Don't get me wrong: this was a fantastic work. It's about time that documentarians accept that Chicago is worth serious study just as New York City has been. Still, I don't know if non-Chicagoans would be as interested in this. True, it does show that cities become huge for a reason. Chicago connected the MS River with the Great Lakes which led to the Atlantic Ocean. Then again, Chicago means "Land of the Wild Onion," so Native Illinoisans found it stinky and useless. I guess history is both utilitarian and created by chance.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2008
This was a great insight into the beginning of Chicago and the history that became one of the nations great cities. I loved everything it offered as a history buff. I am a bit biased as my daughter interned on this project as well and is listed in the credits. However as an avid architectural, historical and biographical enthusiast I was very impressed with the presentation. I would recommend it to anyone who loves the stated pleasures.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2013
This is mainly for people who enjoy learning about American cities (NYC was great also). There isn't enough space here to tell the story and I thought I new most of it but you will be surprised to learn some of the early history of this great city (my home) Everytime I find something on Chicago I read it watch it listen to it. History buffs watch this series
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 2013
I THINK IT COSTS AROUND $40, BUT I GOT IT FOR AROUND 24! I BOUGHT IT BECAUSE I LIKE THE HISTORY OF CHICAGO, IT'S NICE TO TELL SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR CITY WHEN YOU TRAVEL .THE BOX HAS 3 DVDS PLUS A BONUS DVD! AND THE BOX IS SLIMMER THAN IT LOOKS LIKE ON THE INTERNET........ ! DVD 1 COVERS THE "EARLY SETTLERS" THROUGH , THE" STOCK YARDS" AND "THE GREAT FIRE," PRETTY INTERESTING !...... DVD2 COVERS MOSTLY "LABOR UNIONS", AND IS KIND OF BORING UNLESS YOU'RE INTO THE " HAYMARKET RIOTS" AND ALL THAT ....,DVD 3 COVERS "THE IMMIGRANTS "THROUGH THE "CHICAGO EXPOSITION" OF 1893.......AND THE BONUS DVD COVERS THE " L", METRO , ALL THE LINES OF THE CHICAGO METRO INCLUDING " THE LOOP", PRETTY NEAT ! IT'S NARRATED BY GEOFFREY BAER , PRODUCER OF CHANNEL 11, I RECOMMEND THIS DVD SET, BUY IT , OR GIVE IT TO SOMEONE AS A GIFT !!!
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2009
It felt like it was part of a larger series that was never completed. Things were really getting interesting when wham! Goodbye. The end. I was waiting for the black culture portion, then Capone and the politics of the 20th Century but alas...

Also, I really can't stand those dramatic slow-motion recreations it has. It is a trend that always ruins a doc for me. Ken Burns never does that and seems to do just fine.

See Ric Burns' (Ken's brother) "New York" for a perfect and masterful history of a city. It is superb.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2012
Videos are a great accesory to anybody interested in Chicago history. The video is a great adjunct to the book (Covers the book, with the author and other historian comments!) The extras are good, but could be updated, however it does present buildings and areas since destroyed. Overall a good buy!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2014
This is a great documentary about the history of Chicago.

I think they present a lot of facts in a very interesting and engaging manner without all the gimmicks that the History channel has fallen into. A timeless documentary!
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