Chicago river turns green on St Patrick’s day

Erin Hooley/AP
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In 1962, Chicago city workers dumped 100 pounds of dye into the river flowing through downtown Chicago. It left the river emerald green for an entire week and kick-started an annual tradition.

The dyeing of the Chicago River has become synonymous with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the United States, but where did the tradition originate

The green dye was originally part of the city’s effort to clean up the river’s waterfront areas, which had long been a depository for Chicago’s waste. So much so that Upton Sinclair mentioned one of the river’s tributaries, Bubbly Creek, in his famous novel The Jungle.

Bubbly Creek got its name from the methane gas bubbles that would regularly rise to the surface due to discarded waste from a large slaughterhouse nearby.

As the city grew in size, efforts to clean the river increased, including the construction of waste treatment plants and even a canal that permanently reversed the flow of the river, bringing clean water from Lake Michigan into the mouth of the river.

When Richard J. Daley took office as the mayor of Chicago in 1955, he was determined to develop the riverfront and tasked city workers with finding where the sewage was coming from. They used the green dye to help identify the source of the waste.


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Chuck comes from a lineage of journalism. He has written for some of the webs most popular news sites. He enjoys spending time outdoors, bull riding, and collecting old vinyl records. Roll Tide!