The figure and slogan were dreamed up by Chicago artist Charles Holloway, who was the first-place winner in an 1891 contest sponsored by The Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper. The contest seems to have been inspired by the city’s zealous preparations for the 1893 World’s Fair, although it wasn’t sponsored by the Fair itself.
The Inter Ocean challenged artists to come up with “a figure typical of Chicago’s spirit” to represent the city – sort of like an Uncle Sam for the United States or John Bull for Chicago. They enlisted a panel of judges that included famed cartoonist Thomas Nast and the president of the Fair’s board of lady managers, Bertha Honoré Palmer. She and her husband, Potter Palmer, were a famed power couple in Chicago.
Some three hundred artists submitted entries, and Holloway’s entry of a goddess figure suited for battle came out on top. Reflecting her defiant attitude, she wore a breastplate that read "I Will." With her crown depicting a phoenix rising from the flames, she also seems to symbolize the resolve of Chicago to rise from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire, which destroyed much of the city just 20 years before the Inter Ocean contest. For his inspired creation, Holloway was awarded $200 ($5,775 today)!
Although she wasn’t the official symbol of the 1893 Fair, the Inter Ocean did use her image to represent the Fair. Her image, and the motto, also became a success after the fair.
A few years later, in 1910, a series of postcards featuring Chicago scenes was issued with the “I Will” motto in the corner of each.
|Courtesy of my Chicago Postcard Museum.|
The “I Will” motto enjoyed a resurgence in popularity during the ‘60s and ‘70s – one item we found was a whiskey decanter featuring Chicago landmarks topped with the “I Will” motto. Another example many people will remember is a stylized “C” logo with four stars and the inscription “I Will – the Spirit of Chicago” on the 2600 series of “L” cars, some of which were in service into the early 2000s.
Sculptor Ellsworth Kelly also picked up on the motto. He said his 1981 minimalist sculpture, located at the northernmost extent of the fire in Lincoln Park, is dedicated to the “I Will” spirit of the city. It’s along Fullerton Avenue, north of Lincoln Park Zoo.
Chicago's Municipal Device; the “Y” symbol.
Designed by Danish-born A.J. Roewad, the emblem resulted from an 1892 Chicago Tribune contest that sought an image typical of the city in anticipation of the World’s Columbian Exposition.