Maxwell Street first appeared on a Chicago map in 1847. The street was named after Philip Maxwell (1799-1859). He became a physician for the United States Army and was assigned to Fort Dearborn as an Assistant Surgeon until the Fort was abandoned in 1836. Later, he became the State of Illinois Treasurer.
The Maxwell Street Market was initially an outdoor vegetable and produce market serving the Jewish immigrant population who moved into Chicago’s Near West Side. It was centered at Maxwell and Halsted Streets and stretched from Roosevelt Road (12th Street) to 16th Street. A Sunday-only affair, it was a precursor to the flea market scene in Chicago. Maxwell Street Market was officially recognized by the City of Chicago in October 1912.
Many fledgling entrepreneurs came to Maxwell Street to earn their livelihood. Peddlers sold goods from sidewalk stands and pushcarts, offering items from clothes and produce to cars and appliances. Shoppers could find anything and everything at the Maxwell Street Market! The Market provided discount items to consumers and was an economic hub for enterprising people looking to get ahead.
In an era of civil unrest and political change, Maxwell Street Market thrived as a multicultural phenomenon called the "Ellis Island of the Midwest."
The streets were initially filled with Klezmer music♫, brought from Eastern Europe by Jewish immigrants. As the neighborhood changed, so did the music. When the economic decline in the American South after World War I caused many Delta Blues and Jazz musicians — notably Louis Armstrong — to migrate north to Chicago. The first economically secure class willing to help them was predominantly Jewish merchants of the area around Maxwell Street, who were able to rent or own stores.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Maxwell Street became known as a place where many Negro musicians, who migrated to Chicago from the segregated South, could be heard by the greatest number of people. The musicians quickly realized they needed amplifiers and electrical instruments to be heard over the barking vendors and noisy crowds. The merchants encouraged blues players to set up near their storefronts and provided them electricity and extension cords to run the new high-tech instruments.
That exciting sound and the chemistry between city musicians such as Big Bill Broonzy and new arrivals from the South produced a new genre of music — electrified, urban blues, later coined "Chicago Blues."
"Chicago Blues" differed from the acoustic country blues played in the South. It was popularized by blues giants such as Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Bo Diddley and Howlin' Wolf and evolved into rock & roll. One of the regular performers was the self-styled Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis, who played in the area for over 40 years.
In 1994, the Maxwell Street Market was moved by the City of Chicago to accommodate the expansion of the University of Illinois at Chicago. It was relocated a few blocks east to Canal Street and renamed the New Maxwell Street Market, and it was moved again to its current location on Desplaines Street in 2008.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.
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Chicago Tribune Photograph Archives
|An undated photo of the Maxwell Street market. — Chicago Tribune historical photo|
|Joe Kaplan sells dishes to Mrs. Freida Sawyer at Maxwell and Peoria Streets, circa April 1927. — Chicago Tribune historical photo|
|The business carts and stalls were ready for a brisk day of business during the springtime on Maxwell Street on March 19, 1926. — Chicago Tribune historical photo|
|A springtime crowd shops at Maxwell and Halsted Streets at the Market in the early 1920s. Note the striking garment workers picketing in the background. — Chicago Tribune historical photo|
|King Levinsky, seen in 1931, worked in his family's fish market on Maxwell Street 1931, even as he was achieving fame as a professional heavyweight boxer. — Chicago Tribune historical photo|
|The Maxwell Street market, looking toward Halsted Street, on November 21, 1935, after city officials forced merchants to clear the sidewalks of their wares. They were still allowed to use the street. — Chicago Tribune historical photo|
|Sarah Neiman, from left, and George Cohen weigh fish and chat with customers Bertha Bluestein, Sophie Paletz and Olive Greenburg at Maxwell Street Market, circa May 18, 1934 — Chicago Tribune historical photo.|
|A Maxwell Street vegetable merchant in May 1939. — Chicago Tribune historical photo|
|A Maxwell Street vendor tried to entice late Christmas shoppers with ornaments and dolls on December 24, 1944. — Swain Scalf, Chicago Tribune|
|In June 1944, the Chicago Maternity Center was surrounded by the open-air Market on the corner of Maxwell Street and Newberry Avenue. — Josepf Szalay, Chicago Tribune historical photo|
|An undated photo of the Maxwell Street Market at the height of its popularity. — Chicago Tribune historical photo|
|Vera Green, left, and Maria Gutierez, right, ride floats as queens in a parade honoring the 100th anniversary of the Maxwell and Halsted Streets business districts on November 25, 1955. — Chicago Tribune historical photo|
|The scene at 14th Street shows the size of a Sunday crowd at Maxwell Street Market in Feb. 1965. — Chicago Tribune historical photo|
|A merchant sells insect spray at Maxwell Street market on August 3, 1969. — James Mayo, Chicago Tribune|
|A fishmonger tries to catch shoppers' attention on a cold Sunday at Maxwell Street Market on February 3, 1974. — James Mayo, Chicago Tribune|
|A typical food stand on Maxwell Street on Sunday, February 3, 1974. — Walter Kale, Chicago Tribune|
|Former U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy visited Maxwell street in March 1972. McCarthy ran for president five times and was just one of the many politicians who visited Maxwell Street. — Chicago Tribune historical photo|
|A seller adjusts a wig on a tempted buyer at Maxwell Street market on February 3, 1974. — Walter Kale, Chicago Tribune|
|Hubcaps, rakes, brooms, shovels and more can be found at Maxwell Street's open-air Market on February 3, 1974. — Walter Kale, Chicago Tribune|
|On Maxwell Street, a cold and windy Sunday, February 3, 1974, didn't hamper bargain hunters. — James Mayo, Chicago Tribune|
|On Maxwell Street, a cold and windy Sunday, February 3, 1974, didn't hamper bargain hunters. — Walter Kale, Chicago Tribune|
|A jazz band plays while shoppers mingled on Maxwell Street on March 16, 1975. — Edward Feeney/Chicago Tribune|
|The once thriving Maxwell Street, reduced by a new freeway and a university expansion, was a ghost of a neighborhood when this photo was taken in January of 1982. — Sally Good, Chicago Tribune|
|On Maxwell Street, shown here on September 3, 1983, the merchant may change, but the style of the hustling and the variety of merchandise remains the same. — Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune|
|Radios beckoned shoppers along Maxwell Street on November 30, 1986. "You must know what you're looking for," says a frequent visitor. "That's the secret down here." — George Thompson, Chicago Tribune.|
|Maxwell Street watermelon man, Bob Webb, sets up his watermelon stand at Maxwell and Halsted Streets on August 10, 1987. Webb said he can sell out in half a day in hot weather, but sales have been slow lately. — Phil Greer, Chicago Tribune|
|On Maxwell Street on May 15, 1985, you could walk up to a window and order a sandwich, a hamburger, or fried dough stuffed with meat. — Charles Osgood, Chicago Tribune|
|A woman gives a Sunday morning serenade at Maxwell Street and Newberry Avenue in Chicago, circa Oct. 1990. — Chicago Tribune historical photo|
|Joseph Steward, 45, sells pillows --and just about anything else-- on Maxwell Street on April 25, 1993. — Rod Lamkey Jr., For the Chicago Tribune|
|For more than 100 years, Maxwell Street has preserved a bit of Old World culture within sight of the Loop's skyscrapers. Photo printed on October 1, 1993. — Chicago Tribune historical photo|