Going Green: The History Behind the Chicago River Dye

12 March 2019

When St. Patrick’s Day comes around in the Windy City, Chicago is infamous for dyeing its river an electric shade of green. Read up on the history of this tradition and how to best take advantage of the holiday weekend.

When St. Patrick’s Day comes around in the Windy City, Chicago is infamous for dyeing its river an electric shade of green, a tradition that locals and visitors flock to witness and enjoy. With as many as 400,000 in attendance at the photogenic dyeing, St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday Chicago knows how to celebrate well.

 

So how did Chicago become a destination for the upcoming holiday weekend? Over 50 years ago, Mayor Richard J. Daley and the St. Patrick’s Day parade chairman at the time, Stephen M. Bailey, undertook a massive mission to revitalize Chicago’s riverfront. During the 1960s, the Chicago river was a sewage-filled nightmare. City plumbers used a green dye to find sewage leaks, which inspired Bailey to dye the entire river with almost 100 pounds of the chemicals to set his St. Patrick’s Day parade apart from previous years. Thus, the first river dyeing commenced.

 

As to be expected, the newfound tradition turned out to be an environmental disaster. A few years later, in 1966, the parade organizers began using a powdered, vegetable-based dye. The recipe for the bright orange formula, which turns green upon contact with water, is still a top-secret, closely-guarded family recipe that is used today.

 

This year’s dyeing is scheduled for 9:00am, Saturday March 16, 2019 and is best viewed from the East side of the bridge at Michigan Avenue or upper and lower Wacker Drive between Columbus and Lake Shore Drive. While 1000M residents may be able to catch the fluorescent color from afar atop our Level 72 Sky Terrace, the event is only a short Uber or train ride away. If the river dyeing isn’t your preferred way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, check out Choose Chicago’s list of Irish festivities to enjoy throughout the city.

 

Stay tuned for more features on Chicago cultural happenings and events on 1000M’s Seek Beauty blog.