Navy Pier

Navy Pier1916Charles Sumner FrostLength: 3,300 feet /.6 miles/1000 meters


Navy Pier is an iconic cultural attraction for visitors to the city. Originally designed as part of the Burnham Plan of 1909, it was called Municipal Pier when completed in 1916. It was intended to be used as a dock for freight vessels, passenger traffic, and indoor and outdoor recreation. Today, it is home to numerous shops (mostly souvenir/gift shops), a collection of eateries, the Chicago Children’s Museum, the Centennial Ferris Wheel, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and a variety of event spaces.


  • Completed at a cost of $4.5 million.
  • In 1917 to 1918, the Pier was used as a barracks for WWI recruits and it housed regiments of soldiers, Red Cross workers, and units for Home Defense.
  • In 1921, a two-week festival designed to unite citizens, The Pageant of Progress, drew over a million people. The success of this event inspired the proposal of Chicago’s second World’s Fair in 1933.
  • It was renamed Navy Pier in 1927 as a tribute to Navy personnel who served during WWI.
  • The U.S. military began using the pier for pilot training orientation beginning in 1941. During WWII, 15,000 pilots qualified for military service through training at the pier. George H.W. Bush, future U.S. President, earned pilot wings at the pier. Because of accidents during training, as many as 200 WWII planes still rest at the bottom of Lake Michigan. Today, divers can inspect the wrecks.
  • After WWII, the Pier became the campus for University of Illinois at Chicago. What had been the main Mess Hall for the Navy became a giant library considered “the largest reading room” in Illinois. UofI Chicago spent 1946 to 1965 at the Pier before outgrowing the space and relocating.
  • Starting in 1986 after the original McCormick Place was destroyed in a fire, Navy Pier was used to host conventions and trade shows to keep them in Chicago for four years until the convention center was rebuilt. Navy Pier is still used for conventions today, including Flower & Garden Show, Design & Art Show and ongoing events like Neighborhoods of the World that celebrates Chicago’s variety of ethnic cultures. 
  • In 1995, a newly renovated Navy Pier reopened, featuring a mix of year-round entertainment, shops, restaurants, exhibition facilities and attractions including the original red Ferris Wheel. 
  • IN 2016, the New year-round Ferris Wheel opened at 200 feet tall. The original Ferris Wheel at the 1893 World’s Fair was 264 ft high with 36 passenger cars each capable of holding 60 people, 2,100 total, therefore, the original Ferris Wheel was 64 feet taller than the one at the Pier. The new ferris wheel at Navy pier cost $18.
  • Navy Pier’s Crystal Gardens Are Being Turned Into Virtual Scenery – The free Crystal Gardens will be replaced by a paid virtual space, upsetting some residents. But Navy Pier says the move is necessary to boost businesses. A new attraction is set to take its place: The Illuminarium, which uses projected images, sound, scents and vibrations to give paying visitors the sense they are in different places. The change has already been approved by the city.