Student Activity

Reading Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago”

Carl Sandburg’s 1916 “Chicago” is one of the best known works of 20th century American literature. Using Internet resources, you will learn about the city that Sandburg documented in his poetry.

Look at one or more of the pictures or documents provided by your teacher and answer the following questions. When answering the questions, keep in mind important issues like class, race, gender, and ethnicity—all of which can offer hints and clues towards interpreting the primary document. These directions and the questions are available as a PDF.

  • What do you see or read in this document that seems especially important? Make a list of the key things you observe.
  • List three things you can infer from this document about Chicago at the turn of the 19th century.
  • What questions does this document raise for you?
  • What technology does this document show or describe that would have been relatively new at this time? How might it have affected the lives of ordinary Chicagoans?
  • What line from the poem best describes what you see in the picture? Why?


 South Water Street Market, 1909

 Chicago skyline in 1925 with railroad tracks

 Skyline with River, 1925.

 Women waving a "Chicago" pennant, 1905

 Freight cars lined up in rows, 1917

 Storeroom at Chicago Stockyards

 Man butchering meat with carcasses hanging near him, 1904

 State Street, 1905

 The heart of Chicago, 1900

 Coal for the poor, 1903


Interactive Maps:

Written Documents: