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How’s the Weather?

It’s National Weatherperson’s Day! Before the internet, television, or even the radio was in widespread use, weather conditions were measured and shared in a very analog way.

In 1908, the US Weather Bureau, now the US National Weather Service, began building kiosks around the country to keep Americans informed about weather conditions. Each one had a square base and was seven feet high, four feet square, and had four thirty-inch panels on each side. The exterior was painted white to reflect the heat, and the interior housed thermometers, a thermograph, hygrometer, and rain gauge. Weather Bureau personnel would post weather maps, charts, and bulletins daily. The kiosks were meant for the public to learn about weather conditions; they were never intended to serve as official observations sites. Chicago’s weather kiosk was installed in July 1909 near the southwest corner of Adams and Dearborn Streets in the Loop.

Though the kiosks were initially popular with the American public, their inaccurate readings started to cause distrust. They were typically located in downtown areas, which meant that they were surrounded by buildings. With no ventilation for warm air to escape, the kiosks were prone to giving higher temperature readings than the official observation sites. In Chicago, the official recordings were taken from the US Court House at 219 South Dearborn Street from 1905 to 1925, and then the University of Chicago’s Rosenwald Hall at 58th Street and University Avenue until 1962, when the site moved to Midway Airport and then in 1996 to its current location at O’Hare International Airport. In 1931, the US Weather Bureau decided to eliminate the kiosks nationwide.

Learn more about Chicago’s climate in our Encyclopedia of Chicago entry.

Photo: A group of men looking at weather kiosk erected on a sidewalk in front of the Federal Building. The Federal Building was on the block bounded by West Jackson, South Clark, West Adams and South Dearborn Streets in the Loop community area of Chicago, 1909. DN-0054723, Chicago Daily News collection, CHM. 

Chicago History Magazine

Despite the occasional hazards of Chicago winters, generations of residents have managed to enjoy the cold weather in various ways. Revisit various winters of yesteryear in our photo essay “Snow Days,” which features images spanning 1886 to 2000 from our collection.

Chicago History Museum Sharing Chicago Stories