The former South Park Commission (the Commission merged with 22 other park systems to establish the Chicago Park District in 1934) hired Chicago architects Holibird and Roche in 1919 to design a stadium that would serve as a showcase “for events and a playground for the people.” On October 9, 1924, the Grant Park Municipal Stadium premiered and one year later, at the request of the Chicago Gold Star Mothers, the stadium was renamed Soldier Field.
It was known as one of the great venues during the "Golden Age of Sports" and one of Chicago's most famous landmarks. Crowds in excess of 100,000 were commonplace, marked by several memorable events including the 1926 Army-Navy game and the epic 1927 Jack Dempsey/Gene Tunney heavyweight rematch featuring the controversial "long count". In 1944, 150,000 spectators attended a wartime visit by President Franklin Roosevelt and thousands turned out to hear evangelist Billy Graham in 1962. Soldier Field is also the birthplace of the first Special Olympic Games in 1968. College and Professional football, rock concerts, festivals, rodeos, stock-car races, and even a skiing/toboggan event have called Soldier Field home. The Chicago Bears moved from Wrigley Field and began using the facility in 1971 and played their first game in the renovated Soldier Field on September 29, 2003.
Soldier Field History
1919 - Plans for the stadium began in 1919, when Holibird and Roche won an architectural competition to build the stadium as a memorial to American soldiers who died in wars.
1922 – 1928 - The stadium was constructed by the South Park Commission (which later merged with other park commissions to become the Chicago Park District in 1934.) Soldier Field is a monument to the times and great sports places typical of the “Golden Age of Sports” and is one of few such stadiums still standing. Soldier Field was built in three stages between 1922 and 1939 at a total cost $13 million.
Soldier Field, when completed, contained 74,280 permanent bleacher seats made of fir planking. An additional 30,000 spectator temporary bleacher seats could be placed along the interior of the field, upper promenades and on the large open terrace beyond the north end zone.
October 9, 1924 – The official opening day – which coincided with the 53rd anniversary of the Chicago Fire—of the Municipal Grant Park Stadium. Within a year it was renamed Soldier Field.
The first event held in Soldier Field was a police meet featuring 1,000 police athletes and reportedly drew 90,000 spectators. Crowds in excess of 100,000 became commonplace in the years that followed, marked by several memorable sporting events.
November 22, 1924 – First football game held at the Municipal Grant Park Stadium was Notre Dame (13) v. Northwestern (6).
November 11, 1925 – The Municipal Grant Park Stadium is officially renamed Soldier Field at the urging of Chicago’s Gold Star Mothers.
November 27, 1926 – Soldier Field was officially dedicated in front of a crowd of 110,000 during the Army v. Navy game. The game ended in a 21-21 tie.
September 23, 1927 - The epic Jack Dempsey/Gene Tunney heavyweight rematch featuring the controversial long count with 104,000 watching. Dempsey knocked down Tunney and Dempsey went to the wrong corner. The referee directed him to the right corner, and five seconds passed before he started counting out Tunney. Tunney, the champ, got up at nine, which should have been 14, and went on to beat Dempsey.
1927 – The largest crowd to watch collegiate football was 123,000 to see Notre Dame take on Southern California.
1937 – The largest crowd to watch a high school football game took place at Soldier Field with an estimated 115,000 watching the Austin v. Leo High School Prep Bowl football game.
1944 - 150,000 spectators attended a wartime visit by President Franklin Roosevelt.
1948 – Chicago Park District engineers won an award at the 1948 International Lighting Expo for their design of a stadium lighting system featuring 5,000 watt flood lights that could be arranged in pre-set patterns by a three man crew.
1954 – 260,000 came to Soldier Field for a Catholic celebration entitled the Eucharistic Congress.
1962 - 116,000 turned out to hear evangelist Billy Graham.
September 19, 1971 - The Chicago Bears began using the facility as a regular season home and capacity was cut to 57,000 to bring season ticket holders closer to the field. Chicago defeats the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-15 before capacity crowd of 55,701 in the Bears’ first game since moving from Wrigley.
1978 – With the Chicago Bears, the Chicago Park District began to reconstruct the aging stadium with lights, playing surface, locker rooms, and rebuilding the stadiums’ plank-board style seating with chair back and armrests.
1981 – With renovations complete, Soldier Field could welcome 66,950 visitors.
September 1988 – Soldier Field converts turf from AstroTurf to Kentucky Bluegrass.
1994 – Soldier Field hosts the opening ceremonies of the 1994 World Cup soccer play, the first time the competition will by played on American shores.
2003 - Soldier Field completes a 20-month renovation that modernized the stadium and surrounding parkland for multi-purpose event use. The stadium grounds now host over 200 event usage days per year.
2011 - Soldier Field is awarded the status of LEED-EB from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). Soldier Field is the first existing North American stadium to receive the award of LEED-EB Certification and the first NFL stadium to receive this prestigious award. LEED-EB stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – Existing Building.
2014 - Soldier Field hosted the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team as they faced off against the USA Eagles on November 1, 2014 marking the All Blacks first match in the US since 1980. The All Blacks defeated the Eagles 74-6 to a sold-out crowd.
2015 - Soldier Field hosted the final concert performances by legendary American rock band the Grateful Dead on July 3rd, 4th and 5th in celebration of the band's 50 year history. More than 212,000 Deadheads rocked out at Soldier Field for the Fare Thee Well shows over the holiday weekend, shattering stadium attendance records.
2016 - Copa America Centenario, in celebrating their 100th-anniversary edition of the South American championships, selected Soldier Field to host four matches: Jamaica vs. Venezuela (June 5th, 2016), USA vs. Costa Rice (June 7th, 2016), Argentina vs. Panama (June 10th, 2016), and the Semi-Final between Chile and Colombia (June 22nd, 2016).
Interesting Facts About Soldier Field
Soldier Field has hosted rock concerts, thrill shows, rodeos, tractor and truck pulls, circuses, fireworks displays, stock car races, sunrise services, marching band concerts, open-air operas, skiing and toboggan events including a ski jump event from a 13-story platform.
The stadium’s underpinnings consist of 10,000 giant wood piling foundations driven an average depth of six stories through landfill to bedrock.
It hosted the first boxing event that drew a gate of over $2.5 million (Dempsey-Tunney, 1927), the first ski meet held in a stadium, and the all-time largest football crowd (123,000). The largest crowd for any event in Soldier Field was 260,000 on Sept. 8, 1954, for the religious Marian Year Tribute.