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Ask Geoffrey: 10/30

Did the Green Bay Packers team come from the Chicago Bears? A street near Soldier Field honors a fallen World War II hero. Who is this hero? Were B-17 engines tested near Chicago as part of a World War II effort?  How did Chrysler Village get its name? Geoffrey Baer answers these questions in this week’s edition of Ask Geoffrey.

I have heard that the Green Bay Packers football team was formed out of the Chicago Bears football team back in the early days. Is this true?

– Barbara K., Near North

1919 Green Bay Packers1919 Green Bay Packers

This one is false. The creation of the Packers was the brainchild of two Green Bay locals, Curly Lambeau and George Calhoun in 1919.

Lambeau worked as a $250-a-month shipping clerk at a packing company. He convinced his employer to sponsor the team, which is how the name came to be. Lambeau went on to coach the team until 1950.      

But Papa Bear George Halas was involved in several key events in Packer history, and maybe this is what our viewer heard about.

George Halas, left, and Vince Lombardi in 1968George Halas, left, and Vince Lombardi in 1968

In 1922 Halas discovered that the Packers were using college players under assumed names and reported them to the league. The Packers were kicked out of the NFL. Later that season, Halas helped persuade the league to reinstate the Packers.

In 1956 Green Bay was in danger of losing its NFL franchise unless it helped to finance a new stadium for the Packers. According to David Haugh writing in the Chicago Tribune, Halas traveled to Green Bay and made a passionate speech at a rally urging local citizens to pass a referendum to fund a new stadium. The measure succeeded and Halas was given some credit for saving the Packers.

It was also Halas who recommended the Packers hire Vince Lombardi in 1958.

Who is Waldron Dr. by Soldier Field named for? Is it named for Lt. Commander Waldron who commanded Torpedo 8 at the Battle of Midway?

– Lee Stalmasek, Berwyn

Lieutenant Commander John Charles WaldronLieutenant Commander John Charles Waldron Yes! Waldron Drive is a very short street that intersects Lake Shore Drive just south of Soldier Field and north of the stadium parking lot. It’s named for Lieutenant Commander John Charles Waldron of the U.S. Navy.

At age 41 Waldron led a squadron of 15 torpedo bombers from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet in the epic Battle of Midway. His fleet got separated from the fighter aircraft that were escorting them. Waldron and his men knowingly continued on without protection and engaged the Japanese aircraft carriers they were targeting.

All 15 planes in Waldron’s squadron were shot down. Waldron was killed along with all but one of the men in his unit. By drawing away the Japanese fighters, Waldron’s action left the enemy carriers more vulnerable to attack. This led to the decisive American victory in the battle that changed the course of the war in the Pacific.

Waldron was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his action and his entire unit was awarded a presidential citation. In addition to Waldron Drive, there was an aircraft carrier named for Waldron.

I was told B-17 engines were tested in the tall concrete structures near the Ford City Shopping center. Can you elaborate on this WWII effort?

– Jim McElherne, Hinsdale

What is now Ford City Mall was one of the world’s largest defense plants during World War II. It was operated by Dodge Motor Company and produced engines not for the B-17, but for the B-29 bomber, which was used extensively in the Pacific. The Enola Gay, which dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, was a B-29.

Today at Ford City Mall you can still see vestiges of the plant. Those tall concrete structures that our viewer asked about at the north end of the property were called “test cells.” This is where the airplane engines were fired-up for testing before being sent into action.

The plant shut down in 1945 when the war ended. It was briefly used as an auto plant for Preston Tucker, and then went back into operation building airplane engines during the Korean War, this time operated by Ford Motor Company. This is why the mall that today occupies part of the plant is called Ford City.

Another part of the old plant is now the Tootsie Roll factory!

By the way, this is one of the stories featured in my upcoming new special “Chicago Time Machine”.

I learned recently about an area near Midway Airport called Chrysler Village.  What was Chrysler Village and how did it get its name?

– Bonnie Bergeron

This is related to our previous question because this subdivision was built as housing for the workers at the Dodge Chicago Engine Plant, now Ford City.

Chrysler Village has almost a suburban feeling with curving streets surrounding a park. The complex included 700 housing units including single-family homes that originally sold for $6,500 and rental units as well.

The subdivision was built between 1942 and 1944 by developer J. E. Merrion who also built Merrionette Park, which he named for himself.

Chrysler Village was built with a government-backed loan under a wartime quota system designed to conserve precious building materials while at the same time providing desperately needed housing for the thousands of workers flooding into Chicago for war production.

All this information came to us from a group of Loyola University Public History graduate students who nominated the neighborhood for the National Register of Historic Places and provided us with the research for this answer.

And by the way, if you like airplanes you’d love living here. It’s right across the street from Midway Airport, which is named for the Battle of Midway.

Information for Geoffrey's answer about Chrysler Village was provided by a group of Loyola University Public History graduate students, who nominated the neighborhood for the National Register of Historic Places. The group is advised by Dr. Theodore Karamanski, and includes Joshua Arens, Courtney Baxter, Rachel Boyle, Kimberly Connelly Hicks, Chelsea Denault, Maisie O'Malley and Greg Ruth.

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