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Table of Contents > Chapter 7

Lower West Side (continued)

The Bohemian community known as Pilsen emerged after the Chicago Fire of 1871 when Bohemian immigrants began to move west of the South Branch of the river. The old Bohemian colony which had grown up around St. Wenceslaus Church at DeKoven and Desplaines Streets in the 1860s was called "Prague." The new settlement on the Lower West Side took its name from Bohemia's second largest city, Pilsen.
One of the pioneer industries in this area was the Schoenhofen Brewery, established in 1862 at 18th and Canalport by Peter Schoenhofen, a German Jewish immigrant. The largest factory to locate in the area was the McCormick Reaper Works, which moved from the North Side to Blue Island and Western Avenues in 1873.

By 1875 Pilsen was one of Chicago's major industrial centers, supporting such diverse companies as the Chicago Stove Works Foundry at 22nd and Blue Island, the McCormick Reaper Works at Blue Island and Western, and the Goss & Phillips Manufacturing Co. at 22nd and Fisk (Carpenter), which specialized in sashes, doors, and "Kelly's Patent Weather-Proof Blind."

The nearby yards of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad provided jobs for thousands of unskilled Pilsen workers, as did the vast lumberyards along the South Branch of the river. Labor historians William Adelman and Richard Schneirov have documented the role Bohemian immigrants played in the 1870s and 1880s in the battle for improved wages and shorter working hours. Bohemian laborers joined unions and supported benevolent groups such as the Czech Slavic Benefit Society of the United States (CSPS). These lodges provided financial assistance to families whose wage earners died or sustained injuries on the job.

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