The Unlikely Inspiration For Why The Chicago River Is Dyed Green For St. Patrick's Day
March 17th is known throughout the world as St. Patrick’s Day, who is the patron saint of Ireland. Although St. Patrick's color is actually blue, it has been changed to reflect the lush green vegetation of the Emerald Isle and while St. Patrick is associated with Ireland, roughly 33.3 million Americans (that's 10.5% of the U.S. population) have Irish ancestry, compared to 6.4 million who are Irish. So St. Patrick's Day is celebrated in the United States with parades, parties and in Chicago - a city with a large Irish population - residents dye the Chicago River green. While it has become a modern tradition in many U.S. cities, dyeing the Chicago River green actually started as a move to clean up the city. Back in the early 1960s, Chicago was a run down, filthy city. Real estate along the Chicago River, which cuts through downtown, was empty as untreated (and illegal) sewage filled the river and created a horrible stench as it emptied into Lake Michigan. The Mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daley, wanted to get to the root of the problem and see who and where the sewage was coming from. So Daley authorized the pouring of a special dye in to the river that would turn green when raw sewage was detected, so city leaders could pinpoint the source and stop it. The streaks of green-tint snaking through the river caught the eye of the chairman of the year's St. Patrick's Day parade, who wondered if they could turn the entire river green and a tradition was born. While the green dye was toxic as the sludge of teh river, today a powdered, vegetable-based dye is used that is environmentally friendly (ironically the powder is orange). 25 pounds of the powder is released around 9:15 on the morning of the St. Patrick's Day parade (which is always held on a Saturday) and within 45 minutes, the river turns green for about 5 hours before dissipating.