The Chicago Blackhawks were founded on September 25, 1926, when the National Hockey League awarded a franchise to Major Frederic McLaughlin, a Harvard-educated local coffee tycoon who was able to come up with the $12,000 entry fee required to join the League.
In an effort to secure players for the upcoming season, McLaughlin purchased the Portland Rosebuds of the floundering Western Hockey League for $200,000 and moved the nucleus of that team (players such as "Rabbit" McVeigh, George Hay, Percy Traub, Dick Irvin, and goalie Hugh Lehman) to Chicago.
After acquiring enough players to field a competitive team, the Major, never a big fan of the "Rose Buds" moniker, began to focus his energies on coming up with a new name for the hockey club.
Looking to the past, the Major found his inspiration.
During World War I, McLaughlin had served as a commander in the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 86th Division of the U.S. Army. Members of his division called themselves Black Hawks in honor of the Sauk Indian chief who sided with the British in the War of 1812. Surely, the Major felt, it would be a fitting name for the newest entry into the National Hockey League.
On November 17, 1926, in front of 9,000 fans at the Chicago Coliseum, the Chicago Blackhawks made their debut, defeating the Toronto St. Pat's by a score of 4-1.
In their first season, the Hawks finished in third place in the NHL's old American Division with a record of 19-23-3 and made the playoffs. The team included future Hall-of-Famers Dick Irvin, whose 36 points were second best in the League that year, goalie Hugh Lehman, Babe Dye, George Hay, and Mickey McKay.
Unhappy with the team's elimination from the opening playoff round, Major McLaughlin dismissed head coach Pete Muldoon. Muldoon responded by "putting a curse" on the team, saying that it would never finish in first place. Over the next 13 years, McLaughlin hired and fired 14 coaches. One, Bill Tobin, came back for a second try.
Despite the coaching merry-go-round, the Hawks enjoyed some early successes. They moved into the Chicago Stadium, then a state-of-the-art showcase, and played their first game there - a 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates - on December 16, 1929, before 14,212 fans. The Hawks also had one of the best and most flamboyant goaltenders of the era in Charlie Gardiner, who joined the club in 1927.
Gardiner not only enjoyed stopping pucks, but also talking about his job. He won the Vezina Trophy (then given to the goalie of the team with the lowest goals-against average) in 1932 and was named an All-Star, but McLaughlin rewarded him with a $500 pay cut the following season. When the story was later reported by the papers, the Major tried to avert any potential negative fallout by restoring Gardiner's salary to its previous level.
By 1933-34, Gardiner finally had a solid team in front of him. Captain of a squad that included the likes of Doc Romnes, Paul Thompson, Mush March, Tommy Cook, Johnny Gottselig, Lionel Conacher and Clarence "Taffy" Abel, Gardiner earned another Vezina Trophy while posting a 1.73 goals-against average and recording 10 shutouts. More importantly, he led the Hawks, who had finished in second place in the American Division, to their first Stanley Cup.
Sadly, less two months after leading the Blackhawks to the Championship, Gardner, 29, died of a massive brain tumor while at home in Winnipeg.
Rather than limit his search to a new netminder, McLaughlin kept tinkering with his team. The Hawks missed the playoffs in 1936-37, when the major decided to ice a team with all American players in the waning days of the season.
One of the Americans, Minnesotan Mike Karakas, won the Calder trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year in 1936 and was still in goal for the Hawks as the 1937-38 season began. He was joined that year by defenseman Earl Seibert, acquired in a trade with the NY Rangers and generally regarded as one of the best in the League at the time. On the coaching front, McLaughlin made yet another hire - Bill Stewart- who previously had been both an American League umpire and an NHL referee.
The Hawks barely made the playoffs that year, finishing third in the American division with a 14-25-9 record. But with solid play, especially from Karakas and Seibert, the Hawks upset the Montreal Canadiens in a best-of-three quarterfinal round after losing the opening game. Chicago then used the same script to knock off the New York Americans in the semifinals.
The Hawks squared off against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the best-of-five finals. Karakas would miss the first two games with a broken toe. But the Hawks, using minor leaguer Alfie Moore in nets, won the first game, 3-1, at Maple Leaf Gardens. In Game Two, the Hawks and another minor leaguer, Paul Goodman, didn't fare as well, losing 5-1 in Toronto.
Equipped with a steel-toed boot, Karakas returned to the lineup as the Hawks played in the Stadium before a then-record 18,497 fans. Chicago swept the next two contests, 2-1 and 4-1, to capture its second Stanley Cup.