The City of Chicago owes its thanks for the existence of the Chicago Stadium to a man named Paddy Harmon. Paddy was a local sports promoter who wanted to bring big-time hockey to the Windy City. Harmon was convinced that professional hockey would thrive in Chicago and set off to an NHL meeting in Montreal where expansion was being discussed. Harmon was disappointed to learn that Major Frederic McLaughlin had beaten him to the punch in his quest for Chicago's NHL franchise.
Harmon then shifted his focus. He figured that if he couldn't own the team, he would at least own the building in which they would play. After investing $2.5 million of his own money into its construction, Harmon borrowed the remainder of the $7 million Chicago Stadium construction costs from "friends" who would later force him out of the operation and leave him to die penniless.
The Chicago Stadium opened to the public on March 28, 1929 with a boxing match between world light heavyweight Tommy Loughran of Philadelphia and world middleweight champion Mickey Walker of New Jersey.
The Blackhawks would play their first game at the Chicago Stadium nine months later. On December 15, 1929, Chicago defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-1 before 14,212 fans - 6,000 more people than the largest hockey crowd ever assembled at the Blackhawks' previous home, the Chicago Coliseum.
Like the United Center that came after it, the Stadium was considered state-of-the-art architecturally when it was built. It boasted a 37,000-square-foot main floor, a 185 foot ice surface from end to end (that's actually 15 feet shorter than the current regulation length), and over 16,600 seats - 8,000 more than Madison Square Garden, which was the largest sporting venue at the time. One of the most impressive innovations was the Stadium's modern ventilation system, which delivered 600,000 cubic feet of fresh air to the building every minute.
Sadly, Harmon was only able to see the pleasure the Stadium brought to the public for just over a year. On July 22,1930 he was returning from his summer home in Crystal Lake when he lost control of his Packard sedan while driving along Northwest Highway. Harmon died with less than three dollars in his pocket and to his name. His last wish - to be "laid out" at the Stadium - was granted. Friends paid for his funeral, and the Stadium was draped in black and purple as hundreds of people paid their respects.
The Stadium was, of course, a multi-purpose venue. It was a mecca for boxing. A veritable Who's Who of the sweet science fought there: Max Baer, Carmen Basilio, Primo Carnera, Ezzard Charles, Jack Dempsey, Gene Fullmer, Kid Gavilan, Rocky Graziano, Jake LaMotta, Sonny Liston, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Archie Moore, Floyd Patterson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Barney Ross, Jack Sharkey, Ernie Terell, Joe Walcott, and Tony Zale. Muhammad Ali won the Golden Gloves light heavyweight title there as Cassius Clay during the Golden Gloves 1960 tournament.
The Stadium played host to many political conventions. Republicans and Democrats both came in 1932 when President Roosevelt first uttered the term "New Deal." Roosevelt returned in 1936 and 1940. Both parties held conventions at the Stadium in 1944. Four days after he attended a Stadium rally organized by Mayer Richard Daley, John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.
Countless singers and entertainers performed at the Stadium, from Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope to Elvis, John Denver, the Rolling Stones, Kiss and Chicago. It was also home to the "Greatest Show on Earth," Easter sunrise services, the Hollywood Ice Revue (starring Sonja Henie), the Bulls before Michael Jordan, the Bulls with Michael Jordan, The Chicago Opera, the roller derby, and the rodeo. The Stadium was used for bicycle races, college basketball games, professional wrestling, indoor soccer, and track and field events. The Stadium was even used for Mayor Anton J. Cermak's funeral in 1933.
11,198 people witnessed the first professional football game held in the Stadium on December 18, 1932. The Chicago Bears beat the Portland Spartans 9-0 for the league championship. Bronko Nagurski passed two yards to Red Grange for the only touchdown scored on a shortened 80-yard field. Wrigley Field, the Bears' usual home, was iced over, so the game had to be moved to the Stadium, where one kickoff almost sailed through a window onto Wood Street.
The Blackhawks played their final regular-season game at the Stadium on April 14, 1994. Among those present were all four of the Hall of Famers whose jerseys had been retired: Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Glenn Hall, and Tony Esposito. The Blackhawks lost to Toronto 6-4, but advanced to the Stanley Cup playoffs against the same Maple Leaf team. In the first round of the Western Conference quarterfinals, the Maple Leafs prevailed four games to two. The last hockey game ever played at the Madhouse on Madison was on April 28, when the Leafs won 1-0.