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Can a River Flow Backwards?

Updated May 16, 2024
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It's dyed green for St. Patrick's Day, but that's not the weirdest thing about the Chicago River. The 156-mile (251-km) stretch of water is the only river in the world to permanently flow backward. This wasn't a natural occurrence, though. It came about in the late 19th century, when city officials decided that the best way to prevent the ongoing influx of pollution from entering Chicago's water supply was to reverse the river's course, sending all of the nastiness back into the mighty Mississippi.

Engineers built a 28-mile-long (45-km) canal that became deeper as it went west, thus pulling water from Lake Michigan and sending it away in the opposite direction. It took eight years for the project to be completed. Decades later, the American Society of Civil Engineers named it one of the world's seven wonders of engineering.

That toddlin' town:

  • In 1942, the atom was split for the first time at the University of Chicago.

  • It is possible to see Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin – as well as Illinois, of course – from the top of Chicago's Willis Tower.

  • Twinkies, brownies, and the Ferris wheel all got their start in Chicago.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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