The former South Park Commission (the Commission merged with 22 other park systems to establish the Chicago Park District in 1934) hired Chicago architects Holibird and Roche in 1919 to design a stadium that would serve as a showcase “for events and a playground for the people.” On October 9, 1924, the Grant Park Municipal Stadium premiered and one year later, at the request of the Chicago Gold Star Mothers, the stadium was renamed Soldier Field.
It was known as one of the great venues during the "Golden Age of Sports" and one of Chicago's most famous landmarks. Crowds in excess of 100,000 were commonplace, marked by several memorable events including the 1926 Army-Navy game and the epic 1927 Jack Dempsey/Gene Tunney heavyweight rematch featuring the controversial "long count". In 1944, 150,000 spectators attended a wartime visit by President Franklin Roosevelt and thousands turned out to hear evangelist Billy Graham in 1962. Soldier Field is also the birthplace of the first Special Olympic Games in 1968. College and Professional football, rock concerts, festivals, rodeos, stock-car races, and even a skiing/toboggan event have called Soldier Field home. The Chicago Bears moved from Wrigley Field and began using the facility in 1971 and played their first game in the renovated Soldier Field on September 29, 2003.
Soldier Field has been a Chicago landmark since 1924. With a capacity of 63,500, the public facility is home to the Chicago Bears and hosts an array of sporting, entertainment and community events each year. Owned by the Chicago Park District, Soldier Field is managed by ASM Global, the global leader in venue management.
Natural Turf Field
The playing field at Soldier Field is a natural grass field (Kentucky blue-grass and rye blend). The field is resodded multiple times per year with consultation from the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Fire as it is the preferred surface for both football and soccer. Nine inches below the root zone, more than 20 miles of ¾-inch plastic tubing circulates warm water and glycol (to prevent freezing), in a radiant heating system that extends the grass’ growing season. It also helps melt snow and keep the ground from freezing, so the surface remains pliable.
Plans for the stadium began in 1919, when Holibird and Roche won an architectural competition to build the stadium as a memorial to American soldiers who died in wars.
1922 – 1928
The stadium was constructed by the South Park Commission (which later merged with other park commissions to become the Chicago Park District in 1934.) Soldier Field is a monument to the times and great sports places typical of the “Golden Age of Sports” and is one of few such stadiums still standing. Soldier Field was built in three stages between 1922 and 1939 at a total cost $13 million.
October 9, 1924
The official opening day – which coincided with the 53rd anniversary of the Chicago Fire—of the Municipal Grant Park Stadium. Within a year it was renamed Soldier Field.
- Soldier Field, when completed, contained 74,280 permanent bleacher seats made of fir planking. An additional 30,000 spectator temporary bleacher seats could be placed along the interior of the field, upper promenades and on the large open terrace beyond the north end zone.
- The first event held in Soldier Field was a police meet featuring 1,000 police athletes and reportedly drew 90,000 spectators. Crowds in excess of 100,000 became commonplace in the years that followed, marked by several memorable sporting events.
November 22, 1924
First football game held at the Municipal Grant Park Stadium was Notre Dame (13) v. Northwestern (6).
November 11, 1925
The Municipal Grant Park Stadium is officially renamed Soldier Field at the urging of Chicago’s Gold Star Mothers.
November 27, 1926
Soldier Field was officially dedicated in front of a crowd of 110,000 during the Army v. Navy game. The game ended in a 21-21 tie.
September 23, 1927
The epic Jack Dempsey/Gene Tunney heavyweight rematch featuring the controversial long count with 104,000 watching. Dempsey knocked down Tunney and Dempsey went to the wrong corner. The referee directed him to the right corner, and five seconds passed before he started counting out Tunney. Tunney, the champ, got up at nine, which should have been 14, and went on to beat Dempsey.
The largest crowd to watch collegiate football was 123,000 to see Notre Dame take on Southern California.
The largest crowd to watch a high school football game took place at Soldier Field with an estimated 115,000 watching the Austin v. Leo High School Prep Bowl football game.
150,000 spectators attended a wartime visit by President Franklin Roosevelt.
Chicago Park District engineers won an award at the 1948 International Lighting Expo for their design of a stadium lighting system featuring 5,000 watt flood lights that could be arranged in pre-set patterns by a three man crew.
260,000 came to Soldier Field for a Catholic celebration entitled the Eucharistic Congress.
116,000 turned out to hear evangelist Billy Graham.
September 19, 1971
The Chicago Bears began using the facility as a regular season home and capacity was cut to 57,000 to bring season ticket holders closer to the field. Chicago defeats the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-15 before capacity crowd of 55,701 in the Bears’ first game since moving from Wrigley.
With the Chicago Bears, the Chicago Park District began to reconstruct the aging stadium with lights, playing surface, locker rooms, and rebuilding the stadiums’ plank-board style seating with chair back and armrests.
With renovations complete, Soldier Field could welcome 66,950 visitors.
Soldier Field converts turf from AstroTurf to Kentucky Bluegrass.
Soldier Field hosts the opening ceremonies of the 1994 World Cup soccer play, the first time the competition will by played on American shores.
Soldier Field completes a 20-month renovation that modernized the stadium and surrounding parkland for multi-purpose event use. The stadium grounds now host over 200 event usage days per year.
Soldier Field is awarded the status of LEED-EB from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). Soldier Field is the first existing North American stadium to receive the award of LEED-EB Certification and the first NFL stadium to receive this prestigious award. LEED-EB stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – Existing Building.
Soldier Field hosted the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team as they faced off against the USA Eagles on November 1, 2014 marking the All Blacks first match in the US since 1980. The All Blacks defeated the Eagles 74-6 to a sold-out crowd.
Soldier Field hosted the final concert performances by legendary American rock band the Grateful Dead on July 3rd, 4th and 5th in celebration of the band's 50 year history. More than 212,000 Deadheads rocked out at Soldier Field for the Fare Thee Well shows over the holiday weekend, shattering stadium attendance records.
Copa America Centenario, in celebrating their 100th-anniversary edition of the South American championships, selected Soldier Field to host four matches: Jamaica vs. Venezuela (June 5th, 2016), USA vs. Costa Rice (June 7th, 2016), Argentina vs. Panama (June 10th, 2016), and the Semi-Final between Chile and Colombia (June 22nd, 2016).
The Chicago Fire F.C. (MLS), relocate back to Soldier Field from its 15-year stint at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, IL. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 Pandemic prevented fans to attend events at the stadium and the modified season was only viewable on TV.
Soldier Field has played host to college (2013 & 2015 Windy City Classic) and professional hockey games (NHL Winter Classic in 2014), 2012 NATO Summit, countless concerts, thrill shows, rodeos, tractor and truck pulls, circuses, fireworks displays, stock car races, sunrise services, marching band concerts, open-air operas, skiing and toboggan events including a ski jump event from a 13-story platform.
- The stadium’s underpinnings consist of 10,000 giant wood piling foundations driven an average depth of six stories through landfill to bedrock.
- It hosted the first boxing event that drew a gate of over $2.5 million (Dempsey-Tunney, 1927), the first ski meet held in a stadium, and the all-time largest football crowd (123,000). The largest crowd for any event in Soldier Field was 260,000 on Sept. 8, 1954, for the religious Marian Year Tribute.
Notable Event History
- Soldier Field was the site of the former College All-Star Game, an exhibition between the last year's NFL champion (or, in its final years, Super Bowl champion) and a team of collegiate all-star players of the previous season prior to their reporting to the training camps of their new professional teams. This game was discontinued after 1976.
- On September 1, 2007, Northern Illinois University faced the University of Iowa in the first Division I College Football game at Soldier Field since renovations in 2003. The game is the second game of a home series between the two programs, although NIU's campus is located in DeKalb, 69 miles (111 km) to the west of Soldier Field on Interstate 88. With attendance of 61,500, a Mid-American Conference record for a home football game was set. Iowa won 16–3.
- Soldier Field annually hosts the Chicago Football Classic (since 2004) which is a matchup of top Historically Black College and University Football teams.
- Soldier Field (then known as Grant Park Municipal Stadium) hosted its first football game on October 4, 1924 between Louisville Male High School and Chicago Austin High. Louisville Male won 26–0.
- The 28th International Eucharistic Congress held three days of outdoor day and evening events June 21–23, 1926.
- Over 100,000 spectators attended the 1926 Army/Navy Game at Soldier Field. This game would decide the national championship, as Navy entered undefeated and Army had lost only to Notre Dame. For once, the game lived up to all of the pre-game hoop-la, and even though the game ended in a 21–21 tie, Navy was awarded the national championship.
- The Long Count Fight, the second heavyweight championship bout between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, was held at Soldier Field on September 22, 1927.
- The all-time collegiate attendance record of 123,000 plus was established November 26, 1927, as Notre Dame defeated the University of Southern California 7–6.
- Over 15,000 spectators attend the first leg of the 1928 National Challenge Cup (now known as the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup) between soccer teams Bricklayers and Masons F.C. of Chicago and New York Nationals of New York City. The match ended in 1–1 tie, and New York won the second leg 3–0 in New York City.
- Austin beats Leo to win 1937 Prep Bowl; highest attendance ever at Soldier Field estimated at over 120,000.
- Glenn "Fireball" Roberts won the only NASCAR Grand National race held at Soldier Field's short track which ran across the old configuration in 1956.
- The Chicago Freedom Movement, led by Martin Luther King, held a rally at Soldier Field on July 10, 1966. As many as 60,000 people came to hear Dr. King as well as Mahalia Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Peter Paul and Mary.
- Soldier Field was the site of the former College All-Star Game, an exhibition between the last year's NFL champion (or, in its final years, Super Bowl champion) and a team of collegiate all-star players of the previous season prior to their reporting to the training camps of their new professional teams. This game was discontinued after the 1976. The final game in 1976 was halted in the third quarter when a torrential thunderstorm broke out and play was never resumed.
- Soldier Field stadium was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
- 1994 FIFA World Cup Venue of all matches scheduled to play in Chicago, including the opening match between Germany and Bolivia on June 17, 1994.