Where the Tribune Tower now stands was once a farmstead and trading post owned by a settler with the distinction of being the first resident of Chicago. His name was Jean-Baptiste Point de Sable, and while he wasn’t the first non-native in Chicago, unlike the missionaries and fur traders who came before him, he is credited with making his home here long enough to create a lasting site of commerce.
Point de Sable lived on the site from 1788 through 1800, and his home sat just across the river from the future site of Fort Dearborn, later constructed in 1803.
While he was not a native of the area, neither was he of European ancestry. Scholars differ on the details, but Point de Sable was either the son of a Haitian woman, most likely a freed slave, or he was the son of a freed slave from Kaskaskia, Illinois. In either case, Chicago’s first citizen was a black man.
To honor Point de Sable and others who settled after him on this site, including fur trader John Kinzie, the area adjacent to the Tribune Tower is today called Pioneer Court.
Leaping forward a few decades to 1847, a young entrepreneur from Virginia named Cyrus McCormick bought the former Point de Sable property to build a reaper factory.
His mechanical reaper, which he had invented 16 years earlier, replaced the handheld scythe. It became available just as vast areas of the American West were being plowed for the first time. He now saw the opportunity to build his reapers nearer to the expanding farmland.
By 1860, he was selling 4,000 of his reapers each year, and did his part to move American men out of the fields and into the factories.