Maxwell Street Images

Maxwell Street, ca. 1908

Maxwell Street, ca. 1908

Chicago’s Maxwell Street, which cuts east-west across Halsted, is synonymous with blues, commerce, and sausage.

Its residents in the late 19th century—Jews from Eastern Europe—made Maxwell the site of the nation’s biggest, open-air market in America. Every Sunday, they rolled pushcarts out into the street, selling tools, fish, vegetables, and clothing. The air smelled of Polish sausages topped with grilled onions and mustard, and it reverberated with the sounds of haggling merchants and shoppers.  

The street echoed with music too. The black musicians who migrated to Chicago from the Mississippi River Delta between the 1920s and 1960s took their instruments to Maxwell to play for the Sunday crowds. On Maxwell Street, they experimented with amplifiers and electric instruments, cultivating a new sound called the “Chicago Blues,” which was popularized by Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and Howlin Wolf.

Here are some scenes from this American street.    

Maxwell Street, 1912

Maxwell Street, 1912

Maxwell Street, Labor Day 1949 

Maxwell Street, Labor Day 1949 

Maxwell Street Camp Meeting, 1950

Maxwell Street Camp Meeting, 1950

Maxwell Street Shops, 1949

Maxwell Street Shops, 1949

Women Shop for Silk on Maxwell Street, 1950

Women Shop for Silk on Maxwell Street, 1950

Maxwell Street Artist, 1950 Photos by Charles W. Cushman, Indiana University Archives. 

Maxwell Street Artist, 1950

Photos by Charles W. Cushman, Indiana University Archives.