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A Giant Leap or a Minor Adjustment
February 28, 2020
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5 Green Origin Stories


Dyeing the Chicago River Green

The coronavirus is canceling events around the world. On March 11, 2020, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot added three St. Patrick’s Day parades, and the dyeing of the Chicago River to the list because of fears the disease would spread through the dense crowds.


Any other year would see members of the Rowan and Butler families dumping 40 pounds of “leprechaun dust”, a bright orange environmentally friendly powdered vegetable dye, off of a boat the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day. A second boat would zip around to mix the water and powder together until the river is bright emerald green.

The original Mayor Daley, Richard J., wanted to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago in a big way. A friend of his had noticed a plumber’s white overalls stained bright green and suggested using the dye to color the river. Daley gave the idea the green light in 1961 and the first dye job took place the following year. The substance on the plumber’s overalls was a fluorescein dye used to test for leaks in pipes.

In 1966, environmentalists accused the parade committee of polluting the river, complained the oil-based dye was detrimental to all living things in the river. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlawed the use of fluorescein for this purpose since testing showed it was harmful to the river ecosystem.


Green River

greenFor Chicagoans, the words Green River may conjure images of a bright green lime-flavored soft drink instead of a large body of water. Green River soda was first produced in 1916 but became popular during prohibition. The Schoenhofen Edelweiss Brewing Company of Chicago began manufacturing Green River and other soft drinks in order to survive prohibition.


Today it is frequently marketed as a nostalgia item, and sales increase in March due to the association of the color green with St. Patrick’s Day. Green River is not widely commercially available, but it can be purchased at some Chicago area restaurants and retailers.


American Money or Greenbacks

Green is the color of spring, of life renewing itself. It is the most restful and relaxing color for the human eye to view. Neither of these facts influenced its use on American money. Supply and demand had a lot more to do with the choice. How appropriate.

In 1861, the federal government began issuing currency to help finance the Civil War. In the decades leading up to the war state-backed and private banks printed currency in a variety of sizes and denominations.

Counterfeiting was rampant at the time so there was a need to thwart clever thieves. Forgers would often scratch off faded ink from bills and change the dollar amount, or they would photograph them and pass the photos off as the real thing.

To prevent this, one side of these new bills was printed in a green-black ink, which was less likely to fade. Since green wouldn’t show up on the black-and-white-only photos of that era, it was easy to distinguish between a real bill and a photographed copy.

When the feds standardized the look of paper bills in 1929, the green on the back remained because green ink was plentiful, durable and had become associated with “the strong and stable credit of the government,” according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which designs and produces money.




Green Beer

greenBrewers use the term “green beer” to describe beer that’s too young (or “green”) to drink. If a beer still contains acetaldehyde, the beer tastes bad and can make you sick because it’s not fully fermented. In the late 1800s to 1910s, the sale of unfermented beer was such a big problem that beer companies leaped on the idea of “green beer” to promote their own products. Schlitz even used the slogan “Schlitz is Old Beer” to convince drinkers its beer wouldn’t make them sick. Underaged beer isn’t much of a problem anymore because beer production is better understood and regulated.

So where did the green beer we drink on St. Patricks Day come from? The first recorded round of green beer was served around 1910. Blue food coloring was added to yellow beer and served to patriotic Irishmen. By the 1950s, green beer was a mainstream symbol of St. Patrick’s Day in America. In Ireland celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day don’t generally include green beer.



St. Patrick, patron saint of The Emerald Isle

St. Patrick’s Day celebrates the life of Ireland’s patron saint. Born in Roman Britain in the late 4th century, he was kidnapped at the age of 16 and taken to Ireland as a slave. He escaped but returned to convert the Irish to Christianity. By the time of his death on March 17, 461, he had established monasteries, churches, and schools. The shamrock is associated with St. Patrick because he used the shamrock to explain the Trinity.

People have been calling Ireland the Emerald Isle since 1795 when the poem “When Erin First Rose” was first published. William Drennan, the poem’s author, was not only a poet but a physician and political radical as well. He helped found the Society of United Irishmen.

In 1959 Johnny Cash used the phrase “The Emerald of the Sea” in his song “40 Shades of Green”. The popular song about missing an Irish lass in Tipperary town basically limited the shades of green in Ireland’s rolling hills to 40.