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What Are The Property Management Ties To Dyeing The Chicago River Green On St. Patrick's Day?

The Chicago River, dyed green for St. Patrick's Day

On Saturday morning, thousands of Chicagoans will flock downtown to be Irish for a day and line up for the city's annual St. Patrick's Day parade. Before the parade launches, the Chicago River will transform from its usual murky gray hue to a bright Kelly green. Dyeing the Chicago River green on St. Patrick's Day is now a 55-year-old tradition, but its origins were a happy accident rooted in property management.

Plumbers use an orange dye to detect leaks in building foundations and to root out illegal sewage discharges into the river. In 1962, two plumbers from Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local 110 checking for leaks discovered the dye turned water green and relayed the discovery to plumbers union business manager Stephen Bailey. Bailey happened to be a childhood friend of Mayor Richard J. Daley, who wanted to centralize the various St. Patrick's Day celebrations across the city to one downtown parade. Daley saw dyeing the river green as a linchpin of this plan and gave Bailey permission to allow the plumbers union to dye the river on St. Patrick's Day.

The plumbers union is still in charge of dyeing the river, although the mixture has been tweaked over the decades. Originally, it used 100 pounds of vegetable dye, sifted through flour sifters into the river, where it is then mixed into the river by motorboats. But that left the river the color of a shamrock for a week, so the union eventually cut that down to 40 pounds, which lasts four to five hours. The group was also charged with dyeing the river blue to celebrate the Cubs' World Series championship last year.