- April McCallum
During Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair, an Italian airman led a roundtrip flight of 24 seaplanes in formation for an unprecedented flight of its kind from Rome, Italy to Chicago, Illinois for the fair. In honor of the achievement, the Chicago mayor at the time, Edward Kelly, renamed the nearby three block long 7th street after the lead airman, Italo Balbo. During his time in the USA he also invited to lunch by President D. Roosevelt and received a warm welcome from Americans, particularly Italian-Americans as a shining example of Italian aviation. In fact, for a time, ‘Balbo’ became a common term to refer to a large formation of aircraft.
That might have been the end of it if the Italian government Balbo was representing at the time weren’t that of brutal Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Mussolini even donated an ancient Roman column to the city that exists to this day as another monument to the controversial Balbo. Before his aviation fame, Balbo helped institute Mussolini’s Fascist rule as a Blackshirt leader, a gang of Fascist thugs that intimidated and assaulted non-Fascists that stood in their way. He spent the rest of his life devoted to both Mussolini and Fascism. Many considered Balbo to be Mussolini’s heir before he was killed in 1940 by friendly fire. Although there have been petitions from Chicagoans to rename this street after Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, for now, Balbo Drive remains.