Potter Palmer, a Chicago business magnate, was well-known for a variety of endeavors, including his significant role in the development of downtown Chicago’s iconic State Street. Bertha Honoré Palmer was a wealthy socialite with a drive to learn and succeed.
An introduction by Potter’s former business partner sparked a romance between Potter and Bertha that led to perhaps one of the most extravagant wedding gifts of all time – Palmer House. This grand hotel was destined to take its place among the most luxurious hotels in Chicago and beyond.
However, only 13 days after its grand opening, the Palmer House fell victim to the Great Chicago Fire. Potter, determined to rebuild his hotel, secured a $1.7 million loan negotiated on his signature alone. On November 8, 1873, the new Palmer House welcomed its first guests, marking the opening of what would become the nation’s longest continually operating hotel.
Shortly after befriending Claude Monet in France, Bertha Palmer began decorating the Palmer House with artwork inspired by her French heritage. She eventually accumulated the largest collection of impressionist art outside of France. She later donated almost all of the collection to The Art Institute of Chicago.
Palmer House was bedecked with garnet-draped chandeliers, Louis Comfort Tiffany masterpieces, and a breathtaking ceiling fresco by French painter Louis Pierre Rigal.
The Palmer House Brownie
The first reference to the “brownie” in America appears in the Sears Roebuck Catalog, published in Chicago in 1898. In 1893, Bertha Palmer asked a pastry chef in the Palmer House kitchen for a dessert suitable for ladies attending the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. Requesting a cake-like confection to be included in boxed lunches, the Palmer House Brownie was created. The recipe below is well over a century old and is the same one used for the brownie served in the Palmer House, a Hilton Hotel today.
Off the Menu by Hilton episode featuring Jason Schroeder, Executive Sous Chef of Palmer House, sharing the beloved Palmer House Brownie recipe.
The Never Ending Legend
In recent years, Palmer House has undergone a $170 million renovation to ensure that it includes all the modern comforts and conveniences our 21st-century guests have come to expect. While preserving our significant history, “the Chicago hotel the world knows best” has expertly positioned itself for the next era in downtown Chicago accommodations.