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1933, Benito Mussolini gave a monument — which consisted of a column — as a gift to the city of Chicago, Illinois. The monument is still placed in Chicago — in particular, in Burnham Park — despite a lot of complaints. People complained, and some are still complaining, not only because the monument was gifted by Mussolini, but also because its purpose was to honour Italo Balbo, the fascist who led the trans-Atlantic flight to the Century of Progress International Exposition.

Italo Balbo

Italo Balbo was one of the four main leaders of the March on Rome which brought Mussolini to power in 1922. In 1926 he was appointed Secretary of State for Air. He was also given the task of building the Italian Royal Air Force, thus promoting Italian aviation in the world. In 1928 Balbo was appointed General of the Air Force.

Italo Balbo (1938–1940) (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Preparations

Italo Balbo was determined to make Italy the most advanced country in the world as far as aviation was concerned. He planned three mass flights that would have taken place between 1928 and 1931. The first took place in 1928, when fifty-one Savoia-Marchetti_S.59 bis flying boats crossed the Western Mediterranean. The venture caused a tremendous increase in prestige to the Italian aviation. Balbo was determined to replicate the success and, in 1929, forty planes crossed the Eastern Mediterranean heading to the Soviet Union. As Balbo wanted to take a step further, in 1930 the fascist Government sponsored a cruise across the Southern Atlantic Ocean. On October 17, 1930, twelve planes took off from Orbetello (Italy). On January 15, 1931, the Italian aviators reached Rio de Janeiro (Brazil).

The Decennial Air Cruise

The Decennial Air Cruise was the final step towards what Balbo, Mussolini, and the fascist regime as a whole believed to be the primacy of Italian aviation in the world. The expedition consisted of twenty-five Savoia-Marchetti S.55X planes crossing the Atlantic Ocean in formation, starting from Orbetello and heading to the Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago, Illinois (United States). The cruise was led, needless to say, by Italo Balbo.

More than 100.000 people gathered to celebrate the arrival of Balbo and his aerial cruise in Chicago. Even the President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote a message for the Italian General to read on arrival.

Italo Balbo featured on Time magazine (June 26, 1933) (Source: TIME, Wikimedia Commons)

The Monument

On July 15, 1934, a Roman column — dating between 117 and 38 BC — placed on a contemporary stone base was sent by Mussolini to the city of Chicago to celebrate the event. The Italians even inscribed a message:

This column / twenty centuries old / erected on the beach of Ostia / port of Imperial Rome / to safeguard the fortunes and victories / of the Roman triremes / Fascist Italy, by command of Benito Mussolini, / presents to Chicago / exaltation, symbol, memorial / of the Atlantic Squadron led by Balbo / that with Roman daring flew across the ocean / in the 11th year / of the Fascist era.

In spite of lots of objections, Italo Balbo’s monument is still there. Some believe that its link to Fascism is unacceptable, others value its meaning and artistic features as being more important.

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