History Wars World War I

Stanley Cup winning team traces its name back to World War I division

chicago blackhawks

Founded in 1926, the Chicago Blackhawks are one of the oldest franchises in the National Hockey League (NHL). A member of the storied Original Six with the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs, the team’s name was spelled “Black Hawks” until 1986. The team, much like many other historic sports franchises, has experienced considerable ups and downs throughout its long history. Notable achievements include six Stanley Cup championships, with the first coming during the 1933-1934 season and the most recent during the 2014-2015 season. 

The origin of the team’s name has its roots in the First World War. The team’s first owner, Frederic McLaughlin, was a veteran who served under the U.S. Army’s 86th Infantry “Blackhawk” Division. When McLaughlin and a group of investors acquired the Western Hockey League’s Portland Rosebuds in 1926, he was urged by associates to rename and relocate this franchise to Chicago. The ensuing business decisions were in large part inspired by the original owner’s background. 

Major Frederic McLaughlin. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

McLaughlin, a Harvard University graduate and heir to the McLaughlin’s Manor House coffee business, was well-known in Chicago high society. A prominent sportsman, McLaughlin was an accomplished polo player in his youth with the Onwentsia Club in the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest. A veteran of two early 20th century conflicts, the Pancho Villa Expedition and World War I, McLaughlin served his country as both an enlisted man and officer. 

The 1916-1917 Pancho Villa Expedition was a military operation aimed at defeating Villa’s Mexican revolutionary forces and bringing him to justice in retaliation for his fatal raid on Columbus, New Mexico. During this expedition, McLaughlin was a sergeant with the 1st Illinois Field Artillery, a unit in the Illinois Army National Guard. Stationed along the Mexico-United States border, McLaughlin and his fellow Illinois soldiers were exposed to austere conditions, including extreme heat, the severity of which many of the men had never experienced before. McLaughlin’s return to Chicago and civilian life did not last long, as the United States was drawn into a far greater conflict that had been raging on in Europe since 1914. 

McLaughlin would become part of a fraternity of men of higher social standing who answered their country’s call during World War I. Over 11,000 Harvard alumni, undergraduates and faculty alone served in the military during the Great War, with over 300 killed in action. Already a member of management in his family’s successful coffee import business, McLaughlin re-entered active military service in the early days of the United States’ involvement in the war. He attended officer training at Fort Sheridan in the Chicago suburbs and was commissioned as a major. McLaughlin was 40 years old and worth millions of dollars when he was assigned to the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion, 172nd Infantry Brigade, 86th Infantry “Blackhawk” Division. This division, organized on August 25, 1917 at Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois, largely consisted of troops from the Midwestern states including Illinois and Wisconsin.

Named for the famed Sauk Chief Black Hawk, who fought against the United States during the War of 1812 and the Black Hawk War (1832) in present-day Midwestern states, soldiers from the 86th Infantry “Blackhawk” Division were sent overseas in August 1918. Despite not seeing any combat during the war, the “Black Hawks,” as the division’s soldiers referred to themselves, conducted various support functions for U.S. troops and their allies before returning home in November 1918. 

Chief Black Hawk

Following the war, McLaughlin, who was referred to as “major” for the rest of his life, returned to the comforts of a man. He married famed ballroom dancer and actress Irene Castle in November 1923 in Chicago. For both individuals, this was not their first marriage. Castle, previously married twice, was widowed in 1918 when her first husband and dance partner Vernon was killed in a military flight training exercise crash at Benbrook Field in Texas. Vernon, who served in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I, was a highly decorated pilot who completed over 300 combat missions over the Western Front. 

vernon and irene castle
Vernon and Irene Castle c. 1912

Irene Castle, a fashion icon of her time, helped to popularize the “bob” haircut for women that was prevalent during the 1920s. She is also largely credited with designing the Blackhawks’ logo and original sweater (jersey). This original uniform featured the Blackhawks logo emblazoned on a uniform that was black with horizontal white stripes. The team’s name was directly inspired by McLaughlin’s former military unit the 86th Infantry “Blackhawk” Division, while the logo was inspired by his polo team, the Onwentsia Club. Despite minor alterations over the years, the Blackhawks’ logo still closely resembles the original crest designed by Irene (née Castle) McLaughlin. 

stanley cup winning chicago blackhawks logo
The Current Chicago Blackhawks Logo

McLaughlin owned the Blackhawks from 1926 until his death in 1944. The first Blackhawks team, during the 1926-1927 season, had five future Hall of Famers on the roster; Dick Irvin, George Hay, Mickey MacKay, Babe Dye and Hugh Lehman were enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto following their illustrious careers. During McLaughlin’s tenure as owner, the team won two Stanley Cup championships in 1934 and 1938. 

stanley cup with chicago blackhawks
Frederic McLaughlin and the Chicago Black Hawks with the Stanley Cup in 1934. Photo: Chicago Public Library

McLaughlin was considered a staunch patriot throughout his life. These sentiments were reflected in his practice of filling the team’s roster with as many American-born players as possible. The 1938 Stanley Cup champion team won with eight Americans on the roster, an impressive feat considering the limited American players in the league at the time. The team’s head coach, Bill Stewart, was a Boston native. 

McLaughlin died from complications associated with heart disease in Lake Forest on December 17, 1944. In 1963, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto as a builder, a category that includes coaches, general managers, commentators, team owners and others who have helped build the game. 

The ties between military service and the Blackhawks don’t end with Frederic McLaughlin and the team’s naming. Frank Brimsek, who spent much of his hall of fame career with the Bruins before signing with the Blackhawks in 1949, served in the Coast Guard during World War II. The Blackhawks, and other Chicagoland sports teams, have shown their support for American service men and women through a variety of organizations and programs.

Through the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation, the team partners with a number of local veterans organizations, such as the USO of Illinois, to honor those who served in the military at home and abroad. For over a decade, the Blackhawks have provided resources to support USO Centers across Illinois, USO Military Youth Programs and USO Community Connection Programs. The USO Illinois selects current and former service members to be honored at home games as part of the USO Service Salute partnership, a program that treats honorees to an on-ice ovation, recognition during the Boeing Military Salute and a VIP gameday experience.