Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks History 101: Veterans Special

By Tim Lively

86th Infantry Division “Black Hawk Division” shoulder sleeve insignia

For Veterans Day this past Monday, the Chicago Blackhawks honored our men and women serving in the military by once again sporting their camouflage jerseys during the pregame warm-ups before defeating the Edmonton Oilers 5-4 the preceding Sunday.

Seems simple enough, but the Blackhawks have a more meaningful military connection than most fans realize. Bandwagon and even die-hard fans (in the 300’s) alike probably don’t know the full story behind the Blackhawks’ name.

Ask a random Hawks fan at the United Center on a given game night who the Blackhawks are named after, and they’ll probably say the Blackhawk American Indian tribe (which is wrong), or if they’re a bit more knowledgeable, they’ll say Chief Black Hawk (which is only partially correct). Yes the Hawks’ name is associated with the American Indian Black Hawk (he was never formally a Chief), who was a prominent leader of the Sauk tribe who inhabited the Illinois and Wisconsin area (more on Black Hawk and Sauk tribe in a later Chicago Blackhawks History post), but the Hawks are actually named after the 86th Infantry Division of the US Army.

The 86th Infantry Division was formed at Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois on August, 25 1917 for deployment in Europe during World War I. The division was nicknamed the “Black Hawk Division” because of Black Hawk and the Sauk tribe’s historical inhabitance in the region surrounding Camp Grant, not to mention the Black Hawk War of 1832 between the Sauk tribe and United States in the Illinois and Michigan territory (again, more on the Black Hawk War in a later Chicago Blackhawks History post).

The 86th didn’t see any combat in WWI; arriving too late to the party in August 1918, and returning home from Europe in November 1918. They saw a lot more action in World War II, arriving in France in March 1945 and then taking defensive positions in Germany near Koln, securing the left flank of the Allied offensive. In August 1945, the 86th were redeployed from San Francisco en route to the Philippines to take part in the Pacific Theater, and arrived at Leyte harbor when the Japanese surrendered.  In February 2009, the 86th was re-designated the HQ’s 86th Training Brigade.

So how did a hockey team in Chicago get named after an infantry division in Rockford? Among those deployed with the 86th during WWI was a 40-year-old Major with the 333rd (or tree turdy turd in Eddie Olczyk speak) Machine Gun Battalion, named Frederic McLaughlin. A Harvard University graduate, shortly after his discharge, McLaughlin would use the wealth gained from inheriting a successful coffee business from his father to create an expansion team in the fledgling NHL in 1926 in his home town of Chicago. He and would go on to name the newly formed franchise after his WWI unit. You know them now, as the Chicago Blackhawks.

Yet again, we have a very interesting piece of hockey history that you’d expect from an Original Six team. Fellas, crack this egg of newly-acquired knowledge on the lucky lady you take to a Hawks game for your third date to score some major “I’m sexy and a scholar” points. Ladies, same goes for you as well, but let’s face it; if you’re taking your man to a Hawks game, he’s probably already proposed.

After pulling out a W against the Edmonton Oilers last Sunday, our well-rested Beloved Blackhawks take on the Phoenix Coyotes at the Madhouse on Madison tomorrow evening. Let’s hope the Hawks can hone some of that military discipline from their namesake to beat another team that has historically given them trouble.



Wong, John Chi-Kit (2005). Lords of the Rinks: The Emergence of the National Hockey League, 1875–1936. University of Toronto Press.

The Army Almanac: A Book of Facts Concerning the Army of the United States U.S.

Roger L. Nichols, Black Hawk and the Warrior’s Path (Arlington Heights, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, 1992;