Hyde Park was founded by real estate speculator Paul Cornell (a first cousin of Ezra Cornell) in the 1850s in what was then unincorporated land south of Chicago. Although today the term "Hyde Park," is applied to the neighborhood from 47th street to 61st streets, in the 19th century, the term applied to areas as far south as the 100s, twelve miles south of the Loop.
The southern sections of old Hyde Park became industrial and ceased to be considered "Hyde Park" at all, while the northern sections became genteel, with many architecturally distinctive homes being built, in styles from Victorian to Prairie.
The 1890s marked Hyde Park's emergence as a unique urban neighborhood. In 1892 the University of Chicago opened on land donated by Marshall Field and 1893 saw the marvelous World's Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park, adjacent to Lake Michigan. The mostly gothic University of Chicago, through visionary leadership from William Rainey Harper and loads of money from John D. Rockefeller, quickly became one of the nation's best research institutions. The Neo-Classical World's Columbian Exposition, hugely popular, was the start of the Beaux Arts “City Beautiful" movement. The only structure left from the World's Fair is Charles Atgood's Palace of Fine Arts, now the Museum of Science and Industry.
Over the years, Hyde Park grew with Chicago, being annexed in the 1890s. Many of the neighborhood’s stately high rises were actually built as hotels in the 1920s. Famous Hyde Park residents have included Julius Rosenwald, Muhammad Ali, Clarence Darrow, US Senator Paul Douglas, Elijah Muhammad, Louis Farrakhan, US Senator Carol Moseley Braun, Marshall Field, Mayor Harold Washington, and numerous figures associated with the University of Chicago. Parts of Native Son, the Studs Lonigan trilogy, and The Jungle are set there. The neighborhood contains buildings by Eero Saarinen, Frank Lloyd Wright(the Robie House), L. Mies van der Rohe, and two unloved rises that I.M. Pei would rather forget. Most of the University of Chicago campus was by Henry Ives Cobb and Charles Coolidge.
In the 1950s and 1960s Hyde Park began to suffer from the economic decline of the rest of the South Side. To protect itself, the University of Chicago sponsored one of the largest urban renewal plans in the nation. In the 1960s Hyde Park's average income soared by 70%, but its black population fell by 40%. In any case, Hyde Park avoided the fate as slums of neighboring districts like Woodlawn, Washington Park, and Oakland.
Although the University of Chicago dominates the neighborhood physically and politically, Hyde Park is one of the most economically vital and desirable neighborhoods in Chicago, and an example of racial integration.