The Site of Big Shoulders began in the summer of 1995 as an idea for an online publication which focused specifically on Chicago. A group of early 1990s Northwestern University graduates started getting together every week to hang out, geek out and work on pulling together the first edition of the online publication.
Early participants in these sessions included Chicagoans Chris Brandely, Mike Browarski, Yvette Marie Dostatni, Jake Eldridge, Justin Kerr, Brian Nemtusak and a rotating cast of friends and acquaintances. Thursday nights became the default time for staff meetings, which were as much about learning new publishing technologies and having fun as they were about developing the publication.
The staff prepared five features comprising the content of the first edition of The Site of Big Shoulders, including poetry, artwork, a guide to Chicago-area street gangs, the first installment of "The Secret Lives of the Chief" story and a photo essay about Whiting, Indiana. Each Web page was laboriously hand-coded using text editors, and the staff created a great deal of accompanying art and photo illustration for each feature. Dave Homan, proprietor of the online magazine Chicago Psyberview, donated space on his Web server, and in the summer of 1996, the first edition of The Site of Big Shoulders went live at the Web address http://www.chitown.com/bigshoulders/ .