Envisioned in 1903 as part of the South Park Commission's revolutionary neighborhood park system, Calumet Park developed slowly, and was not completed until the 1930s. The commission conceived the innovative parks to provide social services and breathing spaces to overcrowded immigrant neighborhoods. Landscape architects the Olmsted Brothers created plans for 14 new parks, however four were delayed, including Calumet Park. Opened in 1905, the first ten included Russell, Mark White, Davis, Armour, and Cornell Squares, and Bessemer, Ogden, Sherman, Palmer, and Hamilton Parks.
The commissioners acquired 40 acres to develop Calumet Park in 1904, but they decided to delay construction. The area's population began a period of rapid growth as European and Mexican immigrants settled in nearby South Chicago to work in the steel mills and railyards. Recognizing this population trend as well as the site's unique Lake Michigan frontage, the commissioners decided that Calumet Park should be much larger than they had originally planned. Initial temporary improvements allowed people to use the beach and some new playfields. Meanwhile, the commissioners began slowly enlarging the park through additional property acquisition and landfill. The park slowly evolved to nearly 200 acres in size. The South Park Commission constructed a monumental, classically-designed fieldhouse in 1924. After the commission was consolidated into the Chicago Park District in 1934, additional improvements were made, including substantial work on the park's infrastructure and landscape.
The park's name pays tribute to the Calumet region, which encompasses numerous south side community areas and comprises the basin of the Calumet River. The name Calumet comes from the Norman-French word for pipe, "chamulet." Early French explorers who traded with local Native Americans used the term in reference to their "peace pipes."