History of Chicago Illinois

It’s hopeless for anyone who visits Chicago Illinois occasionally to keep up with it. This is what Mark Twain thought about Chicago. When he wrote those words in 1883, the city was less than 50 years old. However, it had already transformed from an insignificant trading post located at the source of River Chicago into a very large city. The growth was remarkable. In fact, it was more than a hundred fold, and showed no signs of slowing down. At the beginning of the 20th century, the number of people living in Chicago quadrupled, and everyone was amazed by the city’s unique ability to continuously reinvent itself.
More than 100 years later, the reinvention is yet to stop. Today, it has developed into a global city, a flourishing hub of global commerce and trade. If you wish to achieve the American dream, consider living and working in Chicago City.

Jean Baptiste Point-du-Sable was the first permanent resident of Chicago. Jean was a black man, a renowned Haitian trader who first landed in the present day Chicago City in the 1770s. The United States government constructed Fort Dearborn in 1795 at the present day corner of Wacker Drive and the Michigan Avenue. In 1812, Native Americans burned Fort Dearborn to the ground and then rebuilt it. In 1857, it was demolished

Chicago history has played a significant role in the economic, political as well as cultural history in the United States of America. It has been among the most dominant metropolises in the Midwest since the 1850s.

The arrival of explorers, fur traders and Christian missionaries from France towards the end of the 17th Century and the visitor’s close interaction with Pottawatomie Native Americans marked the beginning of Chicago area’s recorded history. There was an army fort and settlements in the area. However, the settlers and US soldiers were forced out of the area in 1812.

In 1837, businessmen from the North officially established Chicago City. Real estate speculators and its strategic location in the up-and-coming inland transportation network significantly contributed to the city’s rapid growth and expansion. The expansive transportation network was anchored on railroads and incredible lake traffic that controlled access from into Mississippi River basin.

Chicago City experienced exponential growth and expansion, despite the 1871 fire that wrecked havoc on the city’s central business district. It became the rail center of Illinois and the leading Midwestern hub for manufacturing, high culture, commerce, jazz, finance, sports, higher education, broadcasting and religion.It attracted thousands of European immigrants, ranging from the Germans to the Italians, Irish, Poles, Scandinavians, Czechs and Jews. The immigrants joined the highly-charged and ward-based politics in the city. Others became members of powerful militant labor unions. That’s why at some point in time, Chicago was infamous for high wages and frequent strikes.

When the First World War started, thousands of African Americans left their homes in the South in what was famously known as the Great Migration. Immigrants from Mexico and Puerto Rico started arriving in Chicago City and its environs in after 1910 and 1945 respectively.

After 1970, widespread de-industrialization led to the closure of many stockyards, factories and steel mills. However, Chicago retained its status as a center of transport and finance industries. There was greater focus on medicine, tourism and education.

Chicago City formed the base of many political leaders, including Stephen Douglas, ex-president Barrack Obama and Adlai Stevenson.

Major Disasters in Chicago Illinois

The Great-Chicago-Fire is the most disastrous and infamous tragedies that have ever occurred in Chicago City. It occurred in 1871.

Another catastrophe occurred on 30th December 1903. The Iroquois Theater was gutted by fire, yet it was believed to be completely fireproof. It had been completed barely six weeks before the unfortunate occurrence. Even though the fire burned for just a few minutes, burns, trampling and asphyxiation caused the death of 602 people.

In July 1915, a large cruise ship named SS Eastland was involved in a tragic accident, killing more than 800 crew and passengers.

In December 1958, a huge fire occurred in Humboldt Park. The fire killed three nuns affiliated to the Catholic Church and 92 students as well.

In April 1992, the infamous Chicago Flood caused massive damage that amounted to billions of dollars. Some people drilled a hole into the Chicago Tunnel System that had been abandoned for a long time, although it was linked to the basements of hundreds of buildings.

In July 1995, extreme humidity and heat that lasted for a whole week terrorized people who had inefficient or no AC systems. It was a major environmental catastrophe since it killed 739 people.

Flag of Chicago Illinois

Chicago’s flag has four red stars. Each of them symbolizes four major historical events. They are:

  1. Fort Dearborn (1803)
  2. Great Chicago Fire (1871)
  3. World Columbian Exposition (1893)
  4.  Century of Progress (1933)

Two blue stripes on the Chicago Flag represent Chicago River’s southern branch and northern branch that flow downtown.

The Northern, Southern and Western areas of the city are represented by three white stripes on the flag.

Chicago Illinois Prior to 1830

According to historical records, the Algonquians are the first people who ever lived in Chicago area.  Chicago is a name derived from the French people’s rendering of shikaakwa, a common Native American word. Botanists called it Allium tricoccum.

The first reference to the present day Chicago City was by de LaSalle, in a memoir written in 1679. De LaSalle referred to the area as Checagou. In a widely read journal written in 1688 by Henri Joutel, the writer expresses his surprise at the large number of chicagoua (wild garlic) that grew in the area.

The Algonquians were members of Miami Confederacy. The Kickapoo and Illini were members of the confederacy too. Potawatomi guides accompanied a French trader by the name Nicolas Perrot to Miami villages that bordered what is known as Chicago area today. That was in 1671. The Miami had settled in present day Chicago in 1670.

French explorers were particularly attracted by the area’s strategic location. It conveniently linked Mississippi River system with the Great Lakes. By 1673, the Algonquians had been forced out of their settlement (Lower Michigan) by the Iroquois from New York.

Jean Baptiste Sable was the first non-native person to ever settle in Chicago area. In the 1780s, he established a large farm at the source of River Chicago. In 1800, Jean left Chicago and never went back. In 1968, he was honored as the founder of Chicago City. The ceremony took place at Pioneer Court.

After the infamous Northwest Indian War, Chicago area was surrendered to the US by Native Americans, and the federal government went ahead to establish a military post, courtesy of the Greenville Treaty.

Fort Dearborn was built in the year 1803. During the Fort Dearborn Battle, Indian forces completely destroyed it. When the war ended, the land was surrendered to the US government by the Potawatomi. In 1818, the fort was built again.

Chicago Illinois History – 19th Century

About 30 years after the turn of the 19th century, commissioners were appointed by Illinois law makers to find a canal and also map out the land surrounding Chicago area. James Thompson was asked to do the job. At that time, less than 100 people lived in the area. According to historians, the flat filing that happened  on 4th August 1830 marked the official recognition of Chicago area.

In the 1830s, Yankee entrepreneurs discovered Chicago’s great potential as a center for transportation. Consequently, they secured the most strategic spots by engaging in rampant land speculation.

On 12th August 1833, Chicago Town was formally incorporated. At that time, about 350 people lived in it.

In March 1837, the Illinois State granted Chicago City a charter, and it formed part of Cook County. Only three years later, more than 4,000 people lived and worked in the city. The population had increased more than tenfold.

Chicago Illinois History – 20th Century

The manufacturing and commerce sectors of Chicago area’s economy experienced exponential growth and expansion, and all these were catalyzed by railroads that stretched throughout the East and Midwest. It eventually dominated the Midwest and significantly contributed to the nation’s overall economy.

The packing trade was particularly dominated by the renowned Chicago Union Stock Yards.

Chicago area transformed into the largest rail center in the world. Additionally, it became one of the world’s busiest ports. Lumber, coal, iron and other commodity resources were shipped to the area for processing, and the resultant products were transported to the East and West.

The whole city relied on Lake Michigan for fresh water. As the city’s population increased and industries sprouted at every corner, the lake became polluted. The city needed another source of fresh water supply. In 1885, a civil engineer came up with a master plan of the renowned Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal. According to the master plan, the water way would funnel water from the Michigan Lake into an a wide canal that would in turn drain into River Mississippi through River Illinois.

In the 1930s, the construction industry started thriving. Some of the landmarks that were constructed during this period include Chicago Board-of-Trade & Building and Merchandise Mart. However, the industry was affected by the infamous Wall Street Crash, the Second World War and the Great Depression.

Towards the end of the 20th Century, the area has experienced complete turnaround, courtesy of many inner city neighborhoods. Chicago City has become more diverse, thanks to thousands of immigrants from Asia, Puerto Rico and South America. In the 1990s, more than 100,000 people moved into the area. Today, the lakefront is dotted with apartment buildings occupied by the middle class.

In 2008, Chicago City earned the prestigious title City-of-the-Year from the renowned GQ due to the contributions that the area has been making in architecture, politics, finance, medicine and education, among other sectors.

More than a century after the first reinvention, it is yet to stop. Today, it has developed into a global city, a flourishing hub of global commerce and trade. If you wish to achieve the American dream, consider living and working in Chicago City.

Chicago Illinois Firsts

  • The people who’ve lived and worked in Chicago have demonstrated ingenuity throughout its history.
  • The first skyscraper in Illinois was built in the Chicago in 1884. It comprised of ten floors with steel frames. However, it was brought down in 1931.
  • The tallest building across North America is found in the city. Sears Tower stands 1,450 feet above the ground. In the whole world, there are only two buildings that are taller than Sears Tower.
  • At the turn of the 20th Century, residents of the city were concerned by sewage that freely flowed into Lake Michigan. To prevent the spread of deadly waterborne diseases, they reversed River Chicago and forced it to flow towards Mississippi.
  • The first nuclear chain reaction took place in the year 1942 at the prestigious University of Chicago. It was self sustaining. A beautiful Henry Moore sculpture marks the spot between the busy 56th street and 57th street on Ellis Avenue.
  • The famous refrigerated rail-car, TV remote control, mail order retailing and car radio were all invented in the city.

Chicago Illinois Fascinating Statistics and Facts

  • Chicago City is the third largest in USA, with a huge population of about three million people.
  • The city is 237 square miles in size, and is home to Barrack Obama, the immediate former president of the US.
  • Approximately 2,700,000 people live and work in the city. It boasts of numerous cultural institutions, museums as well as historical sites. The city is home to more than 500 parks and 200 theaters.
  • Biking lovers can take advantage of 19 miles of bicycle paths, while lovers of art can walk into any of the 200 art galleries.
  • The city boasts of 15 miles of beautiful bating beaches, in excess of 7,300 restaurants, 26 miles of stunning lakefront and 77 community areas comprising of at least 100 neighborhoods.
  • Every year, Chicago hosts more than 50 million visitors.
  • Its nicknames are The Windy City, City that Works, City of Big-Shoulders and The Second City.
  • Approximately 10 million people live in the general Chicago area that is made up Illinois State, Indiana State and Wisconsin State. Across the US, there are two other metropolitan areas that are larger than Chicago area.
  • The headquarters of more than 10 Fortune 50 companies are found in the city.


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