A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
By Tim Lambert
THE FOUNDATION OF CHICAGO
The history of Chicago begins in the year 1673. In that year two Frenchmen, Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet arrived in the area. (The name Chicago is derived from a Native American word of uncertain meaning, checagou). However the French did not settle the area. The first non-indigenous person to make his home in the area was an African American from the Caribbean called Jean Baptiste Point du Sable who built a house there in 1779. Then in 1803 the American government built a fort called Fort Dearborn. The fort was destroyed during the war of 1812 but it was rebuilt in 1816. A little settlement grew up by the fort.
19TH CENTURY CHICAGO
In the 1830s Chicago grew rapidly. Chicago was incorporated as a town in 1833 although it only had a population of a few hundred. However Chicago mushroomed and by 1837 it had a population of 4,000. In that year Chicago was made a city.
Chicago boomed during the 1840s and by 1850 it had a population of 30,000. In the next decade it grew at an astonishing rate. By 1860 the population of Chicago was 109,000.
Chicago also became the transport hub of the USA. The Illinois and Michigan Canal opened in 1848 and by 1860 15 railroad companies had a terminus in Chicago. The city became famous for meat packing and in 1865 the Union Stock Yards opened.
By 1870 the population of Chicago had risen to about 300,000. However Chicago was devastated by a fire in 1871. The Chicago fire began on the evening of 8 October in a barn. According to legend it was caused by a cow knocking over a lamp. At any rate the fire spread through Downtown Chicago where houses were made of wood and it burned until 10 October. About 100,000 people, about one third of the population were made homeless and about 300 people were killed. Fortunately industry in Chicago survived. Chicago was soon rebuilt and in the late 19th century it continued to grow rapidly. By 1880 the population of Chicago reached 503,000. It continued to rise rapidly. By 1900 the population was almost 1.7 million.
However in 1886 came the Haymarket Massacre. In May 1886 there was a strike in Chicago in support of an 8-hour day. On the evening of 4 May a rally was held in Haymarket Square. The police ordered the demonstrators to leave and somebody threw a pipe bomb into their ranks. The police responded by firing into the crowd. Afterwards anarchists were rounded up and eventually 4 were hanged.
In July 1894 during a railroad strike President Grover Cleveland sent troops to Chicago.
In the last years of the 19th century Chicago continued to grow at an astonishing rate. Meanwhile the World's first skyscraper, the Home Insurance Building was erected in 1884. Other famous buildings of late 19th century Chicago are the Rookery, built in 1888 (its lobby was redesigned by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1905) and the Fine Arts Building, built in 1885. The World's Columbian Exhibition was held in Chicago in 1893. It was held in Jackson Park.
20th CENTURY CHICAGO
In 1903 the city of Chicago suffered a disaster when a fire broke out in the Iroquois Theater and nearly 600 people died. The Iroquois Theater was demolished in 1925 and it was replaced by the Oriental Theater.
In the early 20th century the population of Chicago continued to boom. By 1920 it had reached 2.7 million. By 1930 the population of Chicago was 3,376,000.
In 1927 Chicago Municipal Airport opened. (it is now called Midway Airport). John G Shedd Aquarium opened in 1930. Alder Planetarium also opened in 1930. Then in 1933 Chicago hosted the Century of Progress World Fair. Chicago Museum of Science and Industry opened in that year. Then in 1942, Enrico Fermi carried out the first controlled nuclear reaction at Chicago University.
Meanwhile a notorious event in the history of Chicago was the St Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929. Al Capone planned to kill his enemy, a man named George 'Bugs' Moran. So at 10.30 am on 14 February, St Valentine's Day, a car went to a garage on North Side. The car was the type used by detectives and it had police insignia painted on it. Inside it were two men dressed as policemen. There were also two men in civilian clothes posing as plainclothes detectives in the car. Their car stopped outside the garage and the two men posing as detectives got out. At that moment Bugs Moran and his two bodyguards approached. Seeing the two fake policemen they thought it was a police raid and they walked away. So Bugs Moran survived.
However there were seven men inside the garage and the fake policemen made them line up against a wall and face it. The two men in civilian clothes entered with machine guns and sprayed them with bullets. The fake policemen then produced shotguns and finished off any man who showed signs of life. The killers then left.
In 1950 the population of Chicago peaked at 3.6 million. However in the late 20th century the population of the city gradually declined.
In 1955 Democrat Richard J Daley became mayor of Chicago. He remained mayor until 1976. In 1979 Jane Byrne became the first female mayor of Chicago and in 1983 Harold Washington became the first African-American mayor. However in 1990 Chicago ceased to be the second largest city in the USA.
Meanwhile in 1968 the first Special Olympics were held in Chicago. Then in 1973 Willis Tower opened. Navy Pier opened in 1995.
21ST CENTURY CHICAGO
In the 21st century Chicago is still flourishing. Millennium Park opened in 2004 and Spertus Museum opened in 2007. Trump International Hotel and Tower was built in 2009. Meanwhile the sculpture Cloud Gate was created in 2006. In 2016 the population of Chicago was 2.7 million.
A timeline of Chicago history
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A brief history of Detroit
A brief history of Philadelphia
A brief history of Charleston, South Carolina
A brief history of Washington DC
Last revised 2019