History Of Chicago: The History Of Chicago begins in the year 1673. In that year two Frenchmen, Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet landed in the area. The name Chicago is evolved from a Natural American word of unclear meaning, checagou. However, the French did not determine the area. The first non-indigenous human to make his home in the area was an African American from the Caribbean called Jean Baptiste Point du Sable who manufactured a house there in 1779. Then in 1803, the American government built a fort called Fort Dearborn. The fort was smashed during the war of 1812 but it was rebuilt in 1816. A little settlement grew up by the fort.

The widest city of the American Midwest, Chicago, Illinois, was founded in 1830 and quickly grew to become, as Carl Sandburg’s 1916 poem put it, “Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.” Settled as a water transport hub, the city evolved into an industrial metropolis, processing and carrying the raw materials of its vast hinterland.

Chicago: Foundation and Pre History

Chicago has played an important role in American economic, cultural, and political history. Since the 1850s Chicago has been one of the powerful downtowns in the Midwestern United States and has been the widest city in the Midwest since the 1880 census. The area’s documented history begins with the arrival of French travelers, evangelists, and fur traders in the late 17th century and their communication with the local Pottawatomie Native Americans.

History Of Chicago
History Of Chicago

Jean Baptiste Point du Sable was the first stable non-indigenous settler in the area, having a house at the mouth of the Chicago River in the late 18th century. There were small settlements and a U.S. Army fort, but the soldiers and colonists were all driven off in 1812.

The 1832 Black Hawk War finished the last Native American struggle in the area. Chicago was incorporated as a town in 1833 and as a city in 1837 when its population hit 4,000.

The modern city was incorporated in 1837 by Northern businessmen and grew speedily from real estate speculation and the recognition that it had a dominant position in the showing inland transportation network, based on lake traffic and railroads, handling access from the Great Lakes into the Mississippi River basin.

 In 1848 Chicago got its first telegraph and railroad. Two innovations grain elevators and the Board of Trade’s wheat grading standards quickly converted the way crops were sold. By 1854 the city was the world’s largest grain port and had more than 30,000 residents, many of them European migrants.


  • In the 1830s Chicago grew rapidly. Chicago was consolidated 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 exploded during the 1840s and by 1850 it had a population of 30,000.
  • In the next decade, it grew at a startling rate. By 1860 the population of Chicago was 109,000. Chicago also became the transport hub of the USA.
    History Of Chicago - Population
    History Of Chicago – Population
  • By 1870 the population of Chicago had risen to about 300,000.
  • By 1880 the population of Chicago attained 503,000. It continued to rise rapidly.
  • By 1900 the population was almost 1.7 million. However, in 1886 came the Haymarket Massacre. 
  • 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 1950 the population of Chicago peaked at 3.6 million. However, in the late 20th century the population of the city gradually declined.
  • In 2016 the population of Chicago was 2.7 million.

Chicago Disasters: The Great Fire and Rebuilding

  • In October 1871, a fire wiped out one-third of Chicago and left more than 100,000 homeless. Its initial sparkle remains unknown (legends of Mrs. O’Leary’s lantern-kicking cow notwithstanding), but it was inflamed by lack, high winds, and wooden buildings. The factories and railroads were largely afforded, and the city rebuilt with astonishing speed.
  • In the late 1800s, Chicago grew as a national retail center and produced a crop of brand-name business tycoons, including Philip Armour, George Pullman, Potter Palmer, and Marshall Field.
    The Great Fire - History Of Chicago
    The Great Fire – History Of Chicago
  • In 1885 Chicago gave the world its first skyscraper, the 10-story Home Insurance Building. In later years architects, Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe, and Walter Gropius all added to the city’s growing skyline.
  • In 1893 Chicago presented the World’s Columbian Exposition, which drew over 20 million visitors to its “White City” of plaster Gilded Age buildings built on former bogland beside Chicago’s south lakefront.

Other Disasters

  • The S.S. Eastland was a cruise ship based in Chicago and used for tours. On 24 July 1915 a calm, sunny day the ship was taking on passengers when it folded over while tied to a dock in the Chicago River. A total of 844 passengers and crew were killed. An investigation found that the Eastland had become too heavy with rescue gear that had been ordered by Congress in the wake of the Titanic disaster.
    History Of Chicago - Eastland Cruise Ship
    History Of Chicago – Eastland Cruise Ship
  • On December 1, 1958, the Our Lady of the Angels School Fire occurred in the Humboldt Park area. The fire killed 92 students and three nuns; in response, fire safety developments were made to public and private schools across the United States.
  • April 13, 1992, billions of dollars in damage was caused by the Chicago Flood, when a hole was accidentally penetrated into the long-abandoned Chicago Tunnel system, which was still connected to the basements of numerous buildings in the Loop. It flooded the central business district with 250 million US gallons (950,000 m3) of water from the Chicago River.
  • A major environmental emergency occurred in July 1995, when a week of record-high heat and humidity caused 739 heat-related deaths, mostly among separated elderly poor and others without air conditioning.

“The White City”

Chicago rebuilt quickly. Much of the debris was dumped into Lake Michigan as landfill, forming the underpinnings for what is now Grant Park, Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago. Only 22 years later, Chicago celebrated its comeback by holding the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, with its memorable “White City.” One of the Exposition buildings was rebuilt to become the Museum of Science and Industry. Chicago refused to be discouraged even by the Great Depression. In 1933 and 1934, the city held an equally successful Century of Progress Exposition on Northerly Island.

Hull House 

In the half-century following the Great Fire, waves of immigrants came to Chicago to take jobs in the factories and meatpacking plants. Many poor workers and their families found help in settlement houses operated by Jane Addams and her followers. Her Hull-House Museum is located at 800 S. Halsted St.

Chicago Firsts


  • In 1907, the University of Chicago physicist Albert A. Michelson became the first American to receive a Nobel Prize in the sciences.
  • In 1914, the Chicago Tribune hired Jack Lawson as the first paid full-time film critic in the U.S.
  • Wallace Carlson and Winsor McCay created the first animated cartoon character with Gertie the Dinosaur in 1914.
  • FYI: The following year, Carlson debuted a new character called “Dreamy Dud,” who appeared in perhaps the country’s first afterschool special for Chicago’s Essanay Studios, made famous by Charlie Chaplin.
  • Chicago resident Gwendolyn Brooks became the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for her book Annie Allen.
  • Maria Callas made her American debut at Chicago’s Lyric Opera in 1954.
  • Roger Ebert at the Chicago Sun-Times became the first person to win a Pulitzer Prize for film criticism in 1975.
  • Carol Moseley Braun became the country’s first female African-American U.S. senator in 1992.
  • As of 44th President of the United States, Chicago resident Barack Obama became the first African-American to serve in office.


  • The world’s first skyscraper, the Home Insurance Company, was designed by Major William Le Baron Jenney and built-in Chicago in 1885.
  • The game of 16-inch softball, played without gloves, was invented in Chicago. The first known game of its kind took place on Thanksgiving Day 1887 at the Farragut Boat Club.
  • Chicago’s ‘L’ train system was the first elevated railway in the United States, debuting in 1892.
  • The brownie was created at Chicago’s Palmer House, when Bertha Palmer, wife of millionaire hotelier Potter Palmer, requested a new dessert to serve at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.
  • The first Ferris wheel made its debut at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. FYI: Today, Navy Pier is home to a nearly 200-foot Ferris wheel modeled after the original.
  • The Twinkie was invented during the Depression by Chicagoan Jimmy Dewar. It was originally filled with banana cream, but bananas were scarce during WWII, so vanilla cream was substituted.
  • The Atomic Age began at 3:25 p.m. on Dec. 2, 1942, when an atom was split for the very first time. It all took place under the football stands of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago. FYI: Today, Henry Moore’s Nuclear Energy sculpture marks the spot.
  • In 1943, Ike Sewell invented deep dish pizza at his restaurant Pizzeria Uno, where Chicago-style pies are still served today.
  • The first all-color TV station debuted in Chicago on April 15, 1956, at WNBQ-TV.
  • The first televised U.S. presidential candidates’ debate was broadcast from Chicago’s CBS Studios on Sept. 26, 1960, between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

Culture and the Arts

  • The first automobile race in America was held on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, 1895. The race was sponsored by the Chicago Times-Herald and ran a 54-mile course from downtown Chicago to Evanston and back.
  • The first gay rights organization, the Society for Human Rights, was founded in Chicago in 1924.
  • Chicago is the birthplace of Electric Chicago Blues. Developed in the late ’40s and early ’50s, The genre took Delta blues and amplified it in a small-band setting.
  • On Jan. 31, 1949, the first TV daytime soap opera, These Are My Children, premiered on NBC in Chicago. It was created by Irna Phillips, later known as the “Queen of the Soaps.”
  • Adler Planetarium was the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere, opening on May 12, 1930.
  • In 1933, Major League Baseball’s first All-Star Game took place at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.
  • House music originated on Chicago’s South Side in 1977, at famed club, The Warehouse.
  • Chicago is the birthplace of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School of architecture and design.
  • The Aqua Building is the tallest structure in the world to be designed by a woman, architect Jeanne Gang.
  • Once completed in 2020, Jeanne Gang’s Vista Tower officially will take the title.
History Of Chicago - Transportation
History Of Chicago – Transportation


  • Chicago rests on 234 square miles of land.
  • Chicago is the third-largest city in the U.S. and is home to an estimated 2.7M residents.
  • Chicago is comprised of 77 community areas.
  • Chicago’s nicknames: The Windy City, City of Big Shoulders, The Second City, The White City, and The City That Works.
  • Chicago’s downtown area is known as “The Loop,” which refers to the area encircled by the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) elevated (‘L’) train tracks.
  • The CTA operates the nation’s second-largest public transportation system. On an average weekday, 1.6M rides are taken on the CTA.
  • Chicago is known as the United State’s railroad capital, with more major railroads serving the city than any other place in America.
  • Downtown Chicago’s underground pedestrian system, known as the Pedway, consists of tunnels and overhead bridges that cover roughly 5 miles and link more than 40 blocks in the Central Business District.
  • A unique downtown Chicago feature is its multi-leveled streets, the most well-known of which is Wacker Drive. This double-decker street comprises an upper-level riverfront boulevard and a lower-level roadway for commercial and through traffic.
  • There are 135 hotels with 43,881 hotel rooms in the Central Business District.

FAQ’s About Chicago

How Did Chicago Begin?

The History Of Chicago Begins In The Year 1673. In That Year Two Frenchmen, Jacques Marquette And Louis Joliet Arrived In The Area. Then In 1803, The American Government Built A Fort Called Fort Dearborn.

When Was Chicago Founded?

Chicago Founded in 1833

How Did Chicago Become A Big City?

The Largest City Of The American Midwest, Chicago, Illinois, Was Founded In 1830 And Quickly Grew To Become, As Carl Sandburg’s 1916 Poem Put It, “Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker Of Wheat, Player With Railroads And Freight Handler To The Nation.” Established As A Water Transit Hub, The City Evolved Into An Industrial Hub.

What Is Chicago Best Known For?

Some Of The Many Things Chicago Is Famous For Are: Chicago-style Hot Dogs, Chicago-style (Deep Dish) Pizza, Maxwell Street Polish Sausage, Jazz Music, And 1920S Gangsters Like Al Capone. Chicago Is Also Known For Interesting Architecture Like The Sears Tower, Many Museums, And Many Loyal Sports Fans.