A Brief History of
Father Jacques Marquette, French-born missionary of the Jesuit order, and Louis Jolliet, Canadian explorer and mapmaker, were the first Europeans to view the land on which the City of Chicago was to stand. Guided by friendly Indians in the Fall of 1673, the two men first traversed the region that is now Chicago.
The Chicago area was traveled by traders and explorers for some years after 1673. Late in the century two Indian villages were settled at Chicago and in 1696 Father Francois Pinet, a Jesuit missionary, founded the Mission of the Guardian Angel. The mission was abandoned in 1700 when missionary efforts proved fruitless.
Little is known about the Chicago area from 1700 until about 1779 when the pioneer settler of Chicago, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, an African American from Sainte-Domingue (Haiti), built the first permanent settlement at the mouth of the river just east of the present Michigan Avenue Bridge on the north bank.
Du Sable, who appears to have been a man of good taste and refinement, was a husbandman, a carpenter, a cooper, a miller, and probably a distiller.
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In Du Sable's home, which he shared with his Indian wife, the first marriage in Chicago was performed, the first election was held, and the first court handed down justice. The religion of the first Chicagoan was Catholic and every contemporary report about Du Sable describes him as a man of substance who started the story of Chicago as well as the story of the African American in Chicago.
1795 The Treaty of Greenville 1803-1812 the First Fort Dearborn
General Anthony Wayne had defeated the Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers on August 20, 1794, and the ensuing treaty, concluded August 10, 1795, opened most of the present State of Ohio for settlement and named certain tracts in the Indian country to the westward to be used by the United States for forts and portages. One of these was described as "one piece of land six miles square, at the mouth of the Chicago River, emptying into the southwest end of Lake Michigan."
By this treaty between the federal government and Indians, a tract at the mouth of the Chicago River was ceded to the United States. This was the site of the future city of Chicago.
It was not until 1803 that the War Department ordered the construction of a fort at the mouth of the river. Troops arrived in the area on August 17 and began building shelters and a stockade. A year later, Fort Dearborn, named in honor of the Secretary of War, was completed.
1818 Illinois Admitted to Statehood
Chicago was under the jurisdiction of Indiana Territory and Illinois Territory from 1801 to 1818. In 1818, Illinois was admitted to statehood, and Chicago was placed successively under the counties of Crawford, Clark, Pike, Fulton, Putnam attached to Peoria, and in 1831, Cook County.
1833 Incorporated as a Town - Origin of Name
On August 12, 1833, the Town of Chicago was incorporated with a population of 350. Incorporation was enabled by an act of the legislature, passed February 12, 1831, which provided that any community of over 150 inhabitants was authorized to incorporate as a town, with limits not to exceed one square mile in extent.
The name "Chicago" derived from the Indians but it is not known which tribe named the town and many theories have been advanced to explain the origin of the name. One generally accepted is that the name comes from the Indian words for either wild onion or skunk, but some historians believe that the word Chicago denoted "strong" or "great." The Indians applied this term to the Mississippi River, to thunder, or to the voice of the great Manitou.
1837 Incorporated As a City
In November of 1836 a committee was formed to apply to the state legislature for a city charter, and adopt a draft to accompany the application. A charter was prepared by this committee and submitted to the people for approval at a mass meeting at the Saloon Building on Monday, January 23, 1837. Thus, on this date, Chicago became a city with a population of 4,170. An election was held on the second of May, 1837, to choose the officers provided for in the charter. At this election William B. Ogden was chosen the first Mayor of Chicago; Isaac N. Arnold, clerk; and Hiram Pearsons, treasurer.
1848 Galena & Chicago Union Railroad
The first railroad constructed out of Chicago, the Galena and Chicago Union, was chartered January 16, 1836, to connect Chicago with the lead mines at Galena.
"The Pioneer," the first locomotive on the road, arrived at Chicago on October 10, 1848, nearly thirteen years after the charter was granted.
The railroad and the canal were vital in the development of Chicago and the population of the city tripled in the six years after the opening of the canal. Eventually other railroads were built and Chicago became the largest railroad center in the world.
1860 First National Political Convention in Chicago--Abraham Lincoln Nominated
When, in 1860, it was decided to hold the Republican National Convention in Chicago (the first national political convention to meet in Chicago), a special building called the "Wigwam" was erected.
On May 18, the third day of the convention, nominations were presented. The third ballot gave Abraham Lincoln of Illinois 231 1/2 votes, with 233 necessary for nomination. At this point the Ohio delegation changed its four votes from Salmon P. Chase of Ohio to Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln was nominated.
1865 Chicago Union Stock Yard Completed
Tavern owners usually provided pastures and care for herds of cattle awaiting sale during Chicago's early days. With the advent of railroads, stock yards were set up and eventually there were a number of yards scattered over the city.
Construction for a consolidated Union Stock Yard began in June, 1865, and the Union Stock Yard opened Christmas Day, 1865. The stockyard grew to occupy a square mile of land from 39th to 47th and from Halsted to Ashland.
The stockyard saw its peak year in 1924 and then a gradual decline started caused by decentralization into regional markets and packing operations. The Chicago Union Stock Yard went out of business at midnight Friday, July 30, 1971.
Today the site is occupied by a flourishing industrial park.
1871 The Great Fire
No one knows how the fire started in the cow barn at the rear of the Patrick O'Leary cottage at 137 DeKoven Street on Chicago's West Side.
The blaze began about 9 p.m. on Sunday, October 8, 1871. By midnight the fire had jumped the river's south branch and by 1:30 a.m., the business district was in flames. Shortly thereafter the fire raced northward across the main river.
Chicago quickly rebuilt and by 1875 little evidence of the disaster remained.
1885 First Skyscraper
The Home Insurance Building, erected at the northeast corner of LaSalle and Adams streets (on the site now occupied by the west portion of the Field building), is called the first skyscraper.
Nine stories and one basement were completed in 1885. Two stories were added in 1891. The architect, Major William Le Baron Jenney, created the first load-carrying structural frame, the development of which led to the "Chicago skeleton" form of construction and the big skyscrapers of later years.
In this building, a steel frame supported the entire weight of the walls instead of the walls themselves carrying the weight of the building which was the usual method. His first skyscraper revolutionized urban life because with higher buildings larger numbers of people could live and work in limited areas.
1927 Municipal Airport of Chicago (Midway) Opened
Chicago's first airport, the Chicago Municipal Airport, was completed late in 1927 and early in December of that year it was being used by all of the carriers engaged in air traffic to and from Chicago. Up to that time the carriers had made the aviation field at Maywood their Chicago port.
From 1945 to 1958, Midway airport was the world's busiest air terminal but it eventually was virtually abandoned when the air lines switched their operations to the bigger O'Hare field with the advent of the large jetliners. However, in 1967 an enormous rebuilding and refurbishing job was started on Midway and early in 1968 the major airlines resumed their services at that terminal easing the jammed conditions at O'Hare Field.
1943 Chicago's First Subway Opened
Work on the city's first subway began December 17, 1938. The subway was opened October 17, 1943.
On June 22, 1958, Chicago achieved another first when the West Side Subway was opened. This was the first significant project providing rail rapid transit in the grade-separated right-of-way of a multi-lane automobile expressway and attracted world-wide attention. Transit officials from all parts of the world have come to Chicago to obtain first-hand knowledge of the project.
The Sears Tower - World's Tallest Building Until 1996
Chicago became home to the world's tallest building in 1973 when the Sears Tower was topped off. The Sears Tower remained the tallest building in the world until February 13, 1996. The Sears Tower continues to be the tallest building in North America.
On July 10, 1997, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat met in Chicago to announce new standards with four categories for measuring tall buildings. These categories are:
1. Height to the structural or architectural top.
2. Height to the highest occupied floor.
3. Height to the top of the roof.
4. Height to the top of antenna.
The Sears Tower leads in the second and third categories. The height to the top of the roof is 1,450 feet and the height to the highest occupied floor is 1,431. The twin Petronas Towers in Malaysia win the first category with its 111-foot decorative spires.
Starting in the early 1990s, Chicago has made a concerted effort to turn many of its formerly abandoned neighborhoods into vibrant new neighborhoods with increased ethnic diversity.
Chicago has always had an environmentally friendly image. In 1999 to celebrate this reputation they named the Peregrine Falcon the official bird of the city. You may remember the stories about the birds building nests in the Chicago skyscrapers.
Mayor Richard M. Daley has been responsible for considerable investment and rebuilding of the infrastructure, revitalizing the downtown theatre and retail districts, and greatly improving the lakefront and river sections.