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History of Chicago
 
 
 

Early History

According to early recorded history, the Chicago area was inhabited by a number of Algonquian peoples, including the Mascoutens and Miamis. Trade links and seasonal hunting migrations linked these peoples with their neighbours, the Potawatomis to the east, Fox to the north, and the Illinois to the southwest. The name "Chicago" is the French version of the Miami-Illinois word shikaakwa ("wild leek"/"skunk"), named for the plants common along the Chicago River, and this has nothing to do with Chief Chicagou of the Michigamea people.

Chicago's location at a short, swampy portage between the Chicago River (flowing originally into the Great Lakes) and the Des Plaines River (flowing into the Mississippi), attracted the attention of many French explorers travelling in the area, such as Louis Jolliet and Henri Joutel, who felt that the area had a great potential as a transportation hub. In 1696, French Jesuits built the Mission of the Guardian Angel to Christianise the local Wea and Miami people, and for a time there was a French fort (Fort Chécagou), commanded by Pierre de Liette. French and allied use of the Chicago portage was mostly abandoned during the 1720s because of continual raiding during the Fox Wars.

During the mid 18th century, the Chicago area was inhabited primarily by Potawatomis, who took the place of the Miami and Sauk and Fox who had previously controlled the area.

The first non-native permanent settler in Chicago was Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, a Haitian of African and French descent, who settled on the Chicago River in the 1770s and married a local Potawatomi woman. In 1795, following the Northwest Indian War, the area of Chicago was ceded by the Native Americans in the Treaty of Greenville to the United States for a military post. In 1803, Fort Dearborn was built and remained in use until 1837, after being rebuilt in 1818. In 1812 it had been destroyed in the Fort Dearborn massacre during the War of 1812. The Potawatomi ceded the land to the US in the 1816 Treaty of St. Louis.

Incorporation & Growth of Chicago

On August 12, 1833, the Town of Chicago was incorporated with a population of 350. The first boundaries of the new town were Kinzie, Desplaines, Madison, and State Streets, which included an area of about three-eighths of a square mile (1 km²).

Within seven years the town had a population of over 4,000. Chicago was granted a city charter by the State of Illinois on March 4, 1837. The opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal in 1848 allowed shipping from the Great Lakes through Chicago to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The first rail line to Chicago, the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad was completed the same year. Chicago would go on to become the transportation hub of the US with its road, rail, water and later air connections. Chicago also became home to national retailers offering catalog shopping using these connections like Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck and Company.

Due to the geography of Chicago, early citizens faced many problems. The prairie bog nature of the area provided a fertile ground for disease-carrying insects. Early on, Chicago's population and commerce growth was stymied by lack of good transportation infrastructure, though this problem was soon remedied. During spring Chicago was so muddy from the high water that horses would be stuck past their legs in the street.

To address these transportation problems, the board of Cook County commissioners, decided to improve two country roads toward the West and Southwest. The first road went west, crossing the "dismal Nine-mile Swamp," crossed the Des Plaines River, and went southwest to Walker's Grove, now the Village of Plainfield. There is a dispute about the route of the second road to the South.

Early Chicago was also plagued by sewer and water problems. Many people described it as the filthiest city in America. To solve this problem, Chicago embarked on the creation of a massive sewer system. In the first phase sewage pipes were laid across the city above ground with gravity moving the waste. The city was built in a low-lying area subject to flooding. In 1856 the city council decided that the entire city should be elevated four to five feet using a newly available jacking-up process. In one instance, the 5-story Brigg’s Hotel weighing 22,000 tons was lifted while it continued to operate. Observing that such a thing could never have happened in Europe, British Historian Paul Johnson cites this astounding feat as a dramatic example of American determination and ingenuity based on the conviction that anything material is possible.

In 1840, Chicago was the 92nd most populous city in the US. Its population grew so rapidly that 20 years later, it was the ninth most populous city in the country. 30 years after that it had grown to become the nation's second largest city, and one of the largest cities in the world. By 1857 Chicago was the largest city in what was then known as the Northwest. In a period of 20 years, Chicago grew from 4,000 people to over 90,000.

The 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago nominated home-state candidate Abraham Lincoln.
During the election of April 23, 1875, the voters of Chicago choose to operate under the Illinois Cities and Villages Act of 1872. Chicago still operates under this act, in lieu of a charter. The Cities and Villages Act has been revised several times since, and may be found in Chapter 65 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes.


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