State of the Month: Illinois
When Europeans first visited Illinois in 1673, they discovered amber waves of grain rolling across the prairies between the Mississippi River to the west and Lake Michigan to the Northeast. Originally settled by Native Americans from the Illinois and Miami tribes, the central Mississippi River Valley boasted fertile lands, natural resources, and unlimited opportunity.
Illinois became a territory of the United States after the American Revolution, and it joined the Union on December 3, 1818. Illinois’ state capitol, Springfield, was put on the map when Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election in 1860 and gave his famous Farewell Address from the capital city.
With the booming city of Chicago situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, Illinois quickly became a hub of commerce. Even the Chicago Fire of 1871 didn’t slow its growth, despite devastating 18,000 buildings and leaving 100,000 people homeless. In fact, Chicago became a popular destination for everyone from hard-working immigrants and freed slaves to opportunists and criminals. During Prohibition, Chicago became notorious for bootleg liquor and gangsters like Al Capone.
Now Chicago is well known for its hot dogs, deep-dish pizza, and blustery nickname. It can no longer claim the tallest building in the world (the Sears Tower once held that title), but it might be the only city that dyes an entire river kelly green every St. Patrick’s Day.