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Chicago History

The region now known as Chicago was first settled by the Native Americans 10,000 years ago. In the late 1600s, many tribes were living in the area, with the most inhabitants coming from the Potawatomi. In 1673, the Indians directed Louis Jolliet from Canda and a missionary Jacques Marquette to Lake Michigan.

After the Revolutionary War, the US government focused its attention on the western frontier. A settlement was established on the north bank of the Chicago River by Jean Baptiste Point du Sable in 1779. The government decided this region was satisfying to their expansion, and built Fort Deadborn in 1803. Chicago became an incorporation in 1833, with a population of just 340. By 1836, the settlement boomed and real estate was a hot item and very expensive for this time period (land sold for up to $100,000). The Chicago region became further developed with the expansion of construction on the Illinois and Michigan canal: a waterway linking the Great Lakes to the Illinois River and then to the Mississippi. Many builders associated with this construction settled in this area.

The canal opened in 1848, drawing commercial ships to the region. Soon the economy boomed. The Chicago Board of Trade opened to handle grain sales by farmers and railroad construction began. A year later, Chicago gave the Illinois Central Railroad land for its tracks south of the city. The city then became the hub of America’s freight and passenger trains.

During the Civil War, Chicago was booming with business from the steel and tool-making industries. The laborers provided plenty of freight for the railroads and canal. In 1865, the Union Stockyards opened on the South Side, unifying disparate meat operations. Now Chicago’s railroads could ship iced meat all the way to New York.

On October 8, 1871, an event occurred that completely set the city back—the Chicago fire started southwest of downtown. The cause of the fire is unknown, but the results hurt the entire city. This tragedy killed 300 people, destroyed 18,000 buildings, burned for three days straight and left almost 100,000 homeless residents.

Chicago, however, was able to recoup. In fact, by 1900, just 30 years later, the population reached nearly two million. Politics began to play a large role in how the city functioned. It was politicians who gave out jobs to make sure their patrons were reelected.

In 1972, the Chicago stockyards closed, and most factories and steel miles moved to the south because taxes and wages were smaller.

Two events occurred in the 1970s that changed the city’s future: 1) the Sears Tower opened in 1974 as the world’s tallest building. The construction of this building alone turned Chicago into a city full of financiers, lawyers and other high profile occupations; 2) in 1975 the Water Tower Place shopping mall opened and many developers in retail markets began to swarm into Chicago.

In 1989, Chicago elected mayor Richard M. Daley, the son of a previous politician in Chicago. He took over at a time when racial and political chaos had been severe issues in the city. Daley helped to provide cleaner and safer environments for the residents. He also built several parks and began to improve the school system.

Today, the Chicago skyline is one of beauty and is like no other in the world. Thousands of tourists visit every year and billions of dollars pour through the city.


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