The History of Chicago – From Then to Now

Every city has a bit of history to it. Some cities have a longer history. For example, if you were to talk about the history of Rome or Athens, you would need a really long time to tell all of it. There are notable moments in the history of each city, but those two, for example, have had lots of history and even more notable moments.

Compared to that, most cities in the United States have not had such a long history, but it was bursting with events, packed and taking place one after another. Such a city is Chicago, the Windy City. It has a rich history and it all started with a wild onion plant.

Chicago – Earliest History and Name

It only makes sense when you think about it, that all of Chicago’s hot dogs and meals, or almost all of them have fresh onions as an obligatory part of a meal. Why is that? Well, it is because of a wild onion plant, after which the city was named. It is a plant known as Allium Tricoccum, or shikaakwa, which was called chicagoua by the French. The city was called Checagou by Robert de LaSalle, a French explorer. The first time it was called that was in 1679. 9 years later, Henri Joutel noted that there is a place by the name of Chicagou which got its name from the abundance of a garlic plant which grows in the nearby forests.

The city had around 100 residents when it was decided that it should become a major city, in 1829. Prior to that, it was a rather small settlement by a very large lake. 

1830 – A Year of Change – Chicago Becomes Bigger

In 1829, Illinois sent out commissioners to find a canal and plat a town. James Thompson was the man behind the planning. Chicago was thus born. It has around 350 people in 1833, and the number grew to 4000 by 1840. It had its first mayor elected in 1837, mayor William B. Ogden.

It was set to become an international transportation hub and it became that in 1848, when the Illinois and Michigan Canal was completed. This allowed the transportation of goods from the Great Lakes, through the Mississippi River, to the Gulf of Mexico. That same year, the Galena & Chicago United Railroad was completed and Chicago became the main transportation hub via road, rail and water. Air was added later on, of course, much later, though. Chicago grew to have 90,000 people in 1870, due to its transportation potential and trade potential. 

1871 to Today

Chicago suffered greatly in 1871, when the Great Chicago Fire took place, a conflagration which left over 100,000 people homeless. It burned from October 8 to October 10, the supposed origin being Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, which knocked a lantern over. There were plenty of mistakes made along the way, which led to the fire spreading so much.

Chicago recovered, though, and celebrated that in 1893. The 20th century saw a lot of immigrants move to Chicago, from Europe mostly, especially after World War II. Chicago also developed industrially over time and had plenty of skyscrapers in the 1970s and 80s.

This is a brief history recap of Chicago. As with any city, you need more time to explore a city’s history, as it is filled with events.