Midwestern state in the N central region, with Indiana on the E, Missouri and Kentucky to the S, Iowa and Missouri to the W, and Wisconsin to the N. It was admitted to the Union in 1818 as the 21st state. Called the “Prairie State” because of its fertile, level plains, it is bounded on the N and E by Lake Michigan, on the W by the Mississippi River, and on the S by the Ohio River. Illinois is the French form of the name of an Indian tribe.
The earliest known inhabitants were the Mound Builders who, near Cahokia, left the largest group of mounds north of Mexico. Later the Illinois, Sac, Fox, and other Indian tribes lived in the region. The first European explorers were Frenchmen, Père Marquette and Louis Jolliet, who reached here in 1673. Marquette came back two years later to establish a mission. Another French explorer, René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, founded Fort Crève Coeur in 1680 and with Henri de Tonti began building Fort St. Louis two years later. The region’s chief attraction was fur trading.
With the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, France ceded the whole region east of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio to Great Britain, but the British were unable to do much with it until Indian resistance ended with the defeat of Pontiac, the Ottawa chief, in 1766. During the American Revolution George Rogers Clark of Virginia captured Cahokia and Kaskaskia in a campaign that won the entire region for the United States. By the Ordinance of 1787 it became the Northwest Territory. Illinois was part of Indiana Territory in 1800 and became a separate territory in 1809. Kaskaskia was the first capital. During the War of 1812, Indians supported by the British massacred Americans at Fort Dearborn, now Chicago, but the Black Hawk War of 1832 ended Indian resistance and presence in the state.
The state grew rapidly, and for a time there was much land speculation. In this period, too, a mob murdered the abolitionist editor Elijah P. Lovejoy at Alton in 1837, while the Mormon founder Joseph
Smith and his brother were lynched at Nauvoo in 1844. In 1847 industrial development began with the opening of an agricultural machinery factory in Chicago. Railroads reached Illinois in the 1850s. The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 focused attention on the issue of slavery that was repeated in the presidential election of 1860 between the two Illinoisans. The state supported the Union in the Civil War, but there was pro-Confederacy feeling in southern Illinois.
Industry expanded enormously after the war, as Chicago became the railroad hub and the meat-packing center of the nation. Most of Chicago burned to the ground in 1871, but rebuilding began at once. Later in the century the Granger Movement spearheaded a farmers’ revolt against the bankers, the railroads, and the grain elevator operators. Labor, too, became restless, and violence broke out, notably in the Haymarket Square riot of 1886 and the Pullman strike of 1894. There was more confrontation in the 20th century, at Herrin in 1922 during a coal miners’ strike and in Chicago in 1937 during a steel strike.
Chicago, by far the state’s largest urban area, which continues to be a vibrant city, was aided by the opening of the St. Lawrence River Seaway in 1959 that made Chicago a major port. It was also the home well into the 1970s of the last of the big city political machines, that of Mayor Richard J. Daley.
Springfield is the capital and the burial place of Abraham Lincoln, who lived there. Other cities are Peoria and Rockford.