The name "Chicago" is derived from a French rendering of the indigenous Miami-Illinois word shikaakwa for a wild relative of the onion, known to botanists as Allium tricoccum. The first known reference to the site of the current city of Chicago as "Checagou" was by Robert de LaSalle around 1679 in a memoir. Henri Joutel, in his journal of 1688, noted that the eponymous wild "garlic" grew abundantly in the area. According to his diary of late September 1687:
when we arrived at the said place called "Chicagou" which, according to what we were able to learn of it, has taken this name because of the quantity of garlic which grows in the forests in this region.
In the mid-18th century, the area was inhabited by a Native American tribe known as the Potawatomi, who had taken the place of the Miami and Sauk and Fox peoples. The first known non-indigenous permanent settler in Chicago was Jean Baptiste Point du Sable. Du Sable was of African and French descent and arrived in the 1780s. He is commonly known as the "Founder of Chicago".
In 1795, following the Northwest Indian War, an area that was to be part of Chicago was turned over to the United States for a military post by native tribes in accordance with the Treaty of Greenville. In 1803, the United States Army built Fort Dearborn, which was destroyed in 1812 in the Battle of Fort Dearborn and later rebuilt. The Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi tribes had ceded additional land to the United States in the 1816 Treaty of St. Louis. The Potawatomi were forcibly removed from their land after the Treaty of Chicago in 1833.
Founding and 19th century
In the early 1790s Jean Baptiste Du Sable had settled at the mouth of the North Bank of the Chicago River, and is identified as a National Historic Landmark, now located in Pioneer Court. He established an extensive and prosperous trading settlement in what would become the city of Chicago. He sold his Chicago River property in 1800 and moved to St. Charles, now in Missouri, where he was licensed to run a Missouri River ferry. Point du Sable's successful role in developing the Chicago River settlement was little recognized until the mid-20th century.
On August 12, 1833, the Town of Chicago was organized with a population of about 200. Within seven years it grew to more than 4,000 people. On June 15, 1835, the first public land sales began with Edmund Dick Taylor as U.S. Receiver of Public Monies. The City of Chicago was incorporated on Saturday, March 4, 1837, and for several decades was the world's fastest-growing city.
As the site of the Chicago Portage, the city became an important transportation hub between the eastern and western United States. Chicago's first railway, Galena and Chicago Union Railroad, and the Illinois and Michigan Canal opened in 1848. The canal allowed steamboats and sailing ships on the Great Lakes to connect to the Mississippi River.
A flourishing economy brought residents from rural communities and immigrants from abroad. Manufacturing and retail and finance sectors became dominant, influencing the American economy. The Chicago Board of Trade (established 1848) listed the first-ever standardized "exchange-traded" forward contracts, which were called futures contracts.
In the 1850s, Chicago gained national political prominence as the home of Senator Stephen Douglas, the champion of the Kansas–Nebraska Act and the "popular sovereignty" approach to the issue of the spread of slavery. These issues also helped propel another Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln, to the national stage. Lincoln was nominated in Chicago for US President at the 1860 Republican National Convention, which was held in Chicago in a temporary building called the Wigwam. He defeated Douglas in the general election, and this set the stage for the American Civil War.
To accommodate rapid population growth and demand for better sanitation, the city improved its infrastructure. In February 1856, Chicago's Common Council approved Chesbrough's plan to build the United States' first comprehensive sewerage system. The project raised much of central Chicago to a new grade. While elevating Chicago, and at first improving the city's health, the untreated sewage and industrial waste now flowed into the Chicago River, and subsequently into Lake Michigan, polluting the city's primary freshwater source.
The city responded by tunneling two miles (3.2 km) out into Lake Michigan to newly built water cribs. In 1900, the problem of sewage contamination was largely resolved when the city completed a major engineering feat. It reversed the flow of the Chicago River so that the water flowed away from Lake Michigan rather than into it. This project began with the construction and improvement of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, and was completed with the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal that connects to the Illinois River, which flows into the Mississippi River.
In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed an area about 4 miles (6.4 km) long and 1-mile (1.6 km) wide, a large section of the city at the time. Much of the city, including railroads and stockyards, survived intact, and from the ruins of the previous wooden structures arose more modern constructions of steel and stone. These set a precedent for worldwide construction. During its rebuilding period, Chicago constructed the world's first skyscraper in 1885, using steel-skeleton construction.
The city has grown significantly in size and population by incorporating many neighboring townships between 1851 and 1920, with the largest annexation happening in 1889, with five townships joining the city, including the Hyde Park Township, which now comprises most of the South Side of Chicago and the far southeast of Chicago, and the Jefferson Township, which now makes up most of Chicago's Northwest Side. The desire to join the city was driven by municipal services that the city could provide its residents.
Chicago's flourishing economy attracted huge numbers of new immigrants from Europe and migrants from the Eastern United States. Of the total population in 1900, more than 77% were either foreign-born or born in the United States of foreign parentage. Germans, Irish, Poles, Swedes and Czechs made up nearly two-thirds of the foreign-born population (by 1900, whites were 98.1% of the city's population).
Labor conflicts followed the industrial boom and the rapid expansion of the labor pool, including the Haymarket affair on May 4, 1886, and in 1894 the Pullman Strike. Anarchist and socialist groups played prominent roles in creating very large and highly organized labor actions. Concern for social problems among Chicago's immigrant poor led Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr to found Hull House in 1889. Programs that were developed there became a model for the new field of social work.
During the 1870s and 1880s, Chicago attained national stature as the leader in the movement to improve public health. City, and later, state laws that upgraded standards for the medical profession and fought urban epidemics of cholera, smallpox, and yellow fever were both passed and enforced. These laws became templates for public health reform in other cities and states.
The city established many large, well-landscaped municipal parks, which also included public sanitation facilities. The chief advocate for improving public health in Chicago was Dr. John H. Rauch, M.D. Rauch established a plan for Chicago's park system in 1866. He created Lincoln Park by closing a cemetery filled with shallow graves, and in 1867, in response to an outbreak of cholera he helped establish a new Chicago Board of Health. Ten years later, he became the secretary and then the president of the first Illinois State Board of Health, which carried out most of its activities in Chicago.
In the 1800s, Chicago became the nation's railroad center, and by 1910 over 20 railroads operated passenger service out of six different downtown terminals. In 1883, Chicago's railway managers needed a general time convention, so they developed the standardized system of North American time zones. This system for telling time spread throughout the continent.
In 1893, Chicago hosted the World's Columbian Exposition on former marshland at the present location of Jackson Park. The Exposition drew 27.5 million visitors, and is considered the most influential world's fair in history. The University of Chicago, formerly at another location, moved to the same South Side location in 1892. The term "midway" for a fair or carnival referred originally to the Midway Plaisance, a strip of park land that still runs through the University of Chicago campus and connects the Washington and Jackson Parks.
20th and 21st centuries
1900 to 1939
During World War I and the 1920s there was a major expansion in industry. The availability of jobs attracted African Americans from the Southern United States. Between 1910 and 1930, the African American population of Chicago increased dramatically, from 44,103 to 233,903. This Great Migration had an immense cultural impact, called the Chicago Black Renaissance, part of the New Negro Movement, in art, literature, and music. Continuing racial tensions and violence, such as the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, also occurred.
The ratification of the 18th amendment to the Constitution in 1919 made the production and sale (including exportation) of alcoholic beverages illegal in the United States. This ushered in the beginning of what is known as the Gangster Era, a time that roughly spans from 1919 until 1933 when Prohibition was repealed. The 1920s saw gangsters, including Al Capone, Dion O'Banion, Bugs Moran and Tony Accardo battle law enforcement and each other on the streets of Chicago during the Prohibition era. Chicago was the location of the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929, when Al Capone sent men to gun down members of a rival gang, North Side, led by Bugs Moran.
Chicago was the first American city to have a homosexual-rights organization. The organization, formed in 1924, was called the Society for Human Rights. It produced the first American publication for homosexuals, Friendship and Freedom. Police and political pressure caused the organization to disband.
The Great Depression brought unprecedented suffering to Chicago, in no small part due to the city's heavy reliance on heavy industry. Notably, industrial areas on the south side and neighborhoods lining both branches of the Chicago River were devastated; by 1933 over 50% of industrial jobs in the city had been lost, and unemployment rates amongst blacks and Mexicans in the city were over 40%. The Republican political machine in Chicago was utterly destroyed by the economic crisis, and every mayor since 1931 has been a Democrat. From 1928 to 1933, the city witnessed a tax revolt, and the city was unable to meet payroll or provide relief efforts. Unemployed workers, relief recipients, and unpaid schoolteachers held huge demonstrations during the early years of the Great Depression. The fiscal crisis was resolved by 1933, and at the same time, federal relief funding began to flow into Chicago and enabled the city to complete construction of Lake Shore Drive, landscape numerous parks, construct 30 new schools, and build a thoroughly modernized State Street Subway. Chicago was also a hotbed of labor activism, with Unemployed Councils contributing heavily in the early depression to create solidarity for the poor and demand relief, these organizations were created by socialist and communist groups. By 1935 the Workers Alliance of America begun organizing the poor, workers, the unemployed. In the spring of 1937 Republic Steel Works witnessed the Memorial Day massacre of 1937 in the neighborhood of East Side.
In 1933, Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak was fatally wounded in Miami, Florida, during a failed assassination attempt on President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1933 and 1934, the city celebrated its centennial by hosting the Century of Progress International Exposition Worlds Fair. The theme of the fair was technological innovation over the century since Chicago's founding.
1940 to 1979
When general prosperity returned in 1940, Chicago had an entrenched Democratic machine, a fully solvent city government, and a population that had enthusiastically shared mass culture and mass movements. Over one-third of the workers in Chicago's manufacturing sector were unionized. During World War II, the city of Chicago alone produced more steel than the United Kingdom every year from 1939 - 1945, and more than Nazi Germany from 1943 - 1945. The city's diversified industrial base made it second only to Detroit in the value—$24 billion—of war goods produced. Over 1,400 companies produced everything from field rations to parachutes to torpedoes, while new aircraft plants employed 100,000 in the construction of engines, aluminum sheeting, bombsights, and other components. The Great Migration, which had been on pause due to the Depression, resumed at an even faster pace as the 1910 - 1930 period, as hundreds of thousands of black Americans arrived in the city to work in the steel mills, railroads, and shipping yards.
On December 2, 1942, physicist Enrico Fermi conducted the world's first controlled nuclear reaction at the University of Chicago as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project. This led to the creation of the atomic bomb by the United States, which it used in World War II in 1945.
Mayor Richard J. Daley, a Democrat, was elected in 1955, in the era of machine politics. In 1956, the city conducted its last major expansion when it annexed the land under O'Hare airport, including a small portion of DuPage County.
By the 1960s, white residents in several neighborhoods left the city for the suburban areas – in many American cities, a process known as white flight – as Blacks continued to move beyond the Black Belt. While home loan discriminatory redlining against blacks continued, the real estate industry practiced what became known as blockbusting, completely changing the racial composition of whole neighborhoods. Structural changes in industry, such as globalization and job outsourcing, caused heavy job losses for lower-skilled workers. At its peak during the 1960s, some 250,000 workers were employed in the steel industry in Chicago, but the steel crisis of the 1970s and 1980s reduced this number to just 28,000 in 2015. In 1966, Martin Luther King Jr. and Albert Raby led the Chicago Freedom Movement, which culminated in agreements between Mayor Richard J. Daley and the movement leaders.
Two years later, the city hosted the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention, which featured physical confrontations both inside and outside the convention hall, with anti-war protesters, journalists and bystanders being beaten by police. Major construction projects, including the Sears Tower (now known as the Willis Tower, which in 1974 became the world's tallest building), University of Illinois at Chicago, McCormick Place, and O'Hare International Airport, were undertaken during Richard J. Daley's tenure. In 1979, Jane Byrne, the city's first female mayor, was elected. She was notable for temporarily moving into the crime-ridden Cabrini-Green housing project and for leading Chicago's school system out of a financial crisis.
1980 to present
In 1983, Harold Washington became the first black mayor of Chicago. Washington's first term in office directed attention to poor and previously neglected minority neighborhoods. He was re‑elected in 1987 but died of a heart attack soon after. Washington was succeeded by 6th ward Alderman Eugene Sawyer, who was elected by the Chicago City Council and served until a special election.
Richard M. Daley, son of Richard J. Daley, was elected in 1989. His accomplishments included improvements to parks and creating incentives for sustainable development, as well as closing Meigs Field in the middle of the night and destroying the runways. After successfully running for re-election five times, and becoming Chicago's longest-serving mayor, Richard M. Daley declined to run for a seventh term.
In 1992, a construction accident near the Kinzie Street Bridge produced a breach connecting the Chicago River to a tunnel below, which was part of an abandoned freight tunnel system extending throughout the downtown Loop district. The tunnels filled with 250 million US gallons (1,000,000 m3) of water, affecting buildings throughout the district and forcing a shutdown of electrical power. The area was shut down for three days and some buildings did not reopen for weeks; losses were estimated at $1.95 billion.
On February 23, 2011, former Illinois Congressman and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel won the mayoral election, after defeating challenges that he was not a Chicago resident and beating five rivals with 55 percent of the vote alone, and was sworn in as Mayor on May 16, 2011.