Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago was incorporated as a city in 1837 near a portage between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed and grew rapidly in the mid-nineteenth century. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which destroyed several square miles and left more than 100,000 homeless, the city made a concerted effort to rebuild. The construction boom accelerated population growth throughout the following decades, and by 1900 Chicago was one of the five largest cities in the world. During this period, Chicago made noted contributions to urban planning and zoning standards, including new construction styles (including the Chicago School of architecture), the development of the City Beautiful Movement, and the steel-framed skyscraper.
The name "Chicago" is derived from a French rendering of the indigenousMiami-Illinois word shikaakwa for a wild relative of the onion, known to botanists as Allium tricoccum and known more commonly as ramps. 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.
The city has had several nicknames throughout its history such as the Windy City, Chi-Town, Second City, and the City of the Big Shoulders, referring to its numerous towers and skyscrapers.