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Chicago’s History

The first resident of Chicago was Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a fur trader from Santo Domingo of French-African descent. Du Sable built the first settlement in 1779 at the mouth of the Chicago River. In 1830, lots were sold to finance construction of what would become the Illinois and Michigan Canal, connecting Chicago with the Mississippi River. Three years later, with a booming population of 350, the Town of Chicago was incorporated.

In 1837, the town was incorporated as a city with a population of 4,170.

It chose the motto Urbs in Horto, the Latin phrase which means “City in a Garden” — even when parks were not the focus of the city at that time. Nowadays the city has 570 parks and 31 beaches. Millennium Park is the most known park to visitors but there’s a lot to further explore.

Chicago cemented its role as a transportation hub in 1848 when the 100-mile Illinois and Michigan Canal was completed, and the first locomotive arrived from the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad. The city’s population tripled in the following three years. Access to transportation played a key role in the development of the Chicago Union stockyards, which served the nation between 1865 and 1971. On Sunday, October 8, 1871, a fire began on the West Side. By Tuesday morning, the Great Chicago Fire had claimed 300 lives, left 90,000 Chicagoans without homes and destroyed $200 million worth of property. This disaster turned into an opportunity to plan and rebuild the entire city.

In 1893, Chicago hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition that attracted nearly 26 million visitors during its sixmonth run. In order to provide transportation to the fair, the Chicago Transit Authority introduced the first elevated trains to Chicago. Today the system’s “L” train encircles the city’s central business district, referred to as “the Loop.” Chicago’s cultural interests can be traced to this era, when its orchestra, library, and major museums were established. The Columbian Exposition’s Palace of Fine Arts is now home to the Museum of Science and Industry, visited by more than one million people each year.

In 1909, the newly formed Chicago Plan Commission published Daniel Burnham’s comprehensive plan. The city’s unobstructed lakefront, its citywide system of parks and its green belt of forest preserves were all part of this unique plan, the first ever presented to an American city. Chicago hosted the 1933 World’s Fair, dubbed “A Century of Progress,” to show the technological accomplishments of civilization since the city was incorporated. The fair attracted 39 million visitors in a two-year period.

Richard J. Daley was elected Mayor of Chicago for the first of six times in 1955. For 21 years, Daley served “the city that works.” During his time in office, O’Hare International Airport (which became the world’s busiest) began operations, the Sears Tower (one of the world’s tallest buildings) was erected and McCormick Place Convention Center (the largest in North America) opened.

In 1976, Mayor Daley died in office. Since then, Chicago elected its first female mayor (Jane Byrne in 1979) and its first African American mayor (Harold Washington in 1983). In 1989, Mayor Richard M. Daley, son of Richard J. Daley, was elected Mayor and stayed in office until 2011. A list of all mayors of Chicago can be found on the website of the Chicago Public Library: Chicago Mayors | Chicago Public Library (chipublib.org)

Chicago has increased its exposure as a world-class city by hosting the World Cup Soccer Tournament in 1994, the Democratic National Convention in 1996, the International Pow Wow in 1998, an International Millennium Celebration in 1999/2000, and Gay Games VII in 2006. Also, Chicago was the United States Applicant City in the bid for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Chicago’s multicultural heritage is reflected in its neighborhoods, which now attract thousands of visitors each year. Chicago is home to nearly three million people from all over the world. As each new group has come to Chicago, their unique community spirit, typified by Chicago’s motto “I will,” has enabled them to build a new community, a new life, and a new future. This spirit is responsible for a city that has never stopped dreaming, building, rebuilding, growing, and making major contributions to the world.

Visitors to Chicago experience a virtual explosion of cultural activity, civic pride and multicultural expression. From stunning architecture and world-famous museums to lakefront parks and vibrant ethnic neighborhoods, Chicago offers a range of attractions, which keep visitors coming back again and again.

More: What to do and Sightseeing in Chicago

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