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In 1833, some 160 years after European settlers first walked on the land, Chicago was incorporated as a town. Four years later, the bourgeoning community was reclassified as a city and continued to grow into one of the largest population centers on the continent.

A center of industrial innovation and political revolutions, Chicago has long held the eyes of the world. From developing ingenious water systems and reversing the direction of the Chicago River to the empowerment of the labor class and the push towards workers’ rights, Chicago has always been on the cutting edge.


1673 Chicago Traversed Guided by a tribe of Native Americans, a French missionary by the name of Father Jacques Marquette and his companion Louis Jolliet, a Canadian explorer, set foot on the land that would someday become the world-class city of Chicago.

1779 Chicago settled Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, an African American from modern day Haiti, built a home with his wife. His little house served as the central point of the small community, hosting many firsts, including a wedding, elections and court hearings, in what would later become the city known as Chicago.

1793 Treaty is Signed The Treaty of Greenville opened the mouth of the Chicago River to the United States for the purpose of constructing a fort.

1803-1812 Fort Dearborn Named for the Secretary of War, Fort Dearborn was a successful center of trade until the outbreak of the War of 1812 drove its inhabitants from the site. Upon leaving, the people were attacked by warring tribes and the fort was destroyed.

1818 Illinois is granted statehood

1833 Town of Chicago Incorporated The lakefront town is home to 350 people who live within an area just over a quarter-mile square.

1837 Grows into a city After four years of continued growth and immigration, Chicago formally becomes a city and elects William B. Ogden as its first mayor. At this point the city’s population has surged to 4,170 people.

1848 Rail Arrives The Galena & Chicago Union Railroad was built to connect the Galena lead mines with the city. In a matter of years Chicago would become the largest railroad center in the world.

1855 Up from the Muck An overpowering need to deal with the increasing traffic, bad ground and waste conditions forced Chicago to once again use innovation to solve its problems. The Chicago Drainage Commission had the city raise its foundations up to seven feet above low tide to insure proper drainage. George Pullman, a well known engineer, oversaw the actual lifting of occupied buildings so that they could have new foundations laid for them. Within three years the city was out of the mud.

1860 "Honest" Election The Republican National Convention took place in Chicago and Abraham Lincoln was nominated as its candidate to the presidency.

1867 Under the Lake In another engineering feat, a two mile long water tunnel was built 60 feet below the lake, supplying much needed fresh water to the growing city. Ellis S. Chesbrough gained international fame for the accomplishment.

1871 Fire! A small fire in the O’Leary Barn managed to spread with the aid of high winds throughout the city. Three-hundred would die and over 90,000 would be left homeless in what proved to be an unprecedented amount of destruction. But within four years the city was rebuilt, leaving hardly a trace of the previous devastation.

1900 River Reversed As the metropolis grew, Chicago’s sewage was increasing. At the time, waste was simply sent into the river which emptied into Lake Michigan and caused the water to become increasingly polluted. A cholera epidemic ensued, followed by an outbreak of typhoid fever. Something had to be done. Employing the Midwest’s characteristic flat terrain, engineers were able to construct canals allowing for the directional reversal of the Chicago River, sending the waste towards the Mississippi River instead of into Lake Michigan.

1927 Fly Chicago Chicago Municipal Airport (later renamed Midway) opens serving the entire Chicagoland area. The airfield would eventually become the world’s busiest airport until the advent of the jetliner.

1942 Boom! At the University of Chicago, the first controlled Atomic reaction is performed beneath the stands at Stagg Field.

1973 Top of the World! The Sears Tower, the world’s tallest building at the time, is completed. Soaring 1,450 feet into the sky, the architectural marvel is still the tallest structure in the U.S. The building’s 110 stories contain around 4.5 million feet of office space and its Skydeck observation room on the 103rd floor is visited by 1.3 million people every year.

1979 Mrs. Mayor Jane Byrne takes office as Chicago’s first and only female mayor to date.

2004 Millennium Park This 24-acre public park and outdoor civic center is the newest addition to Chicago’s “front lawn.” The grounds include a state-of-the-art amphitheater, interactive fountains, innovative art installations, landscaped gardens, winter ice rink, and much more.

2006 Field’s Out, Macy’s In The landmark Chicago department store, Marshall Field’s, closed after a century and a half of business. Macy’s took over its flagship location on State Street much to the chagrin of many Chicago loyalists.