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A Timeline of Chicago History

Our city is rich with history, and whether you’re looking to settle on the north or south side, or have signed the closing papers on a frame house or a loft on par with some of Chicago’s skyscrapers, it pays to know where the second city has been, to take pride in how far we’ve come and derive inspiration from our ancestors to pave the path forward.

How it all began... The Chicago area was originally inhabited by a number of Native American people. The name Chicago is the French version of the Miami-Illinois Native American tribe word shikaakwa, which describes the plants common along the Chicago River.

  • 1673 French Explorers

    In 1673 French explorers Pere Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet discovered the Chicago portage when traveling back to the Great Lakes. They learned from local natives that there was a shorter route back via this portage, which provided an easy connection between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico by linking Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River.

    Fort Dearborn

    In 1809 Fort Dearborn rose on a small hill of the south bank of the Chicago River. American soldiers and their families lived in the fort, and to the south of the fort were homes and businesses. The United States government had acquired the land from Native Americans in the 1795 Treaty of Greenville.

    Great Chicago Fire

    The year was 1871. The fire burned from October 8-October 10, and while traditional accounts of the origin of the fire say it was started by a cow kicking over a lantern in the O’Leary’s barn, a reporter later admitted he took some journalistic liberties with that version. The fire’s spread was aided by the city’s overuse of wood for building construction, a drought prior to the fire and strong winds that carried the flying embers throughout the city. After the fire, final estimates of the fatalities ranged from 200-300 people. The fire destroyed more than 73 miles of roads, 17,500 buildings and $222 million in property.

    Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre

    On February 14, 1929, four men posing as police officers entered a warehouse at 2122 N. Clark Street. They lined up Bugs Moran and his gang, produced machine guns and opened fire. No one was ever tried for the killings, although the prime suspect was Al Capone, the then-head of Chicago’s crime syndicate. Moran’s gang had hijacked Capone’s liquor shipments and murdered Capone allies, but police could never prove any involvement by Capone.

  • 1780s Jean Baptiste Point du Sable

    In the 1780s Jean Baptiste Point du Sable was the first non-native permanent settler of Chicago and recognized the location’s significance as a vital transportation and trade connection.

    After the War of 1812

    After the War of 1812, the Potawatomi tribe ceded the land that is now Chicago to the United States in the 1816 Treaty of St. Louis.

    In 1829 the State of Illinois

    In 1829 the State of Illinois, which had been established in 1818, appointed commissioners to locate a canal and layout the surrounding town. On August 12, 1833, the town of Chicago was officially incorporated with a population of 350. It was granted a city charter by the State of Illinois in 1837.

    The Reversal of the Chicago River

    Until 1900, Chicago residents drew their drinking water from polluted areas of the lake near the mouth of the Chicago River, leading to outbreaks of typhoid and other diseases. At that time, the Chicago River drained into Lake Michigan, along with all the sewage from the city, and the Des Plaines River west of Chicago emptied into the Illinois River, which eventually flowed to the Mississippi.

Chicago’s Flag

The four six-pointed red stars on Chicago’s flag commemorate four historical events. The first star represents Fort Dearborn, which was established at the mouth of the Chicago River. The six points symbolize transportation, labor, commerce, finance, populousness, and salubrity.

The second star represents the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The six points symbolize the virtues of religion, education, aesthetics, justice, beneficence and civic pride.

The third star symbolizes the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Its six points stand for the political entities Chicago has been apart of throughout its storied history: France 1693, Great Britain 1763, Virginia 1778, the Northwest Territory 1798, Indiana Territory 1802 and Illinois 1818.

The fourth star stands for the Century of Progress Exposition. The six points stand for various mottos/titles: the United States’ 3rd Largest City, Chicago’s Latin Motto, which means city in a garden, Chicago’s I Will motto, Great Central Marketplace, Wonder City and Convention City.

History of Chicago Sports

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs, originally called the White Stockings, were apart of the National League’s inaugural 1876 season. In fact, the White Stockings even won the first ever National League pennant, which at the time was the game’s top prize. In the early 1880s the franchise competed in that century’s version of the World Series against the St. Louis Brown Stockings, the beginnings of what would become one of the greatest rivalries of all times: Cardinals versus Cubs. In addition to the White Stockings, the franchise went through several other name iterations, including the Colts and the Orphans, but in 1902 the franchise became permanently known as the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs won back to back World Series championships in 1907 and 1908, making them the first club to win two World Series. But they haven’t won anything since, which is a longer championship drought than that of any other major North American professional sports team.

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Chicago White Sox

One of the American League’s eight charter franchises, the Chicago franchise was established as a major league baseball club in 1900. Originally named the Chicago White Stockings, the name was shortened to the Sox because newspapers would do so in their headlines. In 1910 they moved into historic Comiskey Park, and in 1991 they began playing at U.S. Cellular Field, which was originally called New Comiskey Park. Eight members of the major league franchise were banned for life for throwing games and allowing the Cincinnati Reds to win the 1919 World Series, in an incident known as the Black Sox Scandal. The White Sox have won the World Series in 1906, 1917 and 2005.

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Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls were founded in 1966 and are lauded for having one of the greatest dynasties in the NBA, winning six championships in eight years with two three-peats. All six championship teams were led by Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and coach Phil Jackson. The Bulls are the only team in history to win 70 games in a single season. 1998 was their last appearance at the NBA Finals, which was the most watched championship in NBA history.

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Chicago Blackhawks

Since the Chicago Blackhawks’ founding in 1926, the team has won four Stanley Cup Championships, including one in 2010, and 14 division titles. They are one of the original six NHL teams, along with the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings. The Blackhawks are so named because of their first owner, coffee tycoon Frederick McLaughlin. McLaughlin had served as commander with the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 86th Infantry Division during World War I, nicknamed the Blackhawk Division, and he later bestowed the name on the hockey team he owned.

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Chicago Fire

In the Chicago Fire’s inaugural 1997-1998 season, they won both the soccer league title (the MLS Cup) and the domestic title (U.S. Open Cup). Since then the club has won four U.S. Open Cup titles, the most of any Major League Soccer Club. The Fire were founded on October 8, 1997, the 126th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, and the official club colors are red and white. The team plays their games at Toyota Park, which opened on June 11, 2006.

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