Illinois is home to a giant, fire-breathing dragon, a major zoo that anyone can visit for free, and a river that flows backwards (read more about it under the “Crazy, funny or just plain weird” section).
The state is bordered by five others and a Great Lake: Wisconsin to the north; Lake Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky to the east; Kentucky and Missouri to the south; and Missouri and Iowa to the west.
Archaeologists aren’t exactly sure when humans first began living in Illinois, but believe it was at least 10,000 years ago. The state’s first known Native American tribes lived on this land thousands of years later.
What really happened
- In 1673, French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet were the first Europeans to arrive in Illinois. They claimed the land for France. Within the next several years, the French built a number of small forts and settlements and established the fur trade with the local natives.
- In 1717, Illinois became part of the Louisiana territory, which was a French colony.
- After winning the French and Indian War in 1763, the British gained control of Illinois.
- After the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the land became part of the United States. In 1787, it was then made part of the Northwest Territory.
- In 1809, the Illinois Territory was created with its own governor and capital city in Kaskaskia.
- Illinois was admitted to the Union in 1818 as the 21st state. The capital city moved to Vandalia in 1819 and then to Springfield (the current capital) in 1839.
- As white settlers claimed land in Illinois, Native American tribes were forced to move further west. Some tribes returned and fought to take back their land, but they were defeated by the US Army and forced to move back to Iowa.
- Illinois fought on the side of the Union during the Civil War (1861-1865). Although no major battles happened in the state, more than 250,000 men fought in the Union Army.
- In 1865, Illinois became the first US state to ratify (or approve) the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery.
Stuff you should know
- One of the worst fire disasters in the history of the United States was the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It all started with a small fire in a barn in south Chicago. Most of the buildings in those days were made of wood and once the fire got going, it was tough to stop. Over 20,000 buildings were completely destroyed. However, resiliency prevailed as city officials rebuilt Chicago into a modern city with the world’s first skyscrapers.
- Illinois is called the “Land of Lincoln” because President Abraham Lincoln lived there for many years. He became a lawyer, entered politics, married, served as a congressman, and became the 16th US President in 1861.
- Illinois can be divided into three regions: the Central Plains, which cover almost all of the state; the Shawnee Hills region in the south, which is a narrow strip of land with higher elevations, rivers and forests; and, at the state’s southern tip, the Gulf Coastal Plain. The latter is a hilly area that was nicknamed “Egypt” by early immigrants because it resembled the delta of the Nile River in Egypt.
Crazy, funny or just plain weird
- Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry is the world’s largest interactive museum. It also has the world’s largest pinball machine and the Fairy Castle, which displays miniature treasures in every room.
- Illinois is home to the Chicago River, which flows backwards. Around the year 1900, Chicago was a growing city with many manufacturing plants. These plants dumped pollutants and raw sewage into the river, which began to flow into Chicago’s drinking water. City officials feared that disease would spread so they permanently reversed the river’s flow. Each year for St. Patrick’s Day, the river is dyed green!
- The world’s tallest man was from Alton, Illinois. Robert Pershing Wadlow was born in 1918. He grew to be eight feet and 11 inches tall. Guess what size shoes he wore—size 37!
- In 2000, there were sightings of strange objects throughout Illinois. Some reported triangular patterns of light at night. The National UFO Reporting Center lists 2,758 alleged sightings in the state since 1947, but that may only be a tiny fraction of the true number.
- The state’s most valuable crops are corn and soybeans. Speaking of soy, did you know that ketchup originated in Asia as a thin soy sauce made from fermented fish?
Tell me more
- The Sears Tower (Willis Tower today) in Chicago was the tallest building in the world from 1973 to 1998.
- Like popcorn? It’s the state’s official snack. Enjoy it Chicago style, which is a mixture of cheese-covered and caramel-covered popcorn.
- Brownies were created by pastry chefs at the Palmer House, a famous hotel in Chicago. They had to make a dessert that would be small enough to fit into boxed lunches at the 1893 World’s Fair held in Chicago.
- Whitcomb L. Judson invented the zipper in Chicago. His early design was known as the “clasp-locker”. It was different from today’s zippers and designed for shoes. However, over the next 25 years, his company kept tweaking or modifying the design. Then, in 1923, the modern-day zipper was born.
- One of your daily chores may be putting your family’s dinner dishes in the dishwasher – sure beats washing them by hand. Meet Josephine Cochrane who created the dishwasher. As a socialite from Shelbyville, she often entertained and grew frustrated when her staff chipped her expensive china or dishes while washing them. So, she partnered with a mechanic to invent the dishwasher, received a patent for it in 1886, and then formed a company that sold dishwashers to hotels, hospitals, and colleges.
- Hmmm… Imagine what your life would be like if you had to get up and change the channels on your TV manually? Well, you can thank Zenith Radio Corporation in Chicago for developing the world’s first television remote control.
- You will also be grateful for Martin Cooper, an engineer at Motorola in Schaumburg, Illinois. In 1973, he invented the first mobile phone. Ten years later, the company began selling it. It offered 30 minutes of talk time, six hours of standby and could store 30 phone numbers. Any idea how much it cost? A whopping $3,995!
Do you have other facts about Illinois that you’d like to share? Maybe that’s your home or you have vacationed there and would like to tell us about your favorite place in the state. Please email this information along with your first name, age and state where you live, and we’ll publish it on Mo’s website or social media pages crediting you for the fun facts!