The city’s first non-native settler, a fugitive slave named Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, arrived in the late 1700’s and made a home on the land that would eventually become Chicago.
Over time, his small settlement grew, and caught the interest of the US government, who erected Fort Dearborn at the meeting point of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. The Fort (which is now the Michigan Avenue Bridge) was destroyed by the Native Americans in 1812 but quickly rebuilt. Chicago continued to grow, and was incorporated as a city in 1837.
Chicago’s location made it an ideal shipping base for the Midwest, but the swampy land and brutal winters made building the city difficult. Settlers persevered, rail lines soon arrived, and eventually Chicago became the nation’s center for inland shipping.
As time rolled on into the mid 1800’s, Chicago boomed into a lively cosmopolitan city. But, in 1871, the city was devastated by fire and almost completely destroyed.
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Late 19th Century to Early 20th Century
In the summer of 1871 a small fire started in a barn on the city’s south side. The old legend has it that a cow kicked over a lantern, but no one actually knows what started the famous inferno. The Great Chicago Fire swept across the city, consuming all the wooden buildings for 25 hours, killing nearly 300 people, leaving 100,000 without homes, and destroying nearly 18,000 buildings. But the city rebuilt, bigger and better, and with steel buildings that reached for the sky.
The early 1900’s saw the beginning of a long period of gang violence and political corruption that still marks Chicago, but in the late 1930’s things began to turn around when Chicago hosted its second World’s Fair. The city became an important center for broadcasting and a haven for Jazz musicians. When World War II began, the city hosted a temporary Navy base at Navy Pier, bringing jobs and prosperity to the city once more.
The 1960’s ushered in another era of success. High-rise buildings like the John Hancock Center and, later, the Sears (now Willis) Tower were erected and the city skyline that we know now took shape. Today Chicago is a modern city with a bustling downtown and unique neighborhoods, not just a city of industry but a dynamic livable home as well.
Photo by Thundercheese