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Chicago: A Brief History

Located in the center of the United States on the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago has become a vibrant, world-class city that is rich in history.

According to explorers' accounts from the 1600's, the Illinois Indians were the first people to claim a land they named "Chicaugou." It meant powerful, strong or great and was used by many tribal chiefs to signify that they were "great" chiefs.

The first explorers to set foot on the site destined to become Chicago were Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette. The two explorers were commissioned by the French government in 1673. Father Marquette returned to the area one year later to establish an Indian mission.

Chicago's first settler, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, came to the area around 1780. He traded furs with the Indians on the north bank of the Chicago River, where he lived with his wife Catherine until 1796. He and his family then left with their children and moved to Peoria, Illinois.

Though Chicago suffered a series of setbacks, including the Fort Dearborn Massacre by a tribe of hostile Indians and the 1812 War between the United States and Great Britain, it was able to maintain its territorial possessions and expand its boundaries.

With the development of the railroad and the Illinois/Michigan Canal, Chicago advanced as the leader in the cattle, hog, lumber and wheat industries. Word spread that the city was full of opportunities, and by the mid 1850ís, as many as 100,000 immigrants came to the city annually seeking land and jobs.

In 1860, Chicago hosted the Republican National Convention which nominated Illinois' own Abraham Lincoln as the presidential candidate. One year later, during Lincoln's presidential term, the Civil War began.

Post-war Chicago was unstoppable. The population grew, grain shipments doubled and merchants prospered.

On October 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed most of the city's central area. It started in the lumber district on the city's West Side. Mrs. O'Leary's cow allegedly knocked over a kerosene lamp that started the fire. By October 10, the fire had destroyed nearly four square miles of the city, claimed at least 250 lives and left 100,000 residents homeless. More than 17,000 buildings were destroyed and property damages were estimated at $200 million.

After the fire, a greater Chicago emerged. Internationally acclaimed architects flocked to the city for its reconstruction. Within a few years, Chicago was resurrected and chosen to host the 1893 World Columbian Exposition for 27.5 million visitors.

At the close of the Exposition, the city experienced a financial decline. However, Chicago reorganized to grow and once again to become economically sound.

Today, Chicago is a dynamic and culturally diverse city. It is an international center for both business and leisure travel, due in part to the cityís transportation accessibility, a thriving business community, and world-class hotels, restaurants, shopping and attractions.

Edited by the AOSD Conference Committee.  Send comments to: