kids encyclopedia robot

History of Illinois facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Historical population
Year Pop. ±% p.a.
1800 2,458 —    
1810 12,282 +17.45%
1820 55,211 +16.22%
1830 157,445 +11.05%
1840 476,183 +11.70%
1850 851,470 +5.98%
1860 1,711,951 +7.23%
1870 2,539,891 +4.02%
1880 3,077,871 +1.94%
1890 3,826,352 +2.20%
1900 4,821,550 +2.34%
1910 5,638,591 +1.58%
1920 6,485,280 +1.41%
1930 7,630,654 +1.64%
1940 7,897,241 +0.34%
1950 8,712,176 +0.99%
1960 10,081,158 +1.47%
1970 11,113,976 +0.98%
1980 11,426,518 +0.28%
1990 11,430,602 +0.00%
2000 12,419,293 +0.83%
2010 12,830,632 +0.33%
2020 12,812,508 −0.01%

The history of Illinois may be defined by several broad historical periods, namely, the pre-Columbian period, the era of European exploration and colonization, its development as part of the American frontier, its early statehood period, growth in the 19th and 20th centuries, and contemporary Illinois of today.

Pre-Columbian era

Cahokia Aerial HRoe 2015
Cahokia, urban center of the pre-Columbian Mississippian culture

Cahokia, the urban center of the pre-Columbian Mississippian culture, was located near present-day Collinsville, Illinois. Several burial mounds and adobe structures were created in Southern Illinois across the Mississippi river from St. Louis. A gigantic mound, known as Monk's Mound near Cahokia, is about the same height from its base as the Pyramid of Giza. Built around 1050 AD by an immense marshaling of human labor, this huge earth-work faced the site of a palisaded city that contained more than one hundred small artificial mounds marking burial sites. This Mississippi valley city of Cahokia is estimated to have had a population of about 16000 to 20000, the most concentrated population north of the Rio Grande until the late 1700s. Radiating out from Cahokia for many miles were tilled fields that supplied the corn for the urban dwellers. That civilization vanished circa 1400–1500 for unknown reasons. A severe earthquake that damaged Monk's Mound at that time might have challenged the supernatural powers claimed by the Cahokian chiefs. Cahokians might have also outstripped their water supply caused in part by large-scale deforestation, and the period of global cooling or mini Ice Age of the era might have caused recurring famines and migration. The next major power in the region was the Illiniwek Confederation, a political alliance among several tribes. The Illiniwek gave Illinois its name. The Illini suffered in the 17th century as Iroquois expansion (caused by their efforts to dominate the fur trade with European colonies in the eastern United States) forced them to compete with several tribes for land. The Illini were replaced in Illinois by the Potawatomi, Miami, Sauk, and other tribes.

European exploration and colonization

French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet explored the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers in 1673. As a result of their exploration, the Illinois Country was part of the French empire until 1763, when it passed to the British. The area was ceded to the new United States in 1783 and became part of the Northwest Territory.

American Territory

The Illinois-Wabash Company was an early claimant to much of Illinois. An early western outpost of the United States, Fort Dearborn, was established in 1803 (at the site of present-day Chicago), and the creation of the Illinois Territory followed on February 3, 1809.


On December 3, 1818, Illinois became the 21st U.S. state. Early U.S. expansion began in the south part of the state and quickly spread northward, driving out the native residents. In 1832, some Indians returned from Iowa but were driven out in the Black Hawk War, fought by militia.

Illinois is known as the "Land of Lincoln" because it is here that the 16th President spent his formative years. Chicago gained prominence as a lake and canal port after 1848, and as a rail hub soon afterward. By 1857, Chicago was the state's dominant metropolis. (see History of Chicago).


The state has a varied history in relation to slavery and the treatment of African Americans in general. The French had black slaves from 1719 to as late as the 1820s. Slavery was nominally banned by the Northwest Ordinance, but that was not enforced. But when Illinois became a sovereign state in 1818, the Ordnance no longer applied, and there were about 900 slaves there. As the southern part of the state, known as "Egypt", was largely settled by migrants from the South, the section was hostile to free blacks and allowed settlers to bring slaves with them for labor. Proslavery elements tried to call a convention to legalize slavery, but they were blocked by Governor Edward Coles who mobilized anti-slavery forces, warning that rich slave owners would buy up all the good farm lands. A referendum in 1823 showed 60% of the voters opposed slavery, so efforts to make slavery official failed. Nevertheless, some slaves were brought in seasonally or as house servants as late as the 1840s. The Illinois Constitution of 1848 was written with a provision for exclusionary laws to be passed. In 1853, state senator John A. Logan helped pass a law to prohibit all African Americans, including freedmen, from settling in the state. After 1865 Logan reversed positions and became a leading advocate of civil rights for blacks.

Latter Day Saints at Nauvoo

In 1839, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, created a settlement they called Nauvoo. The city, situated on a prominent bend along the Mississippi River, quickly grew to 12,000 inhabitants, and was for a time rivaling for the title of largest city in Illinois. By the early 1840s, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints built a large stone temple in Nauvoo, one of the largest buildings in Illinois at the time, which was completed in 1846. In 1844 Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, was killed in nearby Carthage, Illinois, even though he was under the protection of Illinois judicial system, with assurances of his safety from then Governor Ford. In 1846, the Latter-day Saints under Brigham Young left Illinois for what would become Utah, but what was still then Mexican territory. A small breakaway group remained, but Nauvoo fell largely into abandonment. Nauvoo today has many restored buildings from the 1840s.

American Civil War

During the Civil War, over 250,000 Illinois men served in the Union Army, coming 4th in the states. Starting with President Lincoln's first call for troops and continuing throughout the war, Illinois sent 150 infantry regiments; they were numbered from the 7th IL to the 156th IL. Seventeen cavalry regiments also served as well as two light artillery regiments. The most well worked soldier was Ulysses S. Grant of Galena. Throughout the war the Republicans were in control, under the firm leadership of Governor Richard Yates The Democrats had a strong Copperhead element that opposed the war and tried in local areas to disrupt the draft. In Chicago, Wilbur F. Storey made his Democratic newspaper the Chicago Times into Lincoln's most vituperative enemy.

20th century

In the 20th century, Illinois emerged as one of the most important states in the Union. Edward F. Dunne was a Chicago Democrat and leader of the progressive movement, who served as governor 1913–1917. He was succeeded by Frank O. Lowden, who led the war effort and was Republican presidential hopeful in 1920.

Democrat Adlai Stevenson served as governor in 1948–1952. William G. Stratton led a Republican statehouse in the 1950s. In 1960 Otto Kerner, Jr. led the Democrats back to power. He promoted economic development, education, mental health services, and equal access to jobs and housing. In a federal trial in 1973, Kerner was convicted on 17 counts of bribery while he was governor, plus other charges; he went to prison. Richard B. Ogilvie, a Republican, won in 1968. Bolstered by large Republican majorities in the state house, Ogilvie embarked upon a major modernization of state government. He successfully advocated for a state constitutional convention, increased social spending, and secured Illinois' first state income tax. The latter was particularly unpopular with the electorate, and the modest Ogilvie lost a close election to the flashy Democrat Dan Walker in 1972. The state constitutional convention of 1970 wrote a new document that was approved by the voters. It modernized government and ended the old system of three-person districts which froze the political system in place.

Walker did not repeal the income tax that Ogilvie had enacted and wedged between machine Democrats and Republicans had little success with the Illinois legislature during his tenure. In 1987 he was convicted of business crimes not related to his governorship. In the 1976 gubernatorial election, Jim Thompson, a Republican prosecutor from Chicago won 65 percent of the vote over Michael Howlett. Thompson was reelected in 1978 with 60 percent of the vote, defeating State Superintendent Michael Bakalis. Thompson was very narrowly reelected in 1982 against former U.S. Senator Adlai E. Stevenson III, and then won decisively against him in a rematch in 1986.

Thompson was succeeded by Republican Jim Edgar who won a close race in 1990 against his Democratic opponent, attorney general Neil Hartigan, and was reelected in 1994 by a wide margin against another Democratic opponent, state comptroller and former state senator Dawn Clark Netsch. In the elections of 1992 and 1994, the Republicans succeeded in capturing both houses of the state legislature and all statewide offices, putting Edgar in a very strong political position. He advocated increases in funding for education along with cuts in government employment, spending and welfare programs. He was succeeded by yet another Republican, George H. Ryan. Ryan worked for extensive repairs of the Illinois Highway System called "Illinois FIRST". FIRST was an acronym for "Fund for Infrastructure, Roads, Schools, and Transit". Signed into law in May 1999, the law created a $6.3 billion package for use in school and transportation projects. With various matching funds programs, Illinois FIRST provided $2.2 billion for schools, $4.1 billion for public transportation, another $4.1 billion for roads, and $1.6 billion for other projects. In 1993 Illinois became the first Midwestern state to elect a black person to the US senate before the term of Carol Moseley Braun.

21st century

Ryan gained national attention in January 2003 when he commuted the sentences of everyone on or waiting to be sent to death row in Illinois—a total of 167 convicts—due to his belief that the death penalty was incapable of being administered fairly. Ryan's term was marked by scandals; he was convicted of corruption in federal court and sent to prison.

Rod Blagojevich, elected in 2002, was the first Democratic governor in a quarter century. Illinois was trending sharply toward the Democratic party in both national and state elections. After the 2002 elections, Democrats had control of the House, Senate, and all but one statewide office. Blagojevich signed numerous pieces of progressive legislation such as ethics reform, death penalty reform, a state Earned Income Tax Credit, and expansions of health programs like KidCare and FamilyCare. Blagojevich signed a bill in 2005 that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit. Other notable actions of his term include a strict new ethics law and a comprehensive death penalty reform bill. Despite an annual budget crunch, Blagojevich oversaw an increase in funding for health care every year without raising general sales or income taxes. Republicans claimed that he simply passed the state's fiscal problems on to future generations by borrowing to balance budgets. Indeed, the 2005 state budget called for paying the bills by shorting the state employees' pension fund by $1.2 billion, which led to a backlash among educators. In December 2008, Blagojevich was arrested on charges of conspiracy and solicitation to commit bribery with regard to appointing a U.S. Senator. He was convicted in federal court and sent to prison.

Financial crisis

Pat Quinn became Governor on January 29, 2009, after Blagojevich was removed from office. Quinn was elected to a full term in office in the 2010 gubernatorial election. As governor he faced severe short-term budget shortfalls and a long-term state debt, all in the context of the worst national economic slump since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Quinn has pushed for spending cuts and tax increases, while trying to raise ethical standards, protect public-sector labor unions, and maintain environmental standards. Quinn faced a state with a reputation for corruption—the two previous governors both went to federal prison—and after two years polls showed Quinn himself was the "Nation's most unpopular governor." Quinn in 2012 feared Illinois was "on the verge of a financial meltdown because of pension systems eating up every new dollar and health care costs climbing through the roof." The state for decades had underfunded its pension system for state employees. By early 2013 the main issue remained a financial crisis in meeting the state's budget and its long-term debt as the national economic slump—the Great Recession—continued and Illinois did poorly in terms of creating jobs. In May 2013, Illinois' state (public) universities, colleges, and community colleges agreed, pending formation and passage of the legislation before the end of the state's legislative session, at Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and other members' repeated urging, to gradually assume more of the burden- half of a percent of the retirement and pension costs per fiscal year starting in 2015 (it would likely take roughly 10 to 20 years for them to assume the full cost; school districts likely will have to do the same at some point- Chicago Public Schools already bear the entire cost). Programs will likely be cut, tuition will probably keep on being raised too, and property taxes also might well increase, but it would make a sizable dent in the almost $100 billion unfunded retiree pension liability that is a large part of the state's fiscal crisis.

Famous people

Most pre-1940 names have been selected from the WPA Guide This is a list of people from Illinois; people are not included if they left the state before beginning a career.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Historia de Illinois para niños

kids search engine
History of Illinois Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.