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Encyclopedia > Chicago, IL
This article is about the largest city of Illinois. For other uses of the term, see Chicago (disambiguation).
A partial view of Downtown Chicago

Chicago is the third largest city in the United States, after New York City and Los Angeles, with an official population of 2,896,016, as of the 2000 US Census. When combined with its suburbs, it has a metro area population rapidly approaching 10 million. Recent (2003) population estimates put the number for the city proper at 2,869,121, while suburban populations continue to grow, with estimates at 9,650,137 for the combined city and suburbs. There is some skepticism regarding estimates for the city proper.

A mere 175 years old, the City of Chicago is located in the state of Illinois, on the western shore of Lake Michigan. The city is the county seat of Cook County. The Chicago metropolitan area is known colloquially as Chicagoland, after a term promoted by the Chicago Tribune in the early 20th century. Chicago has many different nicknames and has been ranked as one of ten "alpha" world cities by the Globalization and World Cities Study Group & Network (GaWC) [1] (http://www.lboro.ac.uk/gawc/rb/rb5.html). It is recognized around the world for its magnificent skyline, unique cuisine and an urban style all its own. When combined with its surrounding suburbs and with nearby Milwaukee, Chicago can be considered part of a megalopolis.

Chicago, Illinois
City flag City seal
City nickname: "The Windy City"
City motto: Urbs In Horto ("City in a Garden")

Location in the state of Illinois
County Cook County, Illinois
 - Total
 - Water

606.1 km (234.0 mi )
17.8 km (6.9 mi ) 2.94%
Population  - Total (2000)
 - Metropolitan
 - Density

Time zone Central: UTC-6
41 54' N
39' W
External link: City web page (http://egov.cityofchicago.org/)


Main article: History of Chicago

Chicago was first settled by non-indigenous people when Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, an African American from Haiti, settled on the banks of the Chicago River. In 1795, the area of Chicago was ceded by the Native Americans in the Treaty of Greenville to the United States for use as a military post. In 1803, Fort Dearborn was built. It was destroyed in the Fort Dearborn Massacre during the War of 1812, but was rebuilt in 1816 and remained in use until 1837.

On August 12, 1833, the Town of Chicago was incorporated as a town with a population of 350. On March 4, 1837, Chicago was granted a city charter by Illinois.

The opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal in 1848 allowed shipping from the Great Lakes through Chicago to the Mississippi River and so to the Gulf of Mexico. The first rail line to Chicago, the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, was also completed in 1848. Chicago would go on to become the transportation hub of the United States with its road, rail and water (and later air) connections. Chicago also became home to nationwide retailers like Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck and Company that offered catalog shopping using these connections.

In 1855, the level of the city was raised four to seven feet, with individual buildings jacked up and fill brought in to raise streets above the swamp.

The 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago picked up home state candidate Abraham Lincoln.

In 1871, most of the city burned in the Great Chicago Fire.

In the following years, Chicago architecture would become influential throughout the world. The first skyscraper was constructed in 1885 using novel steel skeleton construction.

The Chicago River's direction of flow was reversed in 1900 to prevent sewage from running into Lake Michigan, the city's water source.

On December 2, 1942, the world's first controlled nuclear reaction was conducted at the University of Chicago as part of the top secret Manhattan Project.

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Law and government

The City of Chicago is divided into executive and legislative branches. The mayor is the Chief Executive, elected by general election for a term of four years. The mayor appoints commissioners who oversee the various departments. The current mayor is Richard M. Daley.

The city council is the legislative branch and is made up of 50 aldermen, one elected from each ward in the city. The city council makes local ordinances and passes the city budget. Government priorities and activities are established in a budget ordinance usually adopted in each November. The city takes official action through the passage of ordinances and resolutions. In addition to the mayor, Chicago's two other city-wide elected officials are the clerk and the treasurer.

One sterotype about Chicago is certainly true: citizens of the city love politics. A high degree of people know not only who controls their ward but who represents them in congress and how they were elected to office. This can't be said for most citizens of the United States save for a few other major metropolitan areas such as Boston and New York City. This deeply ingrained political culture creates an environment where elections could be described more as spectator sport than anything else.

During the Civil War Chicago was a major supplier of goods and manpower to the Union Army, but in southern Illinois there was an unsuccessful movement toward secession with the Union and an alliance with the Confederacy. Even today there are prevailing attitudes of disdain between Chicagoans and those from downstate Illinois. This helped to foster a political atmosphere of us vs. them, meaning Chicagoans and Downstaters that still plagues the political and social life of both the city and the state today.

The modern era of politics is still in many ways dominated by machine politics. A style honed and perfected by Richard J. Daley after his election in 1955. Further evidence of this could be cited merely by the fact that his son, Richard M. Daley is the current mayor.

Another point of interest is in the party leanings of the city, for much of the last century Chicago has been considered one of the largest Democratic strongholds in the United States. For example, the citizens of Chicago have not elected a Republican mayor since 1927, when William Thompson was voted into office. Today only one City Council member is Republican. It is often joked within the city that they are an endangered species.

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Main article: Geography of Chicago

USGS Landsat Image

Chicago is located in northern Illinois at the south western tip of Lake Michigan. When the city we know today was initially founded in the 1830's the land was swampy and most of the early building began around the mouth of the Chicago river. According to the United States Census Bureau, Chicago has a total area of 606.1 km (234.0 mi ). 588.3 km (227.1 mi ) of it is land and 17.8 km (6.9 mi ) of it is water. The total area is 2.94% water. The city has been built on relatively flat land, the average height of land is 579 feet (176 metres) above sea level.

The Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) consists of Cook county and five surrounding Illinois counties as well as the Chicago–Gary–Kenosha Consolidated Statistical Area (CSA) which is made up of nine counties, two of them in northwestern Indiana and one in southeastern Wisconsin.

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A Small part of Downtown Chicago in the winter
A Small part of Downtown Chicago in the winter

Chicago has a climate typical to that of the Midwestern United States. Sudden changes of weather, large daily temperature ranges, and unpredictable precipitation patterns are all staples of Chicago weather. Chicago has four clearly defined seasons, although in certain years some seasons may overextend their welcome and linger into times they do not traditionally occupy. For example, in Chicago it has snowed in September, (1942), been 90 F (33 C) in March, (1982), and had a day where the high and low temperatures differed by more than 65 F (31 C) in one day (February 8, 1900).

In a typical Chicago summer, temperatures are usually expected to reach anywhere between 72 F and 84 F (23 C and 28 C). Overnight temperatures in summer are usually around 62 F (17 C). Yearly precipitation comes in at an average of about 33 inches (838 millimetres). Summer in Chicago is prone to thunderstorms, and rainfall events in Chicago in summer are usually confined to short-lived hit-or-miss storms rather than a prolonged rainfall. In a normal summer, temperatures can be expected to exceed 90 F (33 C) on 14 days. Contrary to what one might think, summer is actually the rainiest season in Chicago. In a curious shift, July was actually the wettest average month in Chicago from when records were started in 1871 until 1965. In 1965 August inexplicably overtook July as the wettest month, and it remains wetter than July to this day.

Winter in Chicago is a variable and fickle season. The average Chicago winter produces 37.0 inches (949 mm) of snow. This number can prove unreliable, as Chicago winters have produced between 9.8 and 87.0 inches (251 and 2231 mm) of snow. Snow tends to fall in light accumulations of around 2 inches (51.2 mm), but about once per year, Chicago experiences a storm which can produce 10 to 14 inches (256 to 359mm) of snow in one day. Temperatures can vary wildly within the span of one week, but extended periods of temperatures below 32 F (0 C) are not uncommon in January and February. The temperature in January averages about 25 F (-4 C) in the afternoon, and 10 F (-12 C) at night. Temperatures can be expected to drop below 0 F (-18 C) on 15 days throughout the winter season. Although rare, temperatures in Chicago even in the middle of winter can reach 50 F (10 C).

The highest temperature ever recorded in Chicago is an unofficial 109 F (44 C) on July 24, 1935. The highest official temperature ever recorded is 105 F (42 C) on July 17, 1995 during the Chicago Heat Wave. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Chicago is -27 F (-33 C) on January 11, 1982.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Chicago falls within Plant Hardiness zone 5 (5b specifically).


Main article: Economy of Chicago

Chicago has been a center for commerce in the United States for most of its modern history. Before it was incorporated as a town in 1833 the primary industry was fur trading. Chicago's early explosive growth led many land speculators and enterprising individuals to the area. Located on the Great Lakes and with so many new people settling the area Chicago became an ideal location for shipping and receiving goods to other parts of the country and world. With that, many railroads started to be built from Chicago to other parts of the country further aiding in the growth of the city. Additionally, the building of the Illinois and Michigan Canal helped move goods south down the Mississippi River.

In the 1840s Chicago became the largest grain port in the world shipping food from the Mississippi Valley region which was also growing into the largest food producing region in the world. In 1848 Chicago built its first grain elevator and 1858 there were twelve grain elevators dotting the skyline. Carl Sandburg described Chicago as a "stacker of wheat" and some would argue that the grain elevators built were Chicago's first skyscrapers.

In the 1850s and 1860s Chicago's pork and beef industry exploded. Great entrepreneurs such as Gustavus F. Swift and Philip Armour helped the area to become the largest producer of meat products in the world at the time. By 1862 Chicago had displaced Cincinnati, Ohio as "Porkapolis". During the 60s two factors helped push this more than anything else: first, the Civil War increased the demand for food products and Chicago's vast transportation ensured that goods could be delivered to soldiers quickly all over the northern United States; the second factor in increasing Chicago's meat production was the utilization of ice in meat packing plants. Before this time meat production/distribution facilities, otherwise known as disassembly plants, had to shut down in the hot summer months. Increased operating months created hundreds of thousands of new man-hours in which people could work.

The efficiency of Chicago's meat packing industry, and its dis-assembly plants inspired others like Henry Ford when he developed Model-Ts assembly lines. Today, we consider industries such as steel, oil and banking to be the great global market segments. But, in the 1860s Chicago's pork and beef industry represented the first global industry. As the major meat companies grew in Chicago many, like Armour, created global companies and communicated with divisions spread across the globe via telegraph.

Modern day futures and commodity trading markets were pioneered in Chicago. A number of events led to this along with Chicago's grand transportation systems and geographic proximity to the rest of the country. Because of this, massive amounts of goods that passed through Chicago from places such as the Mississippi Valley and St. Louis, Missouri. All of this grain was stored and people began buying contracts on the grain stored there. Later people as far away as New York City began buying contracts by telegraph on the goods that would be stored there in the future. From this the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) was established and the modern systems we use today for futures and commodity trading.

Today Chicago is considered to be a Prime Accountancy, Advertising and Legal Service Centers by the GaWC.

Related topics


People living in the Chicago area are often called "Chicagoans".

As of the census2 of 2000, there are 2,896,016 people, 1,061,928 households, and 632,909 families residing in the city of Chicago proper. This encompasses almost about one-fifth of the entire population of the state of Illinois. The population density is 4,923.0/km (12,750.3/mi ). There are 1,152,868 housing units at an average density of 1,959.8/km (5,075.8/mi ). The racial makeup of the city is 41.97% White, 36.77% Black or African American, 0.36% Native American, 4.35% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 13.58% from other races, and 2.92% from two or more races. 26.02% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

Chicago has the largest Polish population outside of Poland. Chicago also has a very large Irish-American population on its South Side. It is also considered to be the second largest Serbian city in the world after Belgrade (pop. 2,000,000), with an estimated 500,000 people (non official) of Serbian descent.

There are 1,061,928 households out of which 28.9% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 35.1% are married couples living together, 18.9% have a female householder with no husband present, and 40.4% are non-families. 32.6% of all households are made up of individuals and 8.7% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.67 and the average family size is 3.50.

In the city the population is spread out with 26.2% under the age of 18, 11.2% from 18 to 24, 33.4% from 25 to 44, 18.9% from 45 to 64, and 10.3% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 32 years. For every 100 females there are 94.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 91.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $38,625, and the median income for a family is $42,724. Males have a median income of $35,907 versus $30,536 for females. The per capita income for the city is $20,175. 19.6% of the population and 16.6% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 28.1% of those under the age of 18 and 15.5% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

As of census estimates of 2003, there are 2,869,121 people estimated to be residing in the city. However, this number has been met with some skepticism. First, this would mean a marked change in the 1990-2000 trend of population growth. Second, it seems contrary to the expectations of residents who are witnessing the largest building boom in Chicago since the Great Fire. Third, the census bureau uses different standards when estimating population numbers, and the newer population methodologies are critiqued for understating the presence of minorities in urban centers, of which Chicago has many. Fourth, years earlier, the census had estimated a constant decline in population for Chicago until the official census of 2000 proved it wrong (vastly). Fifth, the suburban population according to this same estimate growth is continuing at a rapid pace and with new revitalization projects in place and new architecture and upper and upper-middle class townhomes and duplexes appearing on the cities near West and Northern sides with many new people moving into the city proper. Thus, there is reason for healthy skepticism about the numbers, considering some forms of federal funds are dependent on population numbers.

Colleges and universities

Gated entrance to the 's main quadrangle
Gated entrance to the University of Chicago's main quadrangle

Nearby Evanston has main campus for Northwestern University, which also has a Chicago campus in Streeterville, north of the Loop. The rest of Chicagoland has a a large number of colleges without campuses in the city proper.

Communications and media

Chicago is considered to be the fourth largest metropolitan area in North America and as such has many different forms of media and outlets to support its status. Additionally Chicago is considered to be the Prime Global Advertising Service Center by the GaWC.

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Arts and culture

For its youth compared to Eastern cities, Chicago has made many significant pop-cultural contributions. In the field of music, Chicago is very well-known for its Chicago blues, but it is also the origin of the House style of music, whose history is related to the development and fostering of the techno electronic style of music in nearby Detroit. In addition, in the field of culinary arts, Chicago provides the antithesis to New York styles of pizza and hot dogs, being synonymous with deep dish and stuffed pizza in addition to being linked to a robustly complex hot dog that challenges the relative simplicity of a New York coney dog. In addition, Chicago schools have developed in various aspects of study, such as the famed Chicago school of architecture and the Chicago schools of economic theory, literary criticism and urban sociology, the latter three founded by the University of Chicago.

Chicago is a well-known theater capital and is the mecca for improvisational comedy. It is home to The Second City and ImprovOlympic, two of the largest comedy troupes in the world. Many world-famous actors and comedians are from Chicago or have studied there, particularly at Northwestern University.

Chicago also has a great literary tradition. Carl Sandburg a pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Abraham Lincoln biographer gave the city one of its best-known nicknames, "City of Big Shoulders" in his Chicago Poems (1916). These poems are representitive of Chicago's spirt.

Historically, Chicago is remembered for machine politics ("Vote early and vote often" and "A city run of the Daleys, by the Daleys, for the Daleys" are two phrases associated with Chicago politics), meat packing (as mentioned in the nicknames section and made infamous by Upton Sinclair's The Jungle), and gangster violence during Prohibition (some key figures are linked to Chicago, such as Al Capone and John Dillinger).

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Chicago is also identified with many sports teams. It is one of the few cities in the nation with two professional baseball teams plus professional football, soccer, basketball and hockey. In the early history of the city sports is at the heart of some founding legends. During its boomtown days local authorities staged a dogfight, knowing that it would attract some of the more unsavory characters of the town's crimescene. As soon as the fight began police moved in and arrested every criminal and escourted them to the city borders. While the complete truth of the story is sometime doubted it is important as an early Chicago legend and does reflect the early days of sports in the city. Early Chicago had only the most primitive of sports. Until about 1850 men outnumbered women and this male dominated sub-culture encouraged gambling and drinking, as well as activites such as billiards and horse racing.

The following sports teams are based in Chicago:

Related topics


The United States has the largest healthcare system in the world and Chicago is arguably the capital of that system. The city is first among the major dental and medical training centers in the United States. It is also home to the sprawling Illinois Medical District on the Near West Side as well as the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Dental Association, the American College of Surgeons. In addition, the University of Illinois is the largest medical school in North America as well as many other health-related organizations, schools and institutions.

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The "Gershwin Tunnel" at O'Hare Airport between concourse B and C in terminal 1 operated by United Airlines.

Chicago can be considered one of the prime transportation hubs in America. Much of this status stems from its geographic proximity during a time when the United States was growing quickly, in terms of both population and land mass. The Illinois and Michigan Canal, completed in 1848, allowed for transport around the world with connecting waterways through Chicago all the way to New York and the Atlantic, west to St. Louis and south to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. Chicago then became one of the largest grain and lumber ports in the world with grain sent to more established populations and lumber being sent to the forest-starved prairies where new settlers needed to build.

In the 1850s the railroads started growing from Chicago faster than anywhere else in the world. By 1856 Chicago was the railroad hub of America and by the end of the decade more than 100 trains were coming and going each and every day. This network allowed Chicago to become the center of the meatpacking industry.

In the 20th century Chicago held on to its status as a transportation hub with the building of three major airports: O'Hare International Airport, Midway Airport and Meigs Field. Meigs Field, which was closed by Mayor Richard M. Daley in a night coup, was a relatively small airstrip but unique because of its proximity to Chicago's downtown and, as a private airstrip, it was one of the busiest in the world. The land is to be converted into a lakeside park. In the 21st century Chicago is working towards maintaining its status as a transportation hub for the United States and the world by working to expand O'Hare International Airport. Additionally, a new airport has been proposed for Peotone, Illinois and the city is working towards expanding its ties with the Gary/Chicago International Airport in Gary, Indiana.

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Grossman, James R., Ann Durkin Keating, and Janice L. Reiff, editors, The Encyclopedia of Chicago, Chicago University Press 2004

Tourism and recreation

View of
View of Navy Pier


  • Art Institute of Chicago (Home Page (http://www.artic.edu/)) 111 South Michigan Ave, +1 312-443-3600. M, W-Fri 10:30AM-4:30PM, Tu 10:30AM-8PM, Sa-Su 10:30AM-5PM. One of the premiere museums in the United States. Famous pieces include American Gothic by Grant Wood. Suggested donation: $10 ($6 children and seniors, free every Tuesday).
  • Chicago Cultural Center (Home Page (http://www.ci.chi.il.us/Tourism/CultureCenterTour/)), 78 East Washington Open every day except holidays from 10am to 7pm, Monday through Thursday; 10am to 6pm, Friday; 10am to 5pm, Saturday; 11am - 5pm, Sunday. Built in 1897 as Chicago's first public library, the building now houses the city's Visitor Information Center, galleries, and exhibit halls. The ceiling of Preston Bradley Hall includes as a 38-foot Tiffany glass dome.
  • Field Museum of Natural History (Home Page (http://www.fmnh.org/)), 1400 South Lake Shore Drive, +1 312-922-9410. 9AM-5PM every day. Chicago's Natural History Museum - highlights include the largest Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in the world as well as a great, kids-friendly Egyptian exhibit. $10 ($5 children, $

  Results from FactBites:
Chicago, IL - definition of Chicago, IL in Encyclopedia (3397 words)
Chicago is the third largest city in the United States, with an official population of 2,896,016, as of the 2000 US Census.
In addition, Chicago schools have developed in various aspects of study, such as the famed Chicago school of architecture and the Chicago schools of economic theory, literary criticism and urban sociology, the latter three founded by the University of Chicago.
Chicago is a well-known theater capital and is the mecca for improvisational comedy.
Encyclopedia: Chicago, IL (4009 words)
Chicago is the third largest city in the United States, after New York City and Los Angeles, with an official population of 2,896,016, as of the 2000 US Census.
Chicago was first settled by non-indigenous people when Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, an African American from Haiti, settled on the banks of the Chicago River.
On August 12, 1833, the Town of Chicago was incorporated as a town with a population of 350.
  More results at FactBites »



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