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Chicago, Illinois

Chicago's skyline at day
Chicago's skyline at day

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. It is the fourth largest city in North America and the seventh largest in the Western Hemisphere. The city itself covers 228 square miles but when combined with its suburbs the metropolitan area, known as Chicagoland, encompasses eight counties and more than 5,000 square miles with a population nearing 10 million. The city is the county seat of Cook County. 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. (see Demographics)

A mere 175 years old, the City of Chicago is located in the state of Illinois, on the western shore of Lake Michigan. 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]. It is recognized around the world for its magnificent skyline, and is globally ranked fourth based on number of buildings and floors.[2] Chicago is known as well for its diverse cuisine and for its urban style. 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 (Latin: "City in a Garden")

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

606.1 km² (234.0 mi²)
17.8 km² (6.9 mi²) 2.94%
Population  - Total (2000)
 - Metropolitan
 - Density

Time zone Central: UTC-6
41°54' N
87°39' W
Mayor Richard M. Daley
Official website: City web page



Main article: History of Chicago

The area now known as Chicago was primarily inhabited by Potawatomis. In the 1770s the first non-native settler, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a Haitian of African descent, 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 such as 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 nominated home-state candidate Abraham Lincoln.

In 1871, most of the city burned in the Great Chicago Fire. In the following years, Chicago rebuilt itself and its architecture became influential throughout the world. The first skyscraper was constructed in 1885 using novel steel-skeleton construction. Chicago's resurgence onto the world scene was capped by the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.

The 1880s and 1890s were a time when many Chicagoans made their fortune, but the ordinary person's lot was fairly grim, with poor housing, disease and long hours the norm. Two noted events of this period were the Haymarket riot, which started in a way that is still under the extent that to this day, the site cannot be memorialized, without the issues of Haymarket (notably, whether police provocateurs fired into the crowd) resurfacing, and the Pullman strike of 1894, started when railcar magnate George Pullman turned workers out of their company housing when they were no longer needed. Today, Chicago remains a town of still-strong unions as a result of a tradition of labor militancy.

Aerial view of modern downtown Chicago, note cluster of in the in the center of the photograph.
Aerial view of modern downtown Chicago, note cluster of skyscrapers in the Loop in the center of the photograph.

The Chicago River's direction of flow was reversed in 1900 to prevent sewage from running into Lake Michigan, the city's water source. Instead, the River flowed into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and eventually into the Mississippi River.

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.

In August of 1968, the Democratic convention in Chicago was disrupted, at first by peaceful, if noisy, protests and then by what ex-governor of Illinois characterized as a "police riot" when overworked Chicago police charged demonstrators on Michigan avenue.

Chicago's population declines and lack of new construction, characteristic of the town during the 1960s and 1970s, have been reversed by a considerable amount of mostly private investment which make its center today quite lively, with a number of museums, a first rate symphony and opera company, and many live theaters. At the same time, pathologies remain including homelessness and crime. In a reversal of the pattern of the 1960s which is an emulation of modern Paris, the very wealthy once again dominate the city center, with new residential housing in the Loop (even the financial district), River North (formerly the Near North Side) and south of the Loop, while the poor have been migrating to the older ring of suburbs of Chicago.

Lively ethnic neighborhoods have long been a Chicago feature. Prior to World War I and the dispersal and persecution of German-Americans consequent on war hysteria, Lincoln Avenue was a major German-speaking area. Today, Devon avenue is a lively Indian neighborhood based on the good fortune of Indians and Pakistanis working as high-level professionals in Chicago.

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Law and government

Main article: Law and government of Chicago

The government of 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 and other officials who oversee the various departments. The current mayor is Richard M. Daley. In addition to the mayor, Chicago's two other citywide elected officials are the clerk and the treasurer.

The City Council is the legislative branch and is made up of 50 aldermen, one elected from each ward in the city. The council enacts local ordinances and approves the city budget. Government priorities and activities are established in a budget ordinance usually adopted each November. The council takes official action through the passage of ordinances and resolutions.

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Main article: Geography of Chicago

 Landsat Image
USGS Landsat Image

Chicago is located in northeastern Illinois at the southwestern tip of Lake Michigan. When the city we know today was initially founded in the 1830s the land was swampy and most of the early building began around the mouth of the Chicago River. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Chicago has a total area of 606.1 km² (234.0 mi²), of which 588.3 km² (227.1 mi²) is land and 17.8 km² (6.9 mi²) 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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Main article: Climate of Chicago

Chicago has a climate typical of the U.S. Midwest. 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 months 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).

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.


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. Situated on the Great Lakes and with so many new people settling the area, Chicago became an ideal location for shipping and receiving goods. With that, many railroads started to be built from Chicago to other parts of the country, further aiding 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 in 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 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 "Porkopolis". During the 1860s two factors helped this development: First, the Civil War increased the demand for food products, and Chicago's transportation network ensured that goods could be delivered quickly to soldiers all over the northern United States; second, meat packing plants began to utilize ice. Before this time, meat production and distribution facilities, otherwise known as disassembly plants, had to shut down in the hot summer months. More operating months meant hundreds of thousands of new man-hours in which people could work.

The efficiency of Chicago's meat packing industry and its disassembly plants inspired others such as Henry Ford when he developed Model-T 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, such as Armour , created global enterprises 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 transportation systems and geographic proximity to the rest of the country. Massive amounts of goods passed through Chicago from places in the Mississippi Valley such as St. Louis, Missouri. Grain was stored in Chicago, and people began buying contracts on it. Later, people as far away as New York City began buying contracts by telegraph on the goods that would be stored in Chicago in the future. From this were established the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) 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 .

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

As of the census 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 about one-fifth of the entire population of the state of Illinois and 1% of the population of the United States. The population density is 4,923.0/km² (12,750.3/mi²). There are 1,152,868 housing units at an average density of 1,959.8/km² (5,075.8/mi²). 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. Of the population, 26.02% are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

The main ethnic groups in Chicago are Irish, German, Italian and Polish. Chicago has a very large Irish-American population on its South Side. Many of Chicago's politicians have come from this massive Irish population, including the current Mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley. Chicago has the largest ethnically Polish population outside of Polish capital of Warsaw, making it one of the most important Polonia centers. It is also considered to be the second largest Serbian city in the world after Belgrade (pop. 2,000,000).

There are 1,061,928 households, 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. Of all households, 32.6% 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.

Of the city population, 26.2% are under the age of 18, 11.2% are from 18 to 24, 33.4% are from 25 to 44, 18.9% are from 45 to 64, and 10.3% 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. Below the poverty line are 19.6% of the population and 16.6% of the families. 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 the 2003 census estimates, there are 2,869,121 people residing in the city. However, this number has been met with some skepticism, and many people consider it to be too low. 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 criticized for understating the presence of minorities (of which Chicago has many) in urban centers. Fourth, years earlier, the census had estimated a constant decline in population for Chicago until the official census of 2000 proved it quite wrong. Fifth, according to this same estimate, growth of the suburban population is continuing at a rapid pace, and with new revitalization projects in place upper- and upper-middle-class townhomes and duplexes are appearing on the city's Near West and North sides, with many new people moving into the city proper. Sixth, according to older records, Chicago had passed the 3 million mark sometime in the mid to late 1980's. Thus, there is reason for healthy skepticism about the numbers, considering that some forms of federal funds are dependent on population numbers.

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Colleges and universities

Main article: Colleges and universities of Chicago

In higher education Chicago holds a distinguished place, as the University of Chicago and Northwestern University have long been among the nation's most prestigious institutions. The Illinois Institute of Technology has a national reputation, while Loyola and DePaul universities are major Roman Catholic institutions. Roosevelt University and Columbia College both offer a more diverse curriculum especially geared toward an urban student body, with a focus on the arts. The University of Illinois at Chicago complements the main campus in Urbana-Champaign.

Junior colleges were pioneered by Chicagoans William Rainey Harper and J. Stanley Brown in 1899. At the time Brown was the superintendent of the Joliet Schools. During this time he developed a six year plan for high school students. From this Joliet Junior College was established, the nation's oldest continous public community college.

Communications and media

Chicago is considered to be the third 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 as compared to Eastern U.S. cities, Chicago has made many significant pop-cultural contributions. In the field of music, Chicago is well-known for its Chicago blues, but it is also the birthplace 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 the field of popular cuisine, chicago-style pizza provides the antithesis to New York styles and hot dogs, being synonymous with deep-dish and stuffed pizza in addition to being linked to a robustly complex hot dog (often called "the garbage dog") that challenges the relative simplicity of a New York coney dog. Chicago has a homegrown riposte to the "po' boy" of New Orleans and the equivalent "hoagie" of Philadelphia in the "Italian beef sandwich cheese, peppers, and onions". Another local specialty is "cheese fries", French fries covered in Velveeta cheese.

In addition, Chicago schools have developed in various studies, such as the famed Chicago school of architecture and the Chicago schools of economic theory, literary criticism and urban sociology, the latter three founded at 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 representative of Chicago's spirit. At the same time, Sandburg, who was a lifelong Socialist, published other less well-known poems criticising Chicago's disparities in wealth.

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).

Chicago is home to the Moody Bible Institute, named after Dwight L. Moody, a 19th Century evangelist who held a Sunday School and founded a church there.

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Chicago is also identified with many sports teams. It is one of the few cities in the United States with two professional baseball teams plus professional football, soccer, basketball, and hockey. In the early history of the city, sports were at the heart of some founding legends. During the city's boomtown days local authorities staged a dogfight, knowing that it would attract some of the more unsavory characters on the town's crime scene. As soon as the fight began, police moved in and arrested every criminal and escorted them to the city borders. While the complete truth of the story is sometimes 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 subculture encouraged gambling and drinking, as well as activities such as billiards and horse racing.

Club Sport League Stadium Logo
Chicago Bears Football National Football League Soldier Field Chicago Bears Logo
Chicago Blackhawks Hockey National Hockey League United Center Chicago Blackhawks Logo
Chicago Bulls Basketball National Basketball Association United Center Chicago Bulls Logo
Chicago Cubs Baseball Major League Baseball: National League Wrigley Field Chicago Cubs Logo
Chicago Fire Soccer Major League Soccer Soldier Field
Chicago White Sox Baseball Major League Baseball: American League U.S. Cellular Field(previously at Comiskey Park) Chicago White Sox Logo

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Health and medicine

The United States has the largest health care 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, and the American College of Surgeons. The University of Illinois at Chicago claims to be the largest medical school in North America.

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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 population and area. 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 going 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 day. This network allowed Chicago to become the center of the meat packing industry.

In the 20th century, Chicago held on to its status as a transportation hub with the building of three airports: O'Hare International Airport, Midway Airport, and Meigs Field. Meigs Field, which was closed by Mayor Richard M. Daley in a nighttime coup, was a relatively small airstrip but unique because of its proximity to Chicago's downtown, and as an airstrip for private planes 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 toward maintaining its status as a U.S. and international transportation hub by working to expand O'Hare International Airport. Additionally, a new airport has been proposed for Peotone, Illinois, and the city is working toward expanding its ties with the Gary/Chicago International Airport in Gary, Indiana.

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Tourism and recreation



  • Chicago Cultural Center (Home Page), 78 E. Washington St. Except holidays, M-Th 10AM-7PM, F 10AM-6PM, Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 11AM-5PM. 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 a 38-foot Tiffany glass dome.
  • Field Museum of Natural History, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., +1 312-922-9410. Every day 9AM-5PM. 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, $7 seniors and students; Monday and Tuesday are free seasonally).
  • Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave., +1 312-280-2660. Tu 10AM-8PM, W-Su 10AM-5PM. Art of all types from around the world made since 1945. $10 ($6 student, free Tu after 5PM).
  • Museum of Holography
  • Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake Shore Dr., +1 312-939-2438. Located on the Museum Campus, the Shedd Aquarium is home to a large collection of marine life from throughout the world. The Pacific Northwest–themed Oceanarium features dolphins, whales, and other animals from the region, as well as a panoramic view of Lake Michigan.
  • Spertus Institute - Museum dedicated solely to Judaica.

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