Illinois entered the Union on December 3, 1818. The twenty-first state takes its name from the Illinois Confederation—a group of Algonquian-speaking tribes native to the area. An Algonquian word, “Illinois” means “tribe of superior men.”
Remnants of a much earlier Algonquin civilization thought the most sophisticated prehistoric society north of Mexico, are preserved at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic SiteExternal in the southwestern part of the state.
French explorers Louis Jolliet and Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette entered the Illinois region in 1673. Control of the territory passed to Great Britain in 1763. When the United States acquired the land that became Illinois Territory in 1783, most European settlers there were of French descent. In 1788, the Continental Congress received information concerning the inhabitants of the Illinois area. “There are sundry French settlements on the river Mississippi within the tract,” the committee reported:
Near the mouth of the river Kaskaskies, there is a village which appears to have contained near eighty families from the beginning of the late revolution. There are twelve families in a small village at la Prairie du Rochers, and near fifty families—the Kahokia village. There are also four or five families at fort Chartres and St. Philips, which is five miles farther up the river. The heads of families in those villages appear each of them to have had a certain quantity of arable land allotted to them, and a proportionate quantity of meadow and of woodland or pasture.
Twenty years later, Congress organized the Illinois Territory. Pioneers from Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee settled the southern part of the territory, while New Englanders ventured to northern Illinois via the Erie Canal.
Land of Lincoln, the state slogan, pays homage to famous son Abraham Lincoln. Born in Kentucky, Lincoln came to Illinois in 1830. He was instrumental, along with his colleagues in the Illinois legislature, in moving the state capital from Vandalia to Springfield. Settling there in 1837, Lincoln married socially prominent resident Mary Todd, practiced law, and built the political career that brought him the presidency in 1861.
Chicago External, a minor trading post at the southwestern tip of Lake Michigan until the 1830s, developed into a railroad hub and industrial center. After the Civil War, industrialization attracted a new wave of immigrants. People from all over the U.S. and the world ventured to Chicago to work in the meat-packing and steel industries. Even the Great Conflagration of 1871 failed to prevent the Windy City from becoming one of the largest urban centers in the country. It remains the third most populous city and metropolitan area in the United States.
- Chicago residents share their experiences of life in the Windy City in a series of interviews from the 1930s. Search the American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 – 1940 collection on Chicago, or browse the list of Illinois Titles.
- Search Today in History on Chicago to find features on prominent Chicago residents including architects Louis Sullivan and Daniel H. Burnham, and reformers Jane Addams and Grace Abbott.
- See materials on the Prairie State. Search these collections on Illinois, or Chicago:
- America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945
- American Environmental Photographs, 1891-1936: Images from the University of Chicago Library External
- Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America, 1935-1955
- Built in America: Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record, 1933-Present
- History of the American West, 1860-1920: Photographs from the Collection of the Denver Public Library External
- The Nineteenth Century in Print (Cornell University) External
- The Nineteenth Century in Print (University of Michigan) External
- Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991
- Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920
- Search on Illinois in Map Collections to view a number of small towns in the state. See, for example, an 1880 map of Elgin, an 1869 map of Moline, or an 1869 map of Urbana.
- Search on Jolliet or Marquette in France in America both in the interpretive text and collections sections to learn more about these explorers and the settlement of the West.
- View images from By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA: 1936-1943. Search on the keyword Illinois to see, for example, posters for the 14th Illinois Cattle Feeders Meeting, the Illinois volume of the “American Guide Series,” and a Father and Son Banquet, sponsored by the Chicago Urban League.
- Visit Mr. Lincoln’s Virtual Library. Read the draft of the Emancipation Proclamation and examine a selection of prints and broadsides about Lincoln’s assassination. Visit Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress to view his general correspondence and search on Illinois for materials relating to the state.
- The “Lincoln Park [Chicago] March” is one of over two hundred sheet-music compositions in The Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana.