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.
By the United States in Congress assembled, June 20, 1788: The Committee…to whom was referred the memorial of George Morgan…respecting a tract of land in the Illinois country…[New York: s.n., 1788]. Documents from the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789. Rare Book & Special Collections Division
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 American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940 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:
- Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives
- American Environmental Photographs, 1891-1936: Images from the University of Chicago Library External
- Gottscho-Schleisner Collection
- Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey
- Denver Public Library Digital CollectionsExternal
- Making of America collections at Cornell UniversityExternal and the University of MichiganExternal
- Panoramic Photographs
- Detroit Publishing Company
- Search on Illinois in the Maps 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 Posters: WPA Posters. 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.
- Read the draft of the Emancipation Proclamation and an essay about Lincoln’s assassination in the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress collection. Also included is his general correspondence. 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.