Chicago Timeline

Below is a timeline of some of the more notable events in Chicago history. If you know of additional items we should ad to this list, please use our Contact Form.

1673 Father Jacques Marquette, French-born missionary of the Jesuit order, and Louis Jolliet, Canadian explorer and mapmaker, were the first Europeans to view the land on which the City of Chicago was to stand. Returning with five other Europeans from exploration of the Mississippi River, Marquette and Jolliet struck out alone and found a large Indian village near the present city of Ottawa. Guided by friendly Indians in the Fall of 1673, the two men first traversed the region that is now Chicago.
1674 Father Marquette spent a winter at what is now the intersection of Damen Avenue and the river’s South Branch. Frustrated that he couldn’t convince the French government of its strategic importance, Jolliet never returned to the area.
1682 French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle, visited the “”Portage de Checagou,”” and he saw its potential. “”The boundless regions of the West must send their produce to the East,”” he predicted. But LaSalle was on his way to Texas and never returned. He did, however, claim all the land between for France, naming it Louisiana.
1696 The Chicago area was traveled by traders and explorers for some years after 1673. Late in the century two Indian villages were settled at Chicago and in 1696 Father Francois Pinet, a Jesuit missionary, founded the Mission of the Guardian Angel. The mission was abandoned in 1700 when missionary efforts proved fruitless.
1779 Little is known about the Chicago area from 1700 until about 1779 when the pioneer settler of Chicago, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, an African American from Sainte-Dominque (Haiti), built the first permanent settlement at the mouth of the river just east of the present Michigan Avenue Bridge on the north bank.
1795 In the summer of 1795, Indian tribes gathered at Fort Greenville in eastern Ohio to make peace with General Anthony Wayne, often called “”Mad Anthony.””
1803 It was not until 1803 that the War Department ordered the construction of a fort at the mouth of the river. Troops arrived in the area on August 17 and began building shelters and a stockade. A year later, Fort Dearborn, named in honor of the Secretary of War, was completed.
1810 Helen Hadduck was born at Fort Dearborn. She was the first child born at the settlement since the birth of Eulalia Pointe du Sable in 1796. Later she would marry John DeKoven, a founder of the Northern Trust Company. Social reformer Louise DeKoven Bowen was their granddaughter.
1814 A Baltimore newspaper commented that a canal would make Chicago “”the seat of an immense commerce; and a market for the commodities of all regions. What a route! How stupendous the idea!””
1818 Chicago was under the jurisdiction of Indiana Territory and Illinois Territory from 1801 to 1818. In 1818, Illinois was admitted to statehood, and Chicago was placed successively under the counties of Crawford, Clark, Pike, Fulton, Putnam attached to Peoria, and in 1831, Cook County.
1830 In 1829 the State Legislature appointed a commission to dig a canal connecting Chicago with the Mississippi River by way of the Des Plaines and Illinois rivers and to lay out towns, to sell lots, and to apply the proceeds to the construction of the canal. The canal commissioners employed James Thompson, a civil engineer, to lay out the original town. On August 4, 1830, Thompson filed his survey and plat of the town of Chicago in Section 9, Township 39, Range 14, and thus Chicago received its first legal geographic location although the town was not incorporated until three years later.
1833 In 1833 Chicago got its name. The name “”Chicago”” derived from the Indians but it is not known which tribe named the town and many theories have been advanced to explain the origin of the name. One generally accepted is that the name comes from the Indian words for either wild onion or skunk, but some historians believe that the word Chicago denoted “”strong”” or “”great.”” Dr. William Barry, first secretary of the Chicago Historical Society, wrote, “”Whatever may have been the etymological meaning of the word Chicago in its practical use, it probably denoted strong or great. The Indians applied this term to the Mississippi River, to thunder, or to the voice of the great Manitou.””
1833 The first meetings of the Town Board of Chicago were held in 1833 in the house of Mark Beaubien which stood near the southwest corner of Lake and Market streets
1834 In the young city’s first murder trial, an Irishman, according to contemporary reports, was acquitted on a charge of killing his wife.
1836 Work begins on the Illinois and Michigan Canal.
1836 The first railroad constructed out of Chicago, the Galena and Chicago Union, was chartered January 16, 1836, to connect Chicago with the lead mines at Galena.
1837 Chicago became a city with a population of 4,170.
1837 Chicago reorganized itself as a city. Its first mayor was William B. Ogden, a recent arrival from upstate New York. Chicago’s population had grown tenfold since it had been organized as a town only four years earlier. The first census of Chicago residents counted 1,800 adult males, 845 adult females, 831 children, 1,094 “”sailors,”” and 77 “”persons of color.””
1837 Along with the rest of the country, Chicago was caught in the financial panic of 1837, which led to a nationwide depression.
1839 When the only bridge across the river was lost in a storm, residents living south of the river objected to spending the money to rebuild it. With the support of the mayor, citizens forged a compromise, and a new bridge was built. To encourage the compromise, North Siders William Ogden and Walter Newberry offered South Side Catholics a deal they couldn’t refuse: they donated State Street and Chicago Avenue land for the construction of Holy Name Cathedral.
1840 In November, 1840, free public schools were permanently established in Chicago and a Board of Inspectors was organized.
1840 The Chicago Anti-Slavery Society was formed. Ten years later, the Chicago City Council resolved that its police force would not enforce the Fugitive Slave Law, calling it “”a cruel and unjust law which ought not to be respected by an intelligent community.””
1848 The Illinois and Michigan Canal was completed.
1848 In 1848 the Market Building was erected and used as a city hall until 1853.
1849 On March 12 the Chicago River flooded. At 10:00 a.m., a mass of ice broke loose on the south branch and crushed every bridge and dock in its path. Four steamers, six steamboats, 24 brigs, 27 canal boats, and two sloops were damaged. The disaster took two lives, a boy killed at the Randolph Street Bridge and a girl killed by a falling mast.
1854 Chicago adopted the seal and motto: “”Urbs in Hortis”” or “”City in a Garden.””
1854 Roger Plant ran Chicago’s first underworld gambling and prostitution mob from a club called “”Under the Willow”” at Wells and Monroe Streets.
1855 In 1852 a Drainage Commission was incorporated by the legislature. The city council in 1855 and 1856 adopted resolutions ordering that the grades throughout the city be raised to a height which would insure proper drainage.
1855 The Chicago Police Department was created.
1855 Chicago established itself as the world’s leading exported of grain. The city’s harbor attracted 6,610 ships during 1855, up from fewer than a dozen ships in 1830.
1855 The Beer Hall Riots were triggered by the decision of Mayor Levi Boone, a prominent member of the Know-Nothing Party, to close beer halls on Sundays and raise the price of liquor licenses.
1857 Rush Street’s double drawbridge, built on a center pier, opened for traffic. It was the first steel bridge built west of the Alleghenies.
1858 George M. Pullman, who had solved similar problems along the Erie Canal, engineered much of the lifting of early Chicago buildings. Buildings were jacked up and a foundation built under them without interrupting the occupancy of the building. By 1858 the city had succeeded in raising itself out of the mud.
1859 The streetcar service began with the first horse-drawn cars running regularly down State Street
1860 When, in 1860, it was decided to hold the Republican National Convention in Chicago (the first national political convention to meet in Chicago), a special building called the “”Wigwam”” was erected. It was built on the southeast corner of Lake and Market Streets at a cost of five thousand dollars, the funds being raised by general subscription.
1860 Chicago had its first major maritime disaster. The Lady Elgin, owned by pioneer Gurdon Hubbard, collided with another ship on a windy winter night off Winnetka and sank. 287 were killed in the disaster.
1860 Though not a Chicagoan, Abraham Lincoln visited the city frequently. Joseph Medill, editor of the Chicago Tribune, engineered Lincoln’s nomination by the new Republican Party.
1865 Construction of the Union Stock Yards was completed
1865 Camp Douglas, the Confederate prisoner-of-war camp on Chicago’s South Side, closed down after the war ended. Over 20,000 Southerners had been imprisoned there; 6,129 of them died. The dead were buried in Oak Woods Cemetery on 67th Street.
1867 Chicago’s first water tunnel was completed in 1867. It was two miles long and was dug through clay 60 feet under lake level and was lined to a finished diameter of five feet with two shells of brick
1869 The Chicago Water Tower was completed in 186
1869 In July, 1867, the city awarded a contract to J. K. Lake to construct the Washington Street traffic tunnel. It was completed January 1, 1869. This tunnel was 1605 feet long and cost $517,000.
1871 The Great Chicago Fire occurs. By the time it was out, 300 Chicagoans were dead, 90,000 homeless, and the property loss was $200 million.
1871 In the first few months after the fire, relief funds poured into the devastated city. Eventually the funds amounted to $4,820,148, of which $973,897 came from 29 foreign countries. President Ulysses S. Grant sent $1,000 of his own money, while $90 came from citizens of the Dakota Territory.
1872 In 1872 Aaron Montgomery Ward established the first mail-order business at Clark and Kinzie Streets in Chicago, with $2,400 capital.
1873 The Chicago Public Library opens (now it is known as the Harold Washington Library, the largest public library in the world).
1878 On June 26 the first telephone office opened in Chicago, barely a year after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.
1885 The Home Insurance Building, erected at the northeast corner of LaSalle and Adams streets (on the site now occupied by the west portion of the Field building), is called the first skyscraper. Its nine stories and one basement were completed in 1885.
1885 On April 30 the Board of Trade opened at Jackson and LaSalle Streets. In one of Chicago’s first significant labor actions, 2,000 workers protested the opening. One of their demands was an eight-hour workday, which they believed would create more jobs.
1886 The Haymarket Riots occur, starting Labor Day (called “”May Day”” in the U.S.) around the world.
1886 The first Chicago telephone book came out, hosting 291 listings. It was printed by R.R. Donnelly for the Chicago Telephone Company, predecessor of Illinois Bell.
1887 Richard Sears, a young watch salesman from Minnesota, arrived in Chicago. He placed an ad for a watchmaker, which was answered by a Hoosier named Alvah Roebuck. Together they established Sears-Roebuck, which went on to become one of America’s largest businesses.
1889 Hull House was opened by Miss Jane Addams in 1889 in the Charles Hull mansion at 800 S. Halsted street, built in 1856 by a wealthy real estate man. Aided by Ellen Gates Starr, Miss Addams helped hundreds of Chicago immigrants and others gain a place of self-respect in society.
1889 Chicagoans Arthur and Charles Libby, with their friend Archibald MacNeil, developed a method of canning corned beef in their plant on 16th and State Streets. This started the packaged foods business that still bears their name.
1890 Mickey Finn, a Chicago bartender, invented the infamous drink that still bears his name. He combined chloral hydrate and snuff water to drug and then rob his clientele.
1893 The World’s Columbian Exposition opened May 1, 1893, ran for six months and attracted 27,539,000 visitors – almost half of the total number of people then living in the United States.
1895 Chicago had 276 furniture manufacturing companies, employing over 28,000 workers.
1896 The zipper was invented and patented in Chicago by Whitcomb L. Judson, who named it the “”hookless fastener””
1897 One of the first industrialists to make use of Fort Sheriden’s troops was George Mortimer Pullman, whose ineptness in labor relations led to a strike of his factory’s workers during the depression that began right after the World’s Columbian Exposition closed.
1900 To reverse the flow of the Chicago River (and stop city-wide cholera epidemics), a 28-mile canal was built from the south branch of the river through the low summit and down to Lockport. It was completed in 1900.
1901 The construction of freight tunnels in Chicago was begun in 1901 under a franchise granted by the City of Chicago to the Illinois Telephone and Telegraph Company, dated February 20, 1899, to carry telephone and telegraph wires and cables.
1902 The window envelope was invented by Chicagoan Americus F. Callahan
1903 On December 30, 1903, Chicago experienced one of its most heartbreaking disasters. The Iroquois Theater, believed to be fireproof, was presenting Eddie Foy in “”Mr. Bluebeard”” to a capacity matinee house with many children in attendance. A piece of scenery caught fire and soon the flames were out of control. The audience panicked. Many exits were locked. The lights had gone out. In little more than 15 minutes, at least 600 people lost their lives. One result of the horrible tragedy was the adoption of a new set of safety regulations for theaters.
1904 The Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry was established. John G. Shedd, president of Marshall Field & Co., was named its first president.
1904 A gambling ship was established on Lake Michigan, the first of its kind in American history. A partner in the venture was “”Big Jim”” O’Leary, the son of the woman whose cow purportedly started the Chicago Fire.
1906 Upon the death of Marshall Field, the stores along State Street closed on the day of his funeral in respect to his memory. He left an estate valued at $120 million, which was by far the largest of the fortunes piled up by Chicago’s 19th-Century moguls.
1910 The population of Chicago was 2,185,283. By 1880 it had already become the third-largest city in the nation.
1912 Two Polish-born brothers, Nathan and Maurice Goldblatt, opened a store at 1617 W. Chicago Ave., adopting the slogan “”America’s Fastest Growing Department Stores.””
1913 A Northwestern University professor and his partner opened Andersen, DeLaney & Co. to offer outside accounting services to companies. Today, Arthur Andersen & Co. is one of the largest accounting firms in the world.
1919 The Communist Party of the United States was founded in Chicago
1920 Largely as a result of the demand for labor during World War I, African-Americans began moving to Chicago. By the war’s end they compromised about 5% of the city’s population.
1920 Chicago’s total labor force numbered 1,250,000, of whom 250,000 were women.
1923 Chicago distributed more butter than any other city, a total of 446 million pounds annually. This exceeded the amount of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston combined.
1926 Charles Lindbergh initiated airmail service between Chicago and St. Louis
1927 The Municipal Airport (later named Midway after the World War II U.S. victory in the Pacific) opened. It quickly became the nation’s busiest airfield
1927 The average weekly wage in Chicago was $15.43
1930 The pinball machine was invented in Chicago. A ten-balls-for-a-nickel device, originally called the “”Whoopee Game,”” was put on the market by In & Outdoor Games Company.
1930 The Hostess Twinkie was invented in Schiller Park by James Dewar, manager of Continental Baking Company’s Hostess Bakery.
1933 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called the West Side 24th Ward “”the best Democratic ward in the country.””
1937 The average head of beef cattle weighed 899 pounds and yielded 470 pounds of meat
1940 The establishment of a special labor detail in the Chicago Police Department encouraged workers to avoid violence and bloodshed during labor strikes. The detail set a precedent that attracted national attention
1943 On October 17 the first public subway in Chicago opened
1945 Evergreen Plaza, developed by real estate tycoon Arthur Rubloff, was one of the country’s first enclosed shopping malls.
1946 Richard J. Daley lost his only election, a bid to become Cook County Sheriff.
1950 Chicago’s population peaked at 3,618,500. Within 30 years it had declined to just over 3 million. By 1990 it had fallen to 2,783,726.
1956 Mayor Richard J. Daley nominated John F. Kennedy for vice president at the Democratic convention held in Chicago.
1958 At mid-afternoon on December 1, 1958, a fire started in a trash drum in the basement stairwell of the Our Lady of the Angels school at 909 N. Avers. It quickly spread throughout the building, trapping the 329 children and five nuns who were in the school. The fire was so quick and intense that there was no time to follow carefully planned fire drills, and many children died at their desks or jumped out windows before the firemen arrived. In all, 92 children and three nuns died in the fire.

This tragedy led to new ordinances to strengthen Chicago’s fire code, and new amendments to the Illinois state fire code were passed. Also as a result of the fire, schools throughout the United States had to install sprinkler systems and fire alarms linked directly to the fire department.

1969 In May of 1969, during the year of its Centennial Anniversary, the Chicago Water Tower was selected by the American Water Works Association to be the first American Water Landmark in the nation.
1969 ilian Piatrowski was elected the first female committeeman in the history of the Democratic Central Committee of Cook County
1971 The Chicago Union Stock Yard went out of business at midnight Friday, July 30, 1971.
1976 Employment in the Chicago area was 2,450,597.
1976 Richard J. Daley suffered a heart attack in his doctor’s office and died shortly thereafter
1984 On September 6 Walgreen’s celebrated the opening of its 1,000th store. As of 1993 it had some 1,600 stores in 29 states and Puerto Rico, and was the nation’s largest drugstore chain.
1987 In November Mayor Harold Washington died of a heart attack
1992 In April Chicago’s turn-of-the-century freight tunnel system flooded when new pilings were being driven into the Chicago River bed. Dozens of downtown buildings were flooded, resulting in millions of dollars worth of damage.
1992 Employment in the Chicago area was 2,982,370, still more than the population of the city.