July 12, 2012

Illinois – “Land of Lincoln”


Illinois map


Just the Facts…

bird – Cardinal
flower – Purple Violet
tree – White Oak
capital – Springfield
union – 21st state on December 3, 1818
population – almost 13 million





The Basics 

The name “Illinois” might be the French version of “Illini,” which was a Native American tribe that lived in Illinois long ago.    Most of Illinois lies within the Central Plains, making it relatively flat.  The highest point in Illinois is the Sears Tower!  Over half of the state’s population lives in the Chicago metro area.

French fur trappers were the first to explore the region.  Much of the land was part of the Northwest Territory before it became the Illinois Territory and then was finally admitted into the Union as a state.  The original border was at the most southern point of Lake Michigan – could you imagine Illinois with no Lake Michigan shoreline?  The border was changed two times – once to be even with Indiana’s border (which gave it 10 miles of shoreline) and second to move it 50 miles north, which gave Illinois the lakeshore that it has today.

The first settlers in Illinois came from southern states like Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas.  They followed the Ohio River west and arrived in southern Illinois, which became known as “Little Egypt.”  The area was rich with coal deposits and had a culture similar to its neighbor, Kentucky.

After Illinois achieved statehood, its rich soil attracted immigrants from Germany and Sweden.  Another wave of immigration followed the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which allowed Chicago to send its manufactured goods all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.


Its Claim to Fame

Abraham Lincoln lived in central Illinois for many years before he became President of the United States.  The Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area includes 42 counties in central Illinois.   Lincoln moved to New Salem, Illinois when he was 22 years old, and it didn’t take him long to get involved in public life.  He lost the first time he ran for the Illinois General Assembly.  But he didn’t give up and two years later he won!  After 4 terms in state politics, he was elected to the US House of Representatives.  He served for only one term and then went back Springfield to practice law.  He returned to politics when the nation became divided over the issue of slavery.  He was nominated to the US Senate and the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates took place during the campaign.  Then, Lincoln became a Presidential candidate at the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago.  He won! And the rest is history.

Chicago!  Illinois’ largest city is located right on Lake Michigan.  It has a rich history and has been home to many important events – two world fairs (Columbian Exposition of 1893 and World’s Fair of 1933), the first modern skyscraper, the Great Fire of 1871, and the Pullman strike.

The Great Fire of 1871 was devastating for Chicago – it burned for nearly two days!  It didn’t help that it was a dry summer and most of Chicago’s buildings were made of wood, including sidewalks and boardwalks.  The Fire started in the southern part of the City in a barn, but strong winds quickly carried it north to the heart of the city.  It grew so quickly that firefighters just couldn’t stop it.  Many people sought safety in the waters of Lake Michigan.  The fire finally went out on its own, after it started to rain.  By the time it was over, the fire had traveled more than 4 miles and about 1/3 of Chicago was lost – including most of the central business district.  But, Chicago was quickly rebuilt – this time bigger and better.  Stone was used during the rebuilding, much of which is still standing today.

Illinois was pivotal in the labor union movement at the end of the 19th Century  It was in Chicago that the Pullman strike took place in 1894.  George Pullman had created a town for his employees, which was clean and beautiful but did not allow the employees the freedom to chose many things about their lifestyle.  Pullman deducted living expenses from each employee’s paycheck.  When America experienced economic hard times, Mr. Pullman cut wages but did not cut the living expenses he charged his employees – people’s paychecks were next to nothing.  Some employees asked him to decrease living expenses as well, but he refused.  The employees got mad!  And, they went on strike. Even more, the whole railroad industry supported them – many railroad employees around the country refused to work on trains that carried Pullman cars. This disrupted the national railroad industry for nearly two months.  The Pullman strike highlighted the fact that there was a labor problem in America that needed to be addressed.


What Makes it Tick

Most of Illinois has very fertile soil – may parts of Illinois has farm after farm – as far as your eye can see.  In fact, about 80% of Illinois’ land is farmed.  Central Illinois is part of the corn belt.   As a result, it is one of the nation’s biggest producers of corn, as well as soybeans, wheat, dairy products, beef and pork.

Many companies took advantage of the agricultural products grown in the state and processed those products into new foods – foods that you may be familiar with – Kraft cheese, Vienna Beef hot dogs, and Wrigley chewing gum!  In addition, Chicago became a major center for meat packing – its stockyards were the biggest in the midwest.  The meatpacking industry was consolidated into the Union Stock Yards in the south part of Chicago.

Chicago quickly became a commercial hub that connected many parts of our country – linking the east to the west to the south.  It also became a national leader in manufacturing, which continues today.  As railroads expanded west, Chicago also became a major railroad center.  Chicago is unique because its ports can transport goods to either the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.  Lake Michigan provides Chicago access to the Great Lakes all the way to the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Atlantic.  In addition, the Illinois and Michigan Canal connects Chicago to the Illinois River, which in turn merges with the mighty Mississippi River and empties into the Gulf of Mexico.


If You Visited

You may visit Chicago – go to the Sears Tower, Union Pier, Lincoln Park Zoo, Shed Aquarium – the list goes on and on!  The Sears Tower, now called the Willis Tower, is the tallest building in America.  Or, you may go to the Taste of Chicago and sample some of its famous food along the shores of Lake Michigan.

You might eat at the very first McDonald’s!  The first McDonald’s opened in  Des Plaines, Illinois, and is still in operation today.  There is a museum across the street that highlights the history of McDonald’s.  Fast food was born in Illinois and the rest is history.

You might also visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.  It is a unique museum, with life-sized figures and reproductions of important locations (Lincoln’s childhood home, the White House, and Ford’s theater).   While you are in Springfield, you may decide to follow the “Looking for Lincoln” story trail as it winds through central Illinois with 215 stops along the way.


Want to Know More? 

Check our Illinois state scrapbook for an industry map, state symbols and information we received from the Governor and Board of Tourism.

Do you live in Illinois? Or, maybe you have visited Illinois?  We want to hear from you!!  Post a comment at the end of this page.

  • What is your very favorite thing about Illinois?
  • What is your favorite thing to eat?
  • What is your favorite thing to do?
  • What other special or unique facts do you want to share about your home state?

Do you have any photos of Illinois to share? Email them to: info@grandtourkids.com. Or, post them to our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/GrandTourKids

Our tour includes just a few things that are interesting and special about Illinois.  Visit these websites to learn more: