Chicago History

The history of Chicago encompasses many interesting events that have played a significant role not only in Chicago history but also in the history of the US overall. A Chicago vacation is a great opportunity to learn more about this fascinating city, and whether visitors are spending time at museums such as the Chicago History Museum or taking tours around the city's neighborhoods, they're bound to find out fascinating information about this historic city.

Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette first discovered the Chicago area in 1673. In 1781, the first European settlement was established. Fort Dearborn was built near the river and was the focus of numerous attacks by Indians until 1832, when Chief Black Hawk was defeated. With the chief's defeat, the history of Chicago shifted as the area was incorporated from a frontier outpost into a city in 1837.

In 1863, George Pullman moved to Chicago—known as the railroad capital of the United States—and put his dream of designing a luxury railroad car into motion. Ultimately, his first design, known as the Pioneer, failed because the existing railroads and bridges could not accommodate the size of the car. In 1867, Pullman opened the Pullman Palace Car Company designing luxury-class cars, including sleeping and dining cars, electric lighting, silk and leather fabrics, carpet, and chandeliers, making train travel possible in luxurious accommodations.

Important Chicago facts about the Pullman years pertain to the building and maintenance of the City of Pullman for railroad workers. The city was established so laborers could enjoy a better way of life by residing in Pullman-built homes equipped with modern amenities. The city was privately owned by Pullman, who rented the homes to the workers and was responsible for maintenance and care of the city grounds and garbage collection. Pullman also built the Arcade Building that housed a bank, post office, library theatre, tavern, and restaurant for railroad employees.

On October 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire, one of the most devastating events in the history of Chicago, began at the O'Leary barn and spread throughout the residential and business districts of the city. The weather was dry, and the wooden homes, businesses, bridges, and industrial buildings did not stand a chance against the raging inferno as it swept its way across the area.

Reports at the time said that the fire started when Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a lit lantern in the barn, but there have been many other opinions and speculation over the years as to how the Great Chicago Fire began. One opinion involves a man named Daniel Sullivan, who fed his mother's cow that was kept in the O'Leary barn and that it was his negligence with a match, pipe, or lantern that in fact ignited the fire. Although questioned at the time, Sullivan was exonerated.. The fire died out after two days when much needed rain fell, helping to squelch the burning embers. The fire greatly affected Chicago history, and the recovery period following the Great Chicago Fire exemplified the energy and spirit of the residents as they rebuilt their city.

Interesting Chicago facts from this period include the opening of the Union Stock Yard &Transit Company in 1865, the construction of the Home Insurance Building, designated as the city's first skyscraper, by William Le Baron Jenney in 1885, and the forming of the White Sox baseball team in 1900 by owner Charles Comiskey. In addition, in 1890, Chicago won the bid after much lobbying to host the World Columbian Exposition in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Americas.

Chicago history is full of information regarding the love/hate relationship between the city and No. 1 gangster Al Capone during the 1920s and 30s. Movies and TV shows over the years have depicted Al "Scarface" Capone's rise to power, starting as a member of a street gang and ending up as head of the Torrio outfit that he reorganized and expanded into a mega-moneymaking business.

After a long career of skirting the law, Capone was indicted in 1931 and sentenced to ten years in prison for tax evasion. His sentence was shortened due to good behavior, and he spent his last year in prison at Alcatraz Island, near San Francisco. Upon his release in 1939, Capone returned to his home in Miami, where he died of cardiac arrest on January 25, 1947.

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