CHICAGO HISTORY

CHICAGO | HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Bruce Fogelson has an incredible love for Chicago’s rich, incredible story. The history of Chicago, Illinois, has played a central role in American economic, cultural and political history and since the 1850s has been the dominant Midwest metropolis. The area’s recorded history begins with the arrival of French explorers, missionaries and fur traders in the late 17th century and their interaction with the local Potawatomi Indians. There were small settlements and a U.S. Army fort, but the soldiers and settlers were all driven off in 1812. The modern city was incorporated in 1837 by Northern businessmen and grew rapidly from real estate speculation and the realization that it had a commanding position in the emerging inland transportation network, based on lake traffic and railroads, controlling access from the Great Lakes into the Mississippi River basin.
Despite a fire in 1871 that destroyed the central business district, the city grew exponentially, becoming the nation’s rail center and the dominant Midwestern center for manufacturing, commerce, finance, higher education, religion, broadcasting, sports, jazz, and high culture. The city was a magnet for European immigrants—at first Germans, Irish and Scandinavians, then from the 1890s to 1914, Jews, Czechs, Poles and Italians. They were all absorbed in the city’s powerful ward-based political machines. Many joined militant labor unions, and Chicago became notorious for its violent strikes, and high wages.