Chicago was a small settlement of the Amerindians on the southwestern coast of Lake Michigan. This locality was initially inhabited by the Algonquian people. The prominent tribes that lived in these region were the Mascoutens and the Miamis. French missionaries were the first Europeans to come to this region. Settlements of Algonquian people were used as stations in the French trade routes of primarily fur. The word 'Chicago' was probably coined from the native American word shikaakwa, which means wild leek/onion or skunk.
The Mission of the Guardian Angel was built in 1696 by the French, to convert local Amerindians. In the 1720s, the French built the Fort of Chécagou, under the leadership of Pierre de Liette, from which the present day Chicago city probably takes its name. The fort was abandoned by the French in the 1720s during the Fox wars.
In the early 1700s, the Potawatomis took over this region from the Mascoutens and the Miamis. The first foreigner to settle in Chicago was Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, who was a Haitian of African and French ancestry. In the 1770s, he settled down on the banks of the Chicago river and got married to a Potawatomi woman.
After the treaty of Greenville in 1795, the Amerindians handed over the area of present-day Chicago to the United States. In 1803, the United States Army built Fort Dearborn. The fort was extensively used in the War of 1812. It was destroyed and lost in the war, but the United States took back the fort after the Treaty of St. Louis in 1816. The fort was rebuilt in 1818, and remained an important strategic post for the United States Army till 1837.
The town of Chicago was established under the protection of the Dearborn Fort. It was officially incorporated as a town on August 12, 1833. The population of the town on the date of its incorporation was about 350. Initially, the boundaries of the town were the four streets named Kinzie, Madison, Desplaines, and the State. The town developed quickly due to the abundant land, resources, and availability of freshwater from Lake Michigan.
In just seven years, the population of the town had risen to about 4,000. Hence, on March 4, 1837, the State of Illinois granted Chicago the City Charter.
Further advancements in the infrastructure of the city greatly improved its connectivity with the rest of the country. Some of the notable landmarks in the progress of the city were the opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal (1848), which connected the Great Lakes to the Mississippi river, and thereby to the Gulf of Mexico. The railways first appeared in Chicago when the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad was constructed in the year 1848.
A horrific incident hindered the progress of the city, when, in 1871, the Great fire of Chicago burnt down almost the whole city, and left more than 100,000 citizens homeless. The fire spread throughout the city due to the large presence of trees and wood. Numerous buildings in the city were made out of wood. The disaster sent shockwaves throughout the United States, and very strict laws regarding fire safety and precautions were implemented.
Chicago was a city buzzing with industrial activity. The workers' unions across Chicago were active and demanded an eight-hour work policy. The issues took an ugly turn when the workers went on strike and organized a peaceful rally at Chicago's Haymarket square. The police attempted to disperse the rally. An unknown person threw a bomb at the police, killing 8 personnel and a number of civilians; the number is still unidentified. Investigations and trials followed, and eight anarchists were tried for murder. Four were sentenced to death and one committed suicide.
The population of Chicago grew substantially from less than 300,000 to 1.7 million between the years 1870 to 1900. The rapid growth was caused due to the immigration of many Blacks and other Southerners during the era known as the 'Great Migration'. Towards the end of the First World War, Chicago also accepted immigrants and refugees from Europe. The war veterans who settled in Chicago demanded respect from the local community, especially the blacks. The communal tension eventually led to the Chicago Race Riot in 1919. This mass racial conflict began on July 27, 1919, and ended eight days later. These riots were considered as some of the worst racial riots in the US, and were a part of the Red Summer of 1919.
One of the most noteworthy events hosted by Chicago was the World's Columbian Exposition. This exposition took place to mark the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' landing in the New World. It saw the arrival of over 27.5 million visitors. The venue was constructed on reclaimed marshland. The buildings and pavilions of the fair were designed using a classical theme. The world's largest Ferris wheel was featured in the exposition.
One of the darkest periods in the history of Chicago was during the regime of the notorious gangster, Al Capone.
On December 2, 1942, the first nuclear reaction in a controlled environment was conducted at the University of Chicago.
Today, Chicago is undergoing many significant changes. The citizens and administrative authorities have taken up projects to preserve the environment and the biodiversity of the region. Due to these projects, the atmosphere of Chicago has become clean, healthy, and joyful.