Illinois State History
Learn the exciting facts about how Illinois became a state from discovery admission to the Union.
What is now known as the state of Illinois was first explored by French explorers Marquette and Joilliet, who discovered the upper Mississippi River area in 1673. Six years later the area was reached by the La Salle expedition in 1679. The area was found favorable for many reasons and a French mission was established in 1699 on the Mississippi River just below the East Saint Louis River. The settlement was named Cahokia for a tribe of Illinois indians that were served by the French missionaries. This was the first permanent settlement and became one of the chief French centers in the upper Mississippi valley.
The Illinois territory was passed to the British after last French and Indian War in 1763. It was won by the United States in the American Revolution after G. R. Clark captured Cahokia and Kaskaskia in 1778. Clark, an American revolutionary general, conquered the old northwest and eventually led expeditions against the indians in what is now Ohio. His brother, William Clark, was a leader of the Lewis and Clark expedition and later served as the governor of Missouri. As part of the Northwest Territory, Illinois began attracting settlers and became a separate territory in 1809. Admitted as the 21st state in 1818, Illinois quickly became an important faction in the growth of the United States.
Land speculations and mob fury brought about when American abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy, who edited the Observer in Alton, Illinois, was killed defending the press against a mob on November 7, 1837. His martyrdom advanced the abolitionist cause. A move to Nauvoo, Illinois by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and his group was met with disaffection and trouble with non-Mormans led to his arrest on charges of treason. On June 27, 1844, both Smith and his brother Hyrum were murdered by a mob at Carthage, Illinois.
C. H. McCormick, the inventor of the reaper, added to the growth trend of Illinois when he built a Chicago factory in 1847. By 1834 McCormicks reaper was known throughout Europe and although other reapers were introduced, McCormick kept his in the running with his unusual business ability. The building of railroads in the 1850s marked the rise of the state. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas won national attention by their debates on slavery issues in 1858 and a tremendous industrial expansion followed the Civil War. Farmers in the Illinois area joined the Granger Movement to resist domination of and by the railroads. Labor unrest was shown by the Haymarket Square Riot in 1886 and at Pullman in 1894. The opening of Saint Lawrence Seaway and Power Project in 1959 made Chicago a major overseas shipping port. Today, the state covers 56,400 square miles and the Capitol is Springfield. Illinois is a region of well watered lanes and a major transportation center of the midwest. The State Bird is the Cardinal and the State Flower is the Purple Violet.