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Timeline: Early Chicago History

1671-1859 | 1860-1900  


"Chicagou at the Lower End of Lake Michigan" is first mentioned in a report by Father Pierre Charlevoix.


May-September: Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet's exploration of the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan takes them by the future site of Chicago. Joliet reports that a canal connecting Lake Michigan to the Mississippi at this point would control the entire known North American continent.


December: Marquette returns to Chicago. Within 6 months, he will die of dysentery.


With the end of the French and Indian War, Great Britain takes control of all North America east of the Mississippi, including the Chicago area.


Virginia claims land along the Mississippi River as the "County of Illinois."


%Virginia grants Illinois to the United States as payment for debts incurred during the Revolutionary War.


Sometime during these years, fur trader Jean Baptiste Point du Sable becomes the first settler in the Chicago area.


%Secretary of War Henry Dearborn orders a survey of the Chicago River to find a site suitable for a military post. Fort Dearborn is established near the mouth of the river by year's end. Five families own homes in the town.


February 9: Chicago becomes part of the Territory of Illinois.


Before the war, 15 private homes exist in Chicago; after war is declared and Fort Dearborn is taken by the British, only four will remain.


December 3: Illinois becomes the 21st state in the union.


January 15: the Illinois General Assembly creates Cook County, with Chicago as the county seat.


%August: the Town of Chicago is incorporated. The population totals no more than 200 people.


William Butler Ogden comes to Chicago to make his fortune. He had first visited the town a year earlier while administrating a land purchase made by his brother-in-law.


May: Ogden, running as a Democrat, is elected Chicago's first mayor.


%Cyrus McCormick relocates his harvesting machine factory to Chicago, closer to the breadbasket of the nation.


January: Telegraph lines reach Chicago.

March: Merchants establish the Chicago Board of Trade, allowing livestock and grains to be bought and sold on paper.

April: The General Thornton arrives from New Orleans, and its cargo is reloaded onto ships headed for Buffalo. The water route from the Gulf of Mexico to the St. Lawrence Seaway is complete.

William B. Ogden raises $350,000 for the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad and begins laying track. Eventually the company will become the Chicago and Northwestern, with Ogden as its president.


%Cholera kills 60 residents every summer day in Chicago. Six percent of the city's human population dies from the disease, spread through polluted water.


The town begins to construct a public sewer system.


The first University of Chicago is founded.


George Pullman arrives to run a business that lifts buildings to the level of the new sewers.

1671-1859 | 1860-1900  

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