Geography and Landforms:

Broad, level lands known as the Central Plains, gave Illinois its nickname - the "Prairie State." These Central Plains cover nearly 90% of the state. This gently rolling land was created during the Ice Age when glaciers leveled the area and deposited material that would later become soil. More than 275 rivers from this region flow into the Mississippi-Ohio river system.

The Central Plains region includes an area of rich farmland known as the Till Plains. These plains are part of the Midwestern Corn Belt, extending from Ohio to Kansas.

The industrial area surrounding Chicago is part of the Great Lakes Plains. Once covered by Lake Michigan, this region has small hills, lakes, and marshes. Illinois has 63 miles of shoreline on Lake Michigan.

Illinois' tallest hills and deepest valleys are found in the northwest corner of the state. The highest point in Illinois, Charles Mound (1,235 feet), is located there. The Shawnee Hills in the southern part of the state range from 300 to 1,065 feet above sea level. This is an area of forested hills, valleys, woods, and river bluffs.

The lowest point in Illinois (279 feet above sea level) is found in the Gulf Coastal Plain at the very southern tip of the state. The Ohio and Mississippi Rivers meet here. Early settlers believed the land between the Ohio and Mississippi resembled the Nile River delta and so named this region "Egypt."


French explorers and missionaries were among the first Europeans to come to Illinois. Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet entered the region in 1673 from the French Canadian colonies to the north. They were sent by the governor of their colony to find and trace the Mississippi River. The two men traveled south along the western boundary of Illinois, then northward up the Illinois River. Two years later, Marquette returned to establish a mission at the Kaskaskia Indian village near present-day Utica.

In 1699, French priests established Cahokia, the first permanent town in the region. Cahokia was a fur-trading post. The fur trade was commercially very important to Illinois during the late 17th century. Furs were taken down the Chicago River to Lake Michigan, loaded on awaiting ships, and taken to Europe for sale. Cahokia, along with the town of Kaskaskia, established by Jesuit priests in 1703, became the center of life for French settlers in the area.

Illinois became part of the French colony of Louisiana in 1717. Soon many French settlers began arriving from Europe. Unrest quickly developed between the French and the British, who had claimed all territory inland from their Atlantic colonies. The French joined with the Indians in a series of conflicts with the British known as the French and Indian Wars (1754-1763). The British were ultimately successful and France gave up its claim to Illinois in 1763 as a result of the Treaty of Paris. Many French settlers left the region, moving west, across the Mississippi River.

In 1778, during the American Revolution (1775-1783), Colonel George Rogers Clark of Virginia captured the towns of Kaskaskia and Cahokia. This region became part of Virginia. After the war ended, the state of Maryland refused to ratify the Articles of Confederation until Virginia and other states gave up their western lands. So in 1784, Virginia gave this territory to the government.

Illinois became part of the Northwest Territory in 1787 and, through an act of Congress, part of Indiana Territory in 1800. In 1809, Congress created Illinois Territory, which also included Wisconsin. Kaskaskia became the territorial capital.

As the number of settlers coming to the area increased, more and more land was seized from the native tribes. This created a great deal of anger toward the white settlers. When the United States declared war on Great Britain in 1812, the native tribes sided with the British. A bloody Indian attack occurred in 1812 when the Potawatomis massacred many Illinois settlers at Fort Dearborn.

Illinois became the 21st state in 1818, and in 1820 the capital was moved to Vandalia. At that time, the northern boundary of Illinois only extended as far as the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Nathaneal Pope, a territorial delegate to Congress, successfully extended the boundary northward, to include the present-day Chicago area.

Immigrants from all parts of Europe began arriving in Illinois in the years before the Civil War. The Irish came to work on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Many others set up farms, built railroads connecting many of the state's major cities, and worked in the growing factories and mines. The capital was moved to Springfield in 1839. The Illinois-Michigan Canal was finished in 1849. It allowed Illinois farmers to easily ship their produce to the East, via the Great Lakes.

The career of Abraham Lincoln, one of the state's most beloved residents, began during a period of tremendous industrial growth and development in the 1840s and 1850s. Lincoln and lawyer Stephen Douglas achieved national attention with their senatorial debates on the slavery issue in 1858. Lincoln became the 16th president in 1861.

Although a strong pro-slavery sentiment existed in the southern part of Illinois, more than 255,000 Illinois soldiers fought for the Union during the Civil War (1861-1865). But no Civil War battles were fought within the state of Illinois.

Industry expanded dramatically after the Civil War. The state legislature began to set aside land for the eventual development of stockyards and the legendary Illinois meat packing industry. By the 1870s, building construction could not keep pace with the growing city of Chicago. Many flimsy, wooden structures had been hastily built to accommodate the increasing population. A tragic fire in 1871 destroyed most of the city and left 100,000 people homeless.

Between 1870 and 1900, workers in the state's factories, railroads and mines began to protest unfair labor practices. This resulted in a series of violent disputes that included the Haymarket Square Riot in 1886 and the Pullman Strike in 1894.


Illinois is an important agricultural state. Rich farmland, adequate rainfall, and a long growing season contribute to its success as a leading producer of corn and soybeans. Other agricultural products include cattle, hogs, wheat, oats, sorghum, and hay.

Since the 1880s Illinois had been a leading industrial state. This is due to its reserves of natural resources and its excellent transportation and communication systems. The mineral wealth of the state includes deposits of coal and oil. The Chicago area is an iron and steel producer, meat packing center, grain exchange, and transportation center.

Some of the state's leading manufactured products include food and agricultural items, chemicals, printed and published materials, transportation and computer equipment, and industrial machinery.

First Inhabitants:

The earliest inhabitants of Illinois were the prehistoric Mound Builders. These groups of Native Americans left behind more than 10,000 temple and burial mounds throughout the state. Monk's Mound, near present-day Cahokia, is the largest prehistoric earthen structure in the United States.

Before white men entered the region, it was occupied by a group of six united tribes known as the Illiniwek or Illini, a native word meaning "superior men." The Illini consisted of the Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Michigamea, Moingwena, Peoria and Tamarosa tribes. They were all part of the Algonkian family.

Some of the other tribes that played a part in the state's early history were the Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Winnebago, Kickapoo, and Shawnee. In 1680, the Iroquois entered the region to attack the Illinois tribes. Many were killed in the conflict. By 1800 few Natives remained.

Books Related To Illinois

Famous Citizens:

Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury, the author of Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, and The Illustrated Man, was born in Waukegan, Illinois. Bradbury published more than 500 works of science fiction and fantasy including short stories, plays, novels, screenplays, television scripts and verse. In 2000 he was awarded the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

William Jennings Bryan
William Jennings Bryan was born in Salem, Illinois. He was a US Congressman, three-time Democratic presidential nominee, Secretary of State, and a major force in American politics for three decades. In 1925 he served as a prosecution lawyer in the famous Scopes Trial, a high profile Tennessee case involving the teaching of evolution in a public school.

Walt Disney
Walt Disney the creator of Mickey Mouse and founder of the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Theme Parks was born in Chicago, Illinois. One of the world's most creative pioneers and innovators in graphic arts, Disney received more than 950 honors and citations from every nation in the world, including 48 Academy Awards and seven Emmys.

Robert Millikan
Robert Millikan was born in Morrison, Illinois. As a scientist, Millikan made numerous momentous discoveries, chiefly in the fields of electricity, optics, and molecular physics. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1923 for his work in demonstrating the existence of electrons.

Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois. Sandburg was a poet and biographer who won Pulitzer Prizes for his biography Abraham Lincoln: The War Years and for his Completed Poems in 1951. He was also a novelist, journalist, children's author, and folksong anthologist.

James Dewey Watson
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Watson attended the University of Chicago and received a degree in Zoology. He became interested in genetics and attended Indiana University where he received the PhD. By the 1950s, he began to do research into the structure of DNA. Working with Francis Crick, they proposed the double-helix configuration of DNA. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1962 along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins.

Capital: Springfield
Entered Union: December 3, 1818
Population: 12,880,580
Area 57,914
Bird Cardinal
Flower Purple Violet
Nickname: Prairie State
Governor Bruce Rauner

Places to Visit in Illinois: (Click the links to learn more.)

Art Institute of Chicago - Chicago
The Art Institute, founded in 1893, houses both a museum and a school. The museum contains more than 300,00 works including such celebrated pieces as Grant Woods's American Gothic, Edward Hopper's Night Hawks and 33 paintings by Claude Monet.

Dickson Mounds - between Lewistown and Havana
This on-site archeological museum allows visitors to explore the world of the American Indian through hands-on activities, interpretive exhibits, and a variety of special events. The museum is a National Historic Site and a branch of the Illinois State Museum.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum - Springfield
Opened in 2003, this state-of-the-art museum presents the life of Abraham Lincoln through interactive technology, hands-on exhibits, and the world's largest collection of Lincoln memorabilia. The website provides a virtual tour of the museum.

Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum - Chicago
Located along the shore of Lake Michigan, Adler was the first planetarium to be established in America. The museum collection houses more than 2,000 historic navigational, astronomical, and mathematical instruments. Also included are exhibits on the solar system, the Milky Way, the history of astronomical discovery and how astronomy has affected different cultures.