French fur traders were among the first Europeans to explore the area that is now Illinois, traveling down the Mississippi River in 1673. Later, colonists arrived in southern Illinois via the Ohio River, forcing Native Americans out. The state’s flat land and fertile soil make it a top producer of corn and soybeans.

Fun Facts

  • Chicago sits on Lake Michigan and is bordered by Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Its climate is relatively mild during the spring and summer, but heavy snow and cold winds blowing off the lake make for bitter winters.
  • Chicago is the largest city in the Midwest. Today it is an economic powerhouse for the region, but during the late 1800s through the early 1900s, it had a reputation as a wild, lawless city, home to bootleggers and mobsters.
  • Chicago’s location on Lake Michigan is one of the reasons for its success. Barges carrying goods travel down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico; ships move through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Chicago is known for its beautiful architecture. Famous designer Frank Lloyd Wright was from Chicago and created several buildings here.
  • The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 burned for two days. The fire destroyed water lines so fire fighters hauled water from the lake. Rain finally put the fire out, but much of the city was in ruins. In the aftermath, the city was rebuilt with modern, comfortable homes and the world’s first skyscrapers.
  • Black bears, white-tailed deer, bobcats, scarlet snakes, and cardinals are some of the animals living in Illinois.
  • Chicago-style popcorn—a mix of caramel popcorn and cheese popcorn—is a favorite snack in Illinois. Chicago’s also known for its hot dogs sold by street vendors and its pizza.
  • Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama are from Chicago. Oprah Winfrey has lived here for many years.
  • A petrified 300-million-year-old rainforest lies under the small city of Danville, Illinois. Scientists believe it was buried during an earthquake.


Illinois Quick Stats

Population: 12,830,632

State capital: Springfield (population 116,250)

Largest city: Chicago (population 2,695,598)

State bird: cardinal

State flower: violet

Questions and Answers

Question: How did people respond to Chicago’s challenging early years?

Answer: Although political corruption was a problem, some politicians and police worked hard to make Chicago a safer city. Social reformists, such as Jane Adams, tried to improve conditions for the poor.


Learn More

Read more about the ancient petrified rainforest here.