The second city in the United States, with a population approximating two millions, Chicago, the metropolis of the prairies, seems destined for unlimited growth. It has absorbed all the outlying towns, and now embraces nearly two hundred square miles. It has a water-front on Lake Michigan of twenty-six miles, and its trade constantly grows. It pushes ahead, with boundless energy, attracting the shrewdest men of the West to take part in its vast and profitable enterprises, and is in such a complete manner the depot and storehouse for the products and supplies of goods for the enormous prairie region around it, and for the entire Northwest, and the country out to the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Ocean, that other Western cities cannot displace or even hope to rival it. Yet it is a youthful giant, of quick and marvellous development, but few of its leading spirits having been born within its limits) nearly all being attracted thither by its paramount advantages. The prominent characteristics of Chicago are an overhanging pall of smoke ; streets crowded with quick-moving, busy people ; a vast aggregation of railways, vessels, elevators and traffic of all kinds ; a polyglot population drawn from almost all races ; and an earnest devotion to the almighty dollar. Its name came from the river, and is of Indian origin, regarded as probably a corruption of ” Cheecagua,” the title of a dynasty of chiefs who controlled the country west and south of Lake Michigan. This also was a word applied in the Indian dialect to the wild onion growing luxuriantly on the banks of the river, and they gave a similar name to the thunder which they believed the voice of the Great Spirit, and to the odorous animal abounding in the neighborhood that the white man knew as the to polecat.” These were rather incongruous uses for the same word, but the suggestion has been made that all can be harmonized if Chicago is interpreted as meaning a strong,” the Indians, being poorly supplied with words, usually selecting the most prominent attribute in giving names. All these things are in one way or another “strong,” and it is evident that prodigious strength exists in Chicago.
As elsewhere throughout the Northwest, the French missionaries were here the earliest explorer’s, Father Marquette coming in 1673, and afterwards Hennepin, Joliet and La Salle, whose names are so numerously reproduced in the Northwestern States. The French built at the mouth of the river Fort Chicagou, for a trading-post, and held it until the English conquered Canada. When the earlier American settlers ventured to this frontier, the Indians on Lake Michigan were the Pottawatomies, and were hostile. The Government in 1804 built Fort Dearborn, near the mouth of the Chicago River, to control them. These Indians joined in the crusade of the Prophet and Tecumseh, and when the war with England began in 1812, attacked and captured the fort, massacring the garrison. The post was subsequently reestablisped, and the Indians were ultimately removed west of the Mississippi. Not Iong afterwards it was said the first purchase of the site of Chicago took place, wherein a large part of the land now occupied was sold for a pair of boots. When the town plot was originally surveyed, twelve families were there in addition to the garrison of Fort Dearborn, and in 1831 it had one hundred people. In 1833 the town government was organized, and it had five hundred and fifty inhabitants and one hundred and seventy-five buildings. Five trustees then ruled Chicago, and collected $49 for the first year’s taxes. Collis P. Huntington, the Pacific Railway manager, says that in 1835, being possessed of a good constitution and a pair of mules, but little else, he was out that way prospecting, and found at Chicago nothing but a swamp and a few destitute’ farmers, all anxious to move. – One of these farmers came to him with the deed of his farm of two thousand acres, and offered to trade it for his pair of mules. Huntington adds
“I was not very favorably impressed with the settlement and declined his offer, and finally continued my travel west, and that farm is to-day the business centre of Chicago.”
In 1837 Chicago got its first city charter, and it then had about forty-two hundred people. The rapid growth since has been unparalleled, especially when, after 1850, its commercial enterprise began attracting wide attention, the population then being about thirty thousand. In 1855, to get above the swamp and improve the drainage, the level of the entire city was raised seven feet, huge buildings being elevated bodily while business was progressing, an enterprise mainly accomplished by the ingenious devices which first gave prominence to the late George M. Pullman.
The population almost quadrupled and its trade increased tenfold in the decade 1850-60, and in 1870 the population was over three hundred thousand, and it had become a leading American city. Yet Chicago has had terrible setbacks in its wonderful career, the most awful being the fire in October, 1871, the greatest of modern times, which raged for three days, burned over a surface of nearly four square miles and until practically nothing remained in the district to devour, destroyed eighteen thousand buildings, two hundred lives, and property valued at $200,000,000, leaving a hundred thousand people homelessa calamity that excited the sympathies of the world, which gave relief contributions aggregating $7,000,000. Yet while the embers were smoking, this enterprising people set to work to rebuild their city with a will and a progress which caused almost as much amazement as the original catastrophe. The recovery was complete ; the city which had been of wood was rebuilt of brick and stone and iron and steel, and its progress since has developed an energy not before equalled. It has been beautified by grand parks and boulevards, and by the construction of palatial residences and business blocks, and of enormous office buildings, the tall “sky-scrapers” having been first invented and built in Chicago. In 1893 the World’s Columbian Exhibition, to celebrate the discovery of America, was held at Chicago on a vast scale and with remarkable success. The city has long been, also, a favorite meeting-place for the great political Conventions nominating candidates for President and Vice-President of the United States, its large hotel capacity and immense halls giving advantages for these enormous assemblages.