The name "Chicago" is derived from a French rendering of the Native American word shikaakwa, translated as "wild onion" or "wild garlic", from the Miami-Illinois language. The first known reference to the site of the current city of Chicago as "Checagou" was by Robert de LaSalle around 1679 in a memoir written about the time. Henri Joutel, in his journal of 1688, noted that the wild garlic, called "chicagoua," grew abundantly in the area.
During the mid-18th century, the area was inhabited by a Native American tribe known as the Potawatomi, who had taken the place of the Miami and Sauk and Fox peoples. The 1780s saw the arrival of the first known non-indigenous permanent settler in Chicago, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, who was of African and European (French) descent.
In 1795, following the Northwest Indian War, an area that was to be part of Chicago was turned over to the United States for a military post by native tribes in accordance with the Treaty of Greenville. In 1803, the United States Army built Fort Dearborn, which was destroyed in the War of 1812, Battle of Fort Dearborn and later rebuilt. The Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi tribes had ceded additional land to the United States in the 1816 Treaty of St. Louis. The Potawatomi were eventually forcibly removed from their land following the Treaty of Chicago in 1833.
On August 12, 1833, the Town of Chicago was organized with a population of around 200. Within seven years it would grow to a population of over 4,000. On June 15, 1835, the first public land sales commenced with Edmund Dick Taylor as U.S. receiver of public moneys. The City of Chicago was incorporated on Saturday, March 4, 1837 and went on to become the fastest growing city in the world for several decades.
As the site of the Chicago Portage, the city emerged as an important transportation hub between the eastern and western United States. Chicago's first railway, Galena and Chicago Union Railroad, opened in 1848, which also marked the opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. The canal allowed steamboats and sailing ships on the Great Lakes to connect to the Mississippi River.
A flourishing economy brought residents from rural communities and immigrants from abroad. Manufacturing and retail and finance sectors became dominant, influencing the American economy. The Chicago Board of Trade (established 1848) listed the first ever standardized 'exchange traded' forward contracts, which were called futures contracts.
In the 1850s Chicago gained national political prominence as the home of Senator Stephen Douglas, the champion of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and "popular sovereignty" approach to the issue of the spread of slavery. These issues also helped propel another Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln, to the national stage. Lincoln was nominated in Chicago for the nation's presidency at the 1860 Republican National Convention and went on to defeat Douglas in the general election, setting the stage for the American Civil War.
To accommodate rapid population growth and demand for better sanitation, the city implemented various infrastructural improvements. In February 1856, the Chesbrough plan for the building of the United States' first comprehensive sewerage system was approved by the Common Council. The project raised much of central Chicago to a new grade. While raising Chicago, and at first improving the health of the city, the untreated sewage and industrial waste now flowed into the Chicago River, then into Lake Michigan, polluting the primary source of fresh water for the city.
The city responded by tunneling two miles (3 km) out into Lake Michigan to newly built water cribs. In 1900, the problem of sewage contamination was largely resolved when the city completed a major engineering feat. It reversed the flow of the Chicago River so that the water flowed away from Lake Michigan rather than into it. This project began with the construction and improvement of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, and was completed with the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal that connects to the Illinois River, which flows into the Mississippi River.
In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire broke out, destroying an area of about 4 miles long and 1 mile wide, a large section of the city at the time. Much of the city, including railroads and stockyards, survived intact, and from the ruins of the previous wooden structures arose more modern constructions of steel and stone which would set the precedent for worldwide construction. During its rebuilding period, Chicago constructed the world's first skyscraper in 1885, using steel-skeleton construction.
Chicago's flourishing economy attracted huge numbers of new immigrants from Europe and migrants from the Eastern United States. Of the total population in 1900 no less than 77% were foreign-born, or born in the United States of foreign parentage. Germans, Irish, Poles, Swedes and Czechs made up nearly two-thirds of the foreign-born population (by 1900, whites were 98.1% of the city's population).
Labor conflicts followed the industrial boom and the rapid expansion of the labor pool, including the Haymarket affair on May 4, 1886. Concern for social problems among Chicago's immigrant poor led Jane Addams to co‑found Hull House in 1889. Programs developed there became a model for the new field of social work.
During the 1870s and 1880s, Chicago attained national stature as the leader in the movement to improve public health. City, and later state laws, that upgraded standards for the medical profession and fought urban epidemics of cholera, small pox, and yellow fever were not only passed, but also enforced. These in turn became templates for public health reform in many other cities and states.
The city invested in many large, well-landscaped municipal parks, which also included public sanitation facilities. The chief advocate and driving force for improving public health in Chicago was Dr. John H. Rauch, M.D., who established a plan for Chicago's park system in 1866, created Lincoln Park by closing a cemetery filled with festering, shallow graves, and helped establish a new Chicago Board of Health in 1867 in response to an outbreak of cholera. Ten years later he became the secretary and then the president of the first Illinois State Board of Health, which carried out most of its activities in Chicago.
In the 19th century, Chicago became the nation's railroad center, by 1910 over 20 railroads operated passenger service out of 6 different downtown terminals. In 1883, the standardized system of North American Time Zones was adopted by the general time convention of railway managers in Chicago. This gave the continent its uniform system for telling time.
In 1893, Chicago hosted the World's Columbian Exposition on former marshland at the present location of Jackson Park. The Exposition drew 27.5 million visitors, and is considered the most influential world's fair in history. The University of Chicago was founded in 1892 on the same South Side location. The term "midway" for a fair or carnival referred originally to the Midway Plaisance, a strip of park land that still runs through the University of Chicago campus and connects Washington and Jackson Parks.
The World War I period and the 1920s also saw a major expansion in industry. The availability of jobs attracted blacks from the Southern United States. Between 1910 and 1930, the black population of Chicago dramatically increased from 44,103 to 233,903. Arriving in the hundreds of thousands during the Great Migration, the newcomers had an immense cultural impact, called the Chicago Black Renaissance, part of the New Negro Movement, in art, literature, and music. Continuing racial tensions and violence, such as the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, also occurred.
The ratification of the 18th amendment to the Constitution in 1919 made the production and sale (including exportation) of alcoholic beverages illegal in the United States. This ushered in the beginning of what is known as the Gangster Era, a time that roughly spans from 1919 until 1933 when the Prohibition was repealed. The 1920s saw gangsters, including Al Capone, Dion O'Banion, Bugs Moran and Tony Accardo battle law enforcement and each other on the streets of Chicago during the Prohibition era. Chicago was the location of the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929, where Al Capone sent men to gun down members of his rival gang, North Side, led by Bugs Moran.
In 1924, Chicago was the first American city to have a homosexual-rights organization, the Society for Human Rights. This organization produced the first American publication for gays, Friendship and Freedom. Police and political pressure soon caused it to disband.
In 1933, Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak was fatally wounded in Miami, Florida during a failed assassination attempt on President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1933 and 1934, the city celebrated its centennial by hosting the Century of Progress International Exposition Worlds Fair. The theme of the fair was technological innovation over the century since Chicago's founding.
On December 2, 1942, physicist Enrico Fermi conducted the world's first controlled nuclear reaction at the University of Chicago as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project. This led to the creation of the atomic bomb by the United States, which it used in World War II in 1945.
Mayor Richard J. Daley, a Democrat, was elected in 1955, in the era of machine politics. Starting in the early 1960s due to blockbusting, many white residents, as in most American cities, left the city for the suburbs. Whole neighborhoods were completely changed based on race. Structural changes in industry caused heavy losses of jobs for lower skilled workers. In 1966, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Albert Raby led the Chicago Freedom Movement, which culminated in agreements between Mayor Richard J. Daley and the movement leaders.
Two years later, the city hosted the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention, which featured physical confrontations both inside and outside the convention hall, including full-scale riots, or in some cases police riots, in city streets. Major construction projects, including the Sears Tower (now known as the Willis Tower, which in 1974 became the world's tallest building), University of Illinois at Chicago, McCormick Place, and O'Hare International Airport, were undertaken during Richard J. Daley's tenure. In 1979, Jane Byrne, the city's first female mayor, was elected. She helped mitigate crime in the Cabrini-Green housing project and guide Chicago's school system out of a financial crisis.
In 1983, Harold Washington became the first black mayor of the city of Chicago. Washington's first term in office saw attention given to poor and previously neglected minority neighborhoods. He was re‑elected in 1987 but died of a heart attack a short time later. The balance of Washington's second term was served by 6th ward Alderman Eugene Sawyer.
Richard M. Daley, son of Richard J. Daley, was elected in 1989. His accomplishments included improvements to parks and creating incentives for sustainable development. After successfully standing for re-election five times, and becoming Chicago's longest serving mayor, Richard M. Daley declined to run for a seventh term.
On February 23, 2011, former Illinois Congressman and White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, won the mayoral election, beating five rivals with 55 percent of the vote, and was sworn in as Mayor on May 16, 2011.
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