Port of Chicago
Review and History

The Port of Chicago is the third most populous city in the U.S. and the largest city in the American Midwest. With almost 3 million people in Cook County alone, the metropolitan area is home to almost 10 million people in the States of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Lying on the shores of Lake Michigan, the Port of Chicago is about 150 kilometers south-southeast of the Port of Milwaukee and almost 350 kilometers west of the Port of Toledo. The Port of Chicago is the largest city on the Great Lakes. Among the 25 most populous urban areas in the world, it is considered to be an "alpha world city" for its global influence.

The economy of the Port of Chicago is highly diverse, giving it a balanced economy and making it the fourth most important business center in the world (according to the MasterCard Worldwide Centers of Commerce Index). It is one of the world's richest cities and an important financial center. It has the second biggest business district in the United States. Home to three major financial and futures exchanges (Chicago Stock Exchange, Chicago Board Options Exchange, and Chicago Mercantile Exchange), the city is a center for innovation in the finance industry.

The Port of Chicago metropolitan area has the second biggest labor force in the United States. Manufacturing, printing and publishing, and food processing are important to the economy, and it is home to several medical service and products companies. Having been an important port for grain and meat products since the mid-19th Century, the Port of Chicago is also home to many large meat companies like Armour and Company. One of the Port of Chicago's most important industries is tourism and conventions. McCormick Place is the world's third biggest convention center, and the city is only surpassed by Las Vegas and Orlando in the number of conventions held there each year.

Port History

The word "Chicago" is a French translation of the indigenous Miami-Illinois people's word shikaakwa. In the mid-1800s, the Potawatomis people inhabited the Port of Chicago region. The 1816 Treaty of St. Louis with the United States marked passage of the land from the Potawatomi, Ottawa, and Ojibwa peoples.

The Port of Chicago's central location, linking the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, has shaped its destiny for centuries. Indigenous peoples lived there when Father Jacques Marquette and explorer Louis Jolliet arrived there in 1673. After that, explorers and missionaries either passed through or settled in the Port of Chicago area.

Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable from Haiti was the first European to settle in the Port of Chicago area. In the 1770s, he married a Potawatomi woman and founded a trading post that thrived at the mouth of the Chicago River. The United States constructed Fort Dearborn in the early 1800s. The fort was destroyed in the War of 1812 and then rebuilt in 1816.

Illinois became a State in 1818, but the Port of Chicago was still small. By 1833, the new town was home to 350 people; however, it housed over 4000 only seven years later. The City of Chicago was incorporated in 1837. Growth of the Port of Chicago waited on the Illinois and Michigan Canal, funded by the federal government, to link Lake Michigan and the Illinois River. The canal brought a boom and a second incorporation to the Port of Chicago on in 1837.

Construction of the canal brought thousands of laborers to the Port of Chicago from Ireland who helped create a 75-mile waterway. When the canal opened in 1848, grain and raw materials entered the state through the Port of Chicago. A locomotive also arrived by ship in 1848, introducing the Port of Chicago's railway age. By the early 20th Century, at least 30 interstate rail routes passed through the Port of Chicago, leading to rapid commercial and industrial growth. The railroads brought passengers, raw materials, and consumer goods to the Port of Chicago and, along with them, a busy commercial life for hotels, taxis, restaurants, warehouses, and inland transportation companies.

Offering relatively easy access to their markets, farm belt producers made the Port of Chicago a "golden funnel" shipping grain, meat, and lumber to the US East Coast and Europe. Healthy trade stimulated the development of support industries. During the early 20th Century, though, the Port of Chicago's meat-packing industry and giant Union Stock Yards made the Port of Chicago truly famous.

By 1850, almost 30 thousand people lived in the Port of Chicago. By 1860, that population had tripled. Poor neighborhoods in the downtown area were crowded and dirty, and fires were frequent. Then in October 1871, after a long drought, a disastrous fire broke out. By the time it was over, 300 people were dead and over 1700 buildings on 3-1/2 square miles had been destroyed. The disaster cost $200 million US in damages and left almost 100 thousand people homeless.

Despite the tragic fire of 1871, the Port of Chicago quickly rebounded. By 1880, half a million people called in home. In response to public health threats, 1889 saw the beginning of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. When it opened in 1900, it allowed larger vessels to pass through the Port of Chicago, and it helped move pollutants away from the metropolitan area.

A new generation of tall downtown buildings − housing, department stores, and offices − rose up in the Port of Chicago's central area. Industrial growth on the rivers was astounding, and a new Port of Chicago middle class created a suburban boom. In 1889, the City annexed about 125 square miles. Despite rapid growth, the city center was still dominated by poverty and slums. Efforts by social reformers helped, but did not cure, the poor living conditions. In the late 1800s, labor violence was common. The Haymarket Riot of 1886 received world attention when a bomb exploded and killed seven policemen and many workers. Violence continued in the Port of Chicago through the end of the Century.

The Port of Chicago's population exceeded one million in 1890 when the US Congress approved the city hosting the World's Columbian Exposition to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus' 1492 "discovery" of the New World. Opening in 1893, the event attracted almost 26 million visitors to the Port of Chicago during its six-month run.

Port activities continued to focus on the Chicago River until the first decades of the 20th Century. In 1909, the Port of Chicago's Harbor and Waterways commission proposed a plan for several new piers, resulting in the Navy Pier. In 1913, the General Assembly passed a law allowing the Port of Chicago to acquire, develop and operate port facilities within the city limits.

By 1907, population had passed two million, and it passed three million in 1923. Modern urban congestion became an ongoing problem. During the famous "Roaring 20s," the Port of Chicago gained a reputation as a center for crime and corruption. Prohibition encouraged gangsters, and the Port of Chicago was home to some of the most famous: Al Capone and John Dillinger. The City's troubles were further exacerbated by the 1929 stock market crash.

When World War II came, the Port of Chicago was in the position to capitalize on its diverse industrial base. The city boomed again. Military training facilities were located there, and the Port of Chicago hosted thousands of servicemen on leave from active duty. By the war's end, they had served 24 million meals at the historic Auditorium Building.

After the war, the Port of Chicago reached its population peak of over 3.6 million. Richard J. Daley was elected mayor in the mid-1950s. By this time, the city was changing. The Port of Chicago began to see signs of industrial decline, and racial tensions were increasing. In the summer of 1967, racial tensions boiled over, and riots broke out. These were repeated with the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. Fear drove much of the Port of Chicago's white population to the suburbs. Further violence erupted at the 1968 Democratic National Convention when anti-Vietnam War protestors clashed with police.

In spite of its problems, Mayor Daley's leadership saw a revival of the Port of Chicago city center. Dozens of new, modern office buildings sprang up, and O'Hare International Airport because a central hub for worldwide air transportation. By the 1970s, much of the downtown area was revived, and gentrification was beginning in central neighborhoods.

When Mayor Daley's son, Richard M. Daley, took office in 1989, he placed even greater emphasis on attracting new corporations, conventions, trade, and tourism to the Port of Chicago. New residents came to downtown, and growing ethnic communities helped end the 50-year decline in population. By 2000, about 2.8 million people lived in the metropolis. After Mayor Daley was re-elected to a fifth term as mayor, the city was selected as the United States' entry to host the 2016 Olympic Summer Games, although it was not selected by the Olympic Committee.

Review and History    Port Commerce    Cruising and Travel    Satellite Map    Contact Information