We do magic to Maps
Illinois (IL) Fast Facts
Location and Geography: Illinois is a medium-sized state in the American Midwest, in a position of strategic importance bordering both the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system. It is blessed with abundant natural resources, but can also be vulnerable to extreme weather in the form of blizzards and tornadoes.
Counties and Regions: Illinois has 102 counties, which is a great number for its size. In addition, Illinois can also be broken up into several more generally recognizable geographic regions:
- American Bottom (river lands)
- Central Illinois
- Champaign-Urbana Metropolitan Area
- Chicago Metropolitan Area
- Fox Valley
- Metro-East (suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri)
- Metro Lakeland
- Northwestern Illinois
- River Bend (on the Mississippi)
- Shawnee Hills
- Southern Illinois (or “Little Egypt”)
- The Tract (in Western Illinois)
Population: Illinois is the fifth most populous state in the union, with close to thirteen million people. The vast majority of these live in or near the city of Chicago, while the southern portion of the state is much more sparsely populated in comparison.
Major Cities: Chicago is the most important city in Illinois, and the third largest in the country with more than two and a half million people. Its metropolitan area (which spills over into a few other states) contains well over nine million people. The state capital, Springfield, is the sixth most populous city in Illinois with more than one hundred thousand people. Many of the state’s other populous cities are located near Chicago, but there are growing population centers in the south as well, such as the metropolitan area of Champaign-Urbana.
Story Behind the Name: The term “Illinois” is taken from early French transcriptions of a word from the local Native American language. There is some argument as to the word’s original form and exact meaning, but it is likely that it meant something close to the phrase “he speaks the regular way.”
History and Colonization: The area that is now the U.S. state of Illinois was once the population center of several major Native American cultures. The tribes that lived in this area frequently fought wars and made alliances among themselves, and so the French explorers that first came to the area in the seventeenth century encountered an ancient and complex civilization. Illinois was first made a part of France’s New World empire, then taken over by Britain, before finally becoming a territory of the newly-formed United States in 1783.
The state of Illinois had a great deal of resource potential and was rapidly developed. Farmers made use of the good soil, mining towns sprung up around mineral deposits, and trade cities such as the mighty Chicago were founded at the edge of the Great Lakes and along the Mississippi River. Most of the Native American tribes were gradually pushed westward, and today there is hardly a native presence in the state aside from the many place names that originally come from Native American languages. Nevertheless, the population boomed over the coming century, and Chicago in particular would grow to become the nation’s third most populous city.
Illinois was one of the major Union states during the American Civil War, despite having had a moderately-sized slaveholding population in its earlier days. The war became one of the reasons for the state’s reputation as an industrial powerhouse, as it churned out weapons and artillery as well as soldiers for the use of the North. President Abraham Lincoln, one of the most famous presidents in America’s history, built his career in the state of Illinois and made it a center of politics both then and now.
The early decades of the twentieth century saw even more growth for the state. Manufacturing took off there during World War II, and continued afterwards with the production of automobiles and other large machines. Illinois became a major crossroads for commerce with the construction of canals and artificial rivers that connected it to the Mississippi River and to water routes that led to the Atlantic Ocean. The state also became known as a center of scientific research, with its university system nurturing the development of technology in every field from atomic energy to the Internet. This kind of growth has led Illinois to be known for political scandal, crime, and disasters in addition to the positives, but even these are testaments to the dynamic complexity of the state.