Illinois Facts

Tadashi

Tadashi

Published: 15 Nov 2021

Modified: 16 Nov 2021

Illinois state of United States flag

Illinois makes up one of the most historic states in the USA. It’s also among the richest, and most productive states in the country. Learn more about Illinois with these 70 Illinois facts.

  1. Illinois covers an estimated area of 150,000 km².
  2. Water makes up an estimated 6000 km² of Illinois or an estimated 4%.
  3. The state has an estimated population of 12.81 million people.
  4. This gives it a population density of 89 people for every km².
  5. At its lowest point at the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, Illinois has an estimated elevation of 85 meters above sea level.
  1. Humans first arrived in what would become Illinois around 7,000 years ago.
  2. The Mississippian Civilization had its center in Illinois between the 13th and 15th centuries.
  3. Resource depletion and war caused the civilization’s collapse during the 15th century.
  4. French explorers first reached Illinois during the late-17th century.
  5. The British reserved the area for Native Americans during that same time.
  6. The US government later formed the Illinois Territory in 1809.
  7. Illinois became the 21st US state nine years later in 1818.
  8. The state remained loyal to the Union during the American Civil War.
  9. Industry boomed in Illinois during the 20th century.
  10. Nuclear science also flourished in the state during that time.
  1. The state has the nicknames of Land of Lincoln and the Prairie State.
  2. Illinois has Springfield as its capital, but Chicago actually stands as its biggest city.
  3. The state falls in the USA’s Central Time Zone, or GMT-6.
  4. Illinois actually has the 5th largest GDP out of any US state.
  5. Statisticians actually consider Illinois as a microcosmic representation of the USA as a whole.
Table of Contents

The name of Illinois has a history of its own.

French explorers and missionaries originally gave the name to the Illinois Native Americans who lived in the region at the time. The name itself supposedly came from the natives’ word for man or men, Ilinewek, which became transformed into French as Illinois. Scholars, however, proved this incorrect, with the native word for man actually being ireniwa, and men being ireniwaki.

Instead, Illinois actually came from irenwe wa, meaning “he who speaks the regular way”. When encountered by the French, it transformed into ilinwe, which then evolved into Illinois. That said, the natives in the region never actually called themselves that. They called themselves the Inoka, a name whose meaning remains unknown, and has no connection with what the French called them.

Illinois has a distinct geography.

Lake Michigan defines the state’s northeastern edges, while the Wabash River runs along its eastern border. The river eventually flows into the Ohio River which, in turn, runs along Illinois’ southern border. Similarly, the Mississippi River flows along the state’s western border, separating it from neighboring Iowa and Missouri. Only the state’s northern border has no land or water feature to clearly mark it out.

The state as a whole forms part of North America’s Interior Plains, but that doesn’t mean it’s uniformly flat. The Driftless Area in Northwestern Illinois avoided getting covered by glaciers in the last Ice Age. This actually made that part of the state more rugged compared to the rest of the landscape. Similarly, Southern Illinois features the Shawnee Hills, which break and rise up from the flatter lands to the north.

Illinois map
Image from Adobe Stock

The state also has a varied climate.

Most of Illinois has a humid continental climate, featuring hot summers and cold winters. Southern Illinois makes up the exception, though, with a humid subtropical climate that while features hot summers, also has milder winters. Average annual rainfall also varies across the state, with Northern Illinois having 889 mm of rain per year, while Southern Illinois has up to 1.22 meters.

This doesn’t include snow, however, with Northern Illinois having up to 965 mm of snow in a year. In contrast, Southern Illinois barely reaches around 356 mm of snow in a year. Temperatures can peak up to 47 degrees Celsius in the summer, and drop as low as 39 degrees below zero Celsius.

The weather in Illinois can get very violent.

The state experiences up to 51 thunderstorm days per year, well above the average for the USA as a whole. Tornadoes also make up a constant hazard in the state, especially in the countryside. On average, around 35 tornadoes strike the state every year, with at least five tornadoes forming for every 30,000 km². Some of the deadliest tornadoes in US history have struck Illinois. These include the Tri-State Tornado, a massive and long-lasting tornado that formed in 1925. It takes its name from how it rampaged across three different states: Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. Out of 695 people killed by the tornado across all three states, 613 came from Illinois.

Seas once covered what would become Illinois.

More than that, Illinois actually lay much further south in prehistoric times, close to the equator. This took place during the Paleozoic Era, which began around 541 million years ago. A shallow sea covered what would become Illinois, leaving its mark behind in the form of fossils. These include trilobites and even worms from the Cambrian Period, corals from the Silurian Period, as well as brachiopods, and even seaweed from the Devonian Period.

The Carboniferous Period would leave the most fossils behind, including Illinois’ state fossil, the Tully’s Monster. The sea receded at the start of the Mesozoic Era around 252 million years ago, only to again cover the land during the Cretaceous Period. It would take until the Eocene Epoch around 56 million years ago before the waters receded for good.

Ice Ages repeatedly buried Illinois under glaciers.

Another one of the most interesting Illinois facts is that the state was once covered in ice. Up to 90% of Illinois was under the ice during the various Ice Ages from 2.59 million years to the present day. This led to the formation of the Mississippi River, fed at first by melting ice from the glaciers. The glaciers also left other marks on the landscape, with Buffalo Hart Moraine as the oldest still standing. It formed around 125,000 years ago and marked the furthest a glacier managed to grow before melting away. Lake Michigan itself had its basin carved out by a glacier, and originally formed from a glacier’s meltwater.

Native Americans built the pre-colonial city of Cahokia in Illinois.

They first settled the site in the 9th century but left no records during this stage of their civilization. Instead, pottery fragments, copper tools and weapons, as well as works made from shells, stone, and wood, provide evidence of their presence. The city only really started to thrive in the 12th century, eventually becoming the largest city of the Mississippian civilization.

Archaeological evidence actually suggests that during the 13th century, the city had a population of around 40,000 people. This made it the largest city in North America until the 18th century. It also made it larger than some 13th-century European cities, such as London. Ironically, the city also began to decline in that same century. Archaeologists still remain unsure about the cause, with some suggesting the city’s ineffective waste disposal system provided a breeding ground for diseases that devastated the city’s population.

The Monks Mounds made up the center of the city.

It takes its name from various religious orders that settled on the ruins from the mid 18th to early 19th centuries. Proper archaeological work on the site began in the late 19th century, but the earlier religious settlers had actually discovered human remains in the mound after digging their wells. Archaeologists now know the mound actually counts as a pyramid, the largest even, north of Mesoamerica.

Unlike the Mesoamericans or the Ancient Egyptians, the Mississippians used compacted earth instead of stone to build it. Similar to the Mesoamericans, the Mississippians buried offerings and various sacrifices between the mound’s layers. They also crowned the mound with a shrine but built it out of wood. Unfortunately, this means no one knows how the shrine actually looked like.

Cahokia’s Mound 72 served as a burial center.

Archaeologists have discovered that the Mississippians aligned the tombs to the Monks Mound. Additionally, they discovered that the Mississippians further aligned them to a post that marked the summer solstice. The most important burial in the place involves the Birdman, a man who died in his 40s based on studies of his body. His title comes from how over 20,000 shells surrounded his body in the shape of a falcon. Other offerings to the Birdman included various retainers, who may also have served as human sacrifices.

Excavations of Mound 72 have thus far discovered over 250 other bodies, all showing signs of having served as human sacrifices prior to their burial. Studies of the mound itself show that the site once had several smaller mounds, one for every tomb. It wasn’t until later that the Mississippians merged them all into a single massive mound.

Other features of Cahokia include the woodhenges.

Here’s one of the most curious Illinois Facts. The name references their similarity with the famous stone circle of Stonehenge in Scotland. Only unlike Stonehenge, wood made up Cahokia’s woodhenges, as also referenced in the name. Archaeologists first discovered them in the 1960s, in the form of rotting wooden posts left in the ground. They also found circular patterns dug into the ground where other posts had once stood.

Illinois Facts, Cahokia Woodhenge Reconstructed
Photo by QuartierLatin1868 from Wikipedia

Studies of the circles and their orientation confirm that just like Stonehenge, they’re aligned to celestial phenomena. Specifically, the spring and autumn equinoxes, as well as the summer and winter solstices. Thus far, archaeologists have confirmed the remains of five different woodhenges, all located west of the Monks Mound.

Cahokia’s ruins enjoy legal protection today.

Illinois first placed it under protection in 1923, as part of a state park. This left the ruins vulnerable to a federal construction program in the 1950s. However, that same program meant more funds became available for the archaeological studies that continue to this day. The federal government eventually declared Cahokia a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and placed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Cahokia received further protection in 1982 when UNESCO recognized it as a World Heritage Site. This makes Cahokia the only such place in Illinois, and as of 2009, 1 of 24 World Heritage Sites in the USA.

European settlement of the region began in the late 17th century.

French-Canadians first arrived down the Mississippi River at this time, settling along its banks. This led the French government to declare Illinois part of what they called New France, and later on, French Louisiana. The Seven Years War of 1756 to 1763 led to France giving up Illinois to Britain. The British left the French colonists alone, but most relocated to Missouri to avoid having to live under British rule. This left Illinois almost completely to the Native Americans, as per their arrangement with the British Crown. British patrols and outpost garrisons made up the bulk of the European presence in Illinois until after the American Revolution.

Illinois’ borders became a source of arguments after the USA became independent.

George Clark claimed Illinois as a county of the State of Virginia in 1778, but this caused protests from neighboring states who also had claims on Illinois. This led the federal government to intervene in the following decade, including Illinois in the new Northwest Territory. The land later found itself broken off as part of the Indiana Territory in 1800, and again as the Illinois Territory in 1809. This resulted after many citizens in the Mississippi area complained of their inability to participate in the territorial government.

Most of the territory remained part of the new State of Illinois after 1818, but parts along the edges went to the Michigan Territory instead. Today, those former parts of Illinois now belong to the states of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Before the American Civil War, Illinois technically counted as a free state.

This meant that slaves could neither get bought or sold in the state, and any slave that escaped to the state became a free man. That said, slavery still existed in the state, as the abolition of slavery in 1787 did not actually emancipate slaves. This meant that slave owners could keep owning their slaves, they just couldn’t buy or sell them.

Many people in Southern Illinois also attempted to legalize slavery such as in 1822. They failed but enjoyed more success in keeping free African-Americans from gaining US citizenship. This eventually led to an 1853 law that banned former slaves from owning property in Illinois.

Illinois became devastated by harsh winters in the 1830s.

It started in 1830, with the Winter of Deep Snow, which left most of Illinois impassable until the spring of 1831. The following years also saw harsh winters, with the 1836 Winter of the Sudden Freeze the worst. In winter of that year, a cold front quickly passed through the state, leaving air so cold that water left in the open froze in minutes. It also killed anyone caught in the open for too long. The bad weather crippled farming in the state, at least outside of Southern Illinois, which remained unaffected. This earned the region the nickname of Little Egypt, for how it provided all the food needed by the rest of the state.

The Black Hawk War erupted in Illinois in 1832.

It takes its name from Black Hawk, chief of Sauk Indians along with their allies from the Meskwakis and Kickapoos. They originally came from the Iowa Indian Territory and returned to Illinois to reclaim land lost in 1804. Attempts to negotiate failed after the US militia opened fire on an approaching Indian delegation in May 1832. Black Hawk counterattacked, and defeated the militia at Stillman’s Run in that same month. Other Indians from the Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi, helped Black Hawk. However, others remained loyal to the USA, such as Menominee and Dakotas.

The US Army finally defeated Black Hawk in July at Wisconsin Heights, and again at Bad Axe in August. Black Hawk and other Indian leaders escaped, leading their men back to Iowa. The US military later captured them and imprisoned them for a year.

Various historical figures took part in the Black Hawk War.

These included Abraham Lincoln, who later became President of the United States. He volunteered for the US militia in the war, although he never actually saw action. Winfield Scott also saw action in the war, as part of the series of conflicts he fought in. These included the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the American Civil War. All of these would earn him the nickname of Grand Old Man of the Army.

Zachary Taylor, another veteran of the Mexican-American War, also fought in the Black Hawk War. Lincoln’s nemesis during the civil war, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, also fought in the Black Hawk War.

The Latter-Day Saints once had a city of their own in Illinois.

They called it Nauvoo, and which still stands today, in Hancock County along the Mississippi River. Founded in 1839, the Latter Day Saints built the city in the hopes of achieving their leader Joseph Smith Jr’s utopian visions. The city grew quickly, to the point it actually rivaled Chicago as Illinois’ biggest city at the time.

After Joseph Smith Jr’s death, however, the leadership of the Latter Day Saints passed to Brigham Young. He then led the Latter Day Saints in a mass exodus out of Illinois, to Utah far to the west. This caused Nauvoo to quickly decline, with the city counting as one of the smallest in the USA, with an estimated population of only 1,100 people.

Illinois became one of the biggest supporters of the Union during the American Civil War.

Governor Richard Yates enthusiastically drummed up public support for the Union’s war effort. Citizens responded just as enthusiastically, with Illinois contributing over 250,000 men to the Union Army over the war. Most of them fought in the Western Theater, but other Illinois units also fought as part of the Army of the Potomac to the east. The famous Union General Ulysses Grant even came from Illinois.

Illinois’ loyalty and position along the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers also made it doubly important. In particular, this allowed the Union Army to use the state as a base. From there, they could march south through river valleys, and attack the heart of Confederate territory to the south.

Illinois Facts, 71st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Photo by Heritage Auction Galleries from Wikipedia

Parts of Illinois supported the Confederacy, however.

Southern Illinois, in particular, thanks to the many slave-owning landlords living there. This left them sympathetic to the Confederacy and even led to calls for secession from the rest of the state. Surprisingly, their representative in the US Congress and a member of the Democratic Party, John Logan stayed loyal to the Union. Held under suspicion for Confederate sympathies before the war, once the war started, he proved his loyalty by actively supporting efforts to crush Confederate supporters in the state. He later defected to the Republicans, and supported the deployment of Union garrisons in Southern Illinois for security purposes.

Illinois made various progressive moves through the 20th and 21st centuries.

It started in 1961 when the state accepted a proposal from the American Law Institute and abolished laws against gay sex. In that same year, they abolished common-law crimes, meaning past rulings could no longer serve as a precedent for future rulings. All ruling would have to follow the law as written and interpreted in the present day.

The age of consent also became set at 18 in that same year. Then, in 1970, Illinois replaced its constitution as a whole, declaring the previous constitution as outdated, going back to 1870. Finally, in 2017, Governor Bruce Rauner signed a law making it illegal to arrest, much less deport anyone in the state for their immigration status.

Illinois counts as the most populated state in the American Mid-West.

The state’s biggest city, Chicago, also counts as the third-largest in the entire USA. Of the state’s population, whites make up the majority, at an estimated 72%. Statistics further split this up, with Hispanics making up an estimated 16% of the white population. African-Americans follow at an estimated 15%, followed by Asian-Americans at 5%. Native Americans make up less than 1% of Illinois’ population, with people identifying as multiracial making up 2%. Women also make up a small majority of the population, at 51%. People younger than 5 make up 10% of the population, people aged between 5 and 18 make up 25%, and finally, people over 65 made up 12% of the population.

Chicago stands as one of the oldest cities in the state.

The African-French trader Jean Baptiste Point du Sable first settled in the area in the 1780s, leading historians to consider him the Founder of Chicago. In 1795, after defeating the local Native Americans, the US military took over the area as per the Treaty of Greenville. They built Fort Dearborn in 1803, only for the British to destroy it during the War of 1812. This led the US military to rebuild the fort after the war’s end.

The US government also signed a new treaty with the local Native Americans, the Treaty of Saint Louis. This won them more lands at the natives’ expense, and which later contributed to the Black Hawk War. The last Native Americans in the area found themselves expelled in the 1830s as per the US government’s Indian Removal policy.

The city boomed as far back as the early 19th century.

This naturally resulted from the advantages of Chicago’s location on the shores of Lake Michigan. The city’s port soon became a major trade hub for shipping across the Great Lakes, which only grew further after 1848. In that year, the Illinois and Michigan Canal opened, which linked the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River.

This meant that shipping could now pass from the Great Lakes, through the canal, then down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. Chicago now had access to international shipping, leading to further expansion and growth. Even more from the 1850s onward, the city became a major railway hub for transcontinental travel. The amount of trade and people passing through the city provided even more incentive for building and improving Chicago’s urban infrastructure.

Fire devastated Chicago back in 1871.

The Great Chicago Fire lasted for three days, from October 8 to 10 of 1871. In those three days, 17,000 buildings across 9 km² of the city were destroyed. While only an estimated 300 people died, it still left over 100,000 people homeless. The exact of the fire remains unknown, only that it started in an alley barn behind 137 DeKoven Street. A combination of drought, strong winds, and a catastrophic failure in the city’s water pumping system caused the fire to grow out of control.

Even worse, wood made up the main construction material in the city at the time, giving the fire plenty of fuel to burn. This led to major changes in the aftermath, such as building codes requiring non-flammable building materials such as brick. The Chicago Fire Department also received an increased budget, allowing it to recruit more people and buy more equipment.

The city also became famous for its gangsters during the early 20th century.

Some of these infamous figures are Al Capone, Bugs Moran, Dion O’Banion, and Tony Accardo. Ironically, the government itself may have enabled their rise, with the introduction of Prohibition. As per the 18th Amendment, the US government completely banned the production and sale of alcoholic drinks. They did so in the belief that alcoholic drinks corrupted society.

However, by doing so, they merely forced people to look for other ways to find alcoholic drinks. This gave gangsters an opportunity to make money by producing and selling illegal alcohol, or moonshine, as they called it. The money they made in the process the gangsters then used to expand their businesses, as well as fight each other in the streets.

The Great Depression hit the city badly

Ironically, the city’s own heavy industries left Chicago vulnerable to the Great Depression. Most people worked in the factories for a living, but with no customers to sell to or with the means to buy their products, the factories shut down. This, in turn, left their workers jobless.

By 1933, an estimated 50% of the working class lost their jobs, with African-Americans and Mexican-Americans making up the largest of the unemployed, at 40%. The Republicans controlled the city government in 1929 when the Great Depression began. This meant they took the worst of the blame and completely destroyed their hold on power.

From 1931 to the present day, no Republican has ever become Mayor of Chicago again, with the Democrats practically monopolizing the office. Ironically, the city finally began to recover in 1933, with the arrival of federal relief funds.

The city faced turmoil in the aftermath of WWII.

It began in the 1960s, as African-Americans moved in increasingly larger numbers to the city. This led to what historians call white flight, with whites leaving the city for other places with smaller or no African-American populations at all. The 1960s also saw the beginning of industry getting outsourced away from Chicago, leading to massive job losses for factory workers.

For example, in 1960, over 250,000 people worked in the steel industry alone, but by 1980, barely 28,000 people continued to work in the industry. Martin Luther King Jr. also visited the city in 1966 as part of the Chicago Freedom Movement, itself a part of the bigger Civil Rights movement at the time. Two years later, the Democratic National Convention took place in Chicago, and which resulted in anti-war protests over the Vietnam War.

The state capital at Springfield also goes back to the early-19th century.

The first settlers originally called it Calhoun, after Senator John Calhoun from South Carolina, where many settlers came from. Trappers and fur traders made up the first settlers, who traveled down the Sangamon River in 1818. The city eventually renamed itself Springfield in 1832 after Senator Calhoun’s political career faded from the public eye. The city later gained an infamous place in history in 1838, when it became part of the Trail of Death. As part of the Indian Removal Policy, over 800 Potawatomi Indians found themselves expelled from their lands in Indiana. On the way to Kansas where the US government planned to resettle them, they passed through Springfield.

Abraham Lincoln once lived in Springfield.

He first visited the city in 1831, before settling down in the city in 1837 after finishing his law studies. Lincoln spent the next 24 years in Springfield, working as a lawyer and as a politician, the latter as part of the Whig Party. He later joined the Republican Party, but migration soon caused a large part of the voter base to support the Democratic Party.

He also strongly supported the movement to abolish slavery in the city at this time. This meant that when he ran for the Presidency in 1860, he barely managed to win his home city. He only returned to the city after his death in 1865, following a circuitous route from Washington D.C. with hundreds of thousands of mourners appearing in every city along the way. Today, Lincoln’s tomb continues to stand in Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetary.

President Abraham Lincoln Tomb
Image from Adobe Stock

The city became infamous for a race riot in 1908.

In that year, a pair of African-Americans found themselves accused of the murder of a white man, and the rape of a white woman. After their arrest, a mob gathered to lynch them, leading the sheriff to have the suspects moved out of the city for their own safety. When the mob found out, they rioted, burning and looting African-American homes and businesses across the city. They also lynched any African-Americans they could find, as well as any whites they thought sympathetic to African-Americans.

Historians estimate that at least 9 African-Americans died, with damages worth around $150,000. Another 2000 African-Americans left the city after the riot, though, it remains unclear how many did so permanently. Today, various memorials stand in Springfield in the memory of the victims and as a reminder against the evils of racism.

The city has various tourist attractions of its own.

Naturally, the most important ones involve those associated with Lincoln. This includes his house, which forms the centerpiece of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. The surrounding neighborhood has become a National Historic Site, preserving the 19th-century architecture of the area. Even the train station from where Lincoln left to go to Washington D.C. for his inauguration has enjoyed preservation, as has the pew his family used in Springfield’s First Presbyterian Church.

In 2004, a Presidential Library and Museum opened in the city dedicated to Lincoln’s memory. Important visitors include US Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as the Emir of Qatar.

Illinois actually has an official language.

This stands out in contrast to other states, or even the USA as a whole, which have no official languages. Starting in 1923, Illinois has referred to English as the American language and given it official status. That said, this only status has only symbolic value, with various other languages spoken in the state. In fact, statistics estimate that up to 20% of people in Illinois can fluently speak a second language.

Spanish, in particular, makes up the most common, with up to 12% of people in the state speaking it in addition to Spanish. Polish then follows in third place, at 2%, followed by Chinese and Filipino, which tie with each other at 1%. Other languages find themselves spoken by less than 1% of the population each.

Illinois’ citizens have diverse religions between them.

The various Protestant denominations make up the plurality, at 43%. Roman Catholicism follows in second place, at 28%, followed by atheists at 22%. Jews make up another 2% of the population, while Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus make up 1% of the population each. The Jewish and Muslim communities in Illinois also tend to concentrate in and around the city of Chicago.

Illinois also has the distinction of having the greatest concentration of Muslims out of any US state, at 2800 Muslims for every 100,000 citizens. It also has the distinction of having the oldest and biggest Baha’i House of Worship in the world, located on the shores of Lake Michigan at Wilmette.

Agriculture makes up a large part of the state’s economy.

Illinois has always held either first or second place among the US states when it comes to growing soybeans. In fact, the average amount of soybeans produced in the state usually averages around 11.64 million tons. It also counts as the second-biggest corn producer in the USA, at around 750,000 tons per year.

Illinois corn production
Image from Adobe Stock

Large numbers of pigs and cattle also get raised in the state, as well as butchered and processed. So much so that at one point, Chicago held the title of the Hog Butcher for the World from the amount of pork processed in the city. Other agricultural goods produced in Illinois include apples, dairy, peaches, and wine. Illinois’ German-American community has a particular historical role in setting up the state’s fruit industry.

Illinois also produces large amounts of fossil fuels.

The coal industry alone goes back to the mid 19th century, with coal deposits lying across 68% of the state. In fact, scientists estimate that even today up to 211 billion tons of coal remain untapped under Illinois’ surface. This actually gives the state a larger fuel reserve than all the oil in the Arabian Peninsula. On average, the state exports around 9 million tons of coal every year, both to neighboring states as well as to foreign countries. The oil industry also has a presence in Illinois, producing an estimated 900,000 barrels per day. Ironically, the state also has some of the smallest oil reserves in the country, at less than 1%.

Biofuel production has also grown in Illinois.

In fact, up to 40% of all the corn grown in Illinois gets used as raw material to produce ethanol. Ethanol production in the state averages at around 5.68 billion liters per year, easily the third-largest in the USA. Similarly, the biggest corn to ethanol company in the world, Archer Daniels Midland, has its base in Illinois, in the city of Decatur.

Illinois also has the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center (NCERC), the world’s primary research facility for producing ethanol from corn. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign also has a partnership with the Energy Biosciences Institute to study the production of biofuels.

Solar power in Illinois goes back to the early 20th century.

Specifically, in 1902, when H.E. Willsie and John Boyle built an experimental solar plant in the city of Olney. Today, the USA’s biggest urban solar array stands in West Pullman, producing an estimated 10 MW of electricity. An even bigger solar plant stands in LaSalle County, able to produce an estimated 20 MW of electricity.

The University of Illinois also has a solar plant of its own, producing an estimated 6 MW of electricity, or about 2% of the university’s needs. Overall, Illinois ranks at 26th place when it comes to solar energy in the USA, with enough solar power produced for 9500 homes.

Nuclear energy has also had a place in Illinois for a long time.

The USA built the world’s first nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile-1, at the University of Chicago, in 1942. Today, Illinois has six nuclear power plants, at Braidwood, Byron, Clinton, Dresden, LaSalle, and Quad Cities. Most of these plants have two reactors each, with the exception of the Clinton Nuclear Generating Station, which has only one reactor.

Overall, these reactors have put Illinois in first place among the US states for nuclear energy, with an estimated 50% of the state’s electricity produced by nuclear power. And with plans to store nuclear waste in Nevada trapped in legal limbo, Illinois also has the only large-scale nuclear waste storage facility in the USA, at Morris Operation.

Wind power has steadily grown in Illinois.

Illinois opened its first wind farm in 2003, with others more opening in the following decades. Today, wind power supplies over 2 GW of electricity to the state, with additional wind farms able to produce additional GW of electricity in the planning stages. The single largest wind farm in the state stands at Cayuga Ridge, able to produce 300 MW of electricity.

Overall, wind power supplies an estimated 5% of Illinois’ electrical needs, with that percentage only expected to increase over the following decades. In fact, scientists estimate the state’s wind power potential at around 250 GW, based on existing technology.

Illinois Facts, Mendota Hills Wind Farm
Photo by Dori from Wikipedia

Illinois has large manufacturing and service industries.

Manufacturing alone makes up 14% of the state’s economy, earning an estimated $101 billion per year. The chemical industry makes up the single largest part of the manufacturing sector, earning an estimated $17 billion per year. Food processing follows in second place, earning an estimated $14 billion per year. Machine production, such as farm machinery, and specialty vehicles, make up third place, earning another $14 billion per year.

The state also has a thriving service industry, revolving around financial trading, legal, logistics, and medical services. Tourism, in particular, drives a large part of the service industry, with over 100 million tourists visiting the state every year.

Illinois has many different museums.

Chicago has the most out of any location in the state, including but not limited to the Adler Planetarium, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Science and Industry. The state capital at Springfield has museums of its own too, such as the Illinois State Museum. Its collection of historical items dedicated to the state’s art, land, lifestyle, and people numbers an estimated 13.5 million.

The city of Galena also has the Ulysses S. Grant Homes, featuring the preserved residence-turned museum of civil war general and US President Ulysses S. Grant. Other museums in the state include the Chanute Air Museum in Rantoul, and the Easley Pioneer Museum in Ipava.

Illinois also has a place in musical culture.

The Illinois Music Educators Association (ILMEA) alone makes up one of the biggest music education organizations in the USA. Southern Illinois also hosts an annual musical festival, at the Southern Illinois University’s campus at Carbondale. The blues genre of music originally developed in Chicago, and from which rock and roll also later developed.

Jazz and soul music also flourished in Chicago, born from the large-scale migration of African-Americans to the city. In the 1930s, Thomas Dorsey and the Pilgrim Baptist Church gave Chicago a place in Gospel music. Other genres that flourished in Chicago also include heavy rock, hip-hop, and punk, especially during the 1980s and 1990s.

Many different sports leagues have teams from Illinois.

Interestingly, all of them have their headquarters in Chicago. For major league baseball, both the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox represent Illinois. The Chicago Bears have won nine NFL championships for Illinois, with the last taking place in 1986.

Wrigley Field Home of Chicago Cubs.
Image from Adobe Stock

Michael Jordan made the Chicago Bulls famous worldwide during the 1990s, winning six championships in eight seasons during that decade. The Chicago Blackhawks represent Illinois in the NHL and even gained a place in history as one of six teams that continued to play during WWII. Illinois even has a place in women’s soccer, with the Chicago Red Stars.

College sports also have various teams from Illinois.

Illinois has 13 teams as part of the NCAA Division I, with the Illinois Fighting Illini and Northwestern Wildcats as the most famous. Both form part of the Big Ten Conference and are the only teams from Illinois that compete in the Power Five conferences. DeKalb’s Northern Illinois Huskies compete in the Mid-American Conference and have thus far won four championships. Other teams that form part of NCAA Division I from Illinois include the Illinois State Redbirds and the Southern Illinois Salukis.

There’s also the DePaul Blue Demons, which form part of the Big East Conference. The UIC Flames form part of the Horizon League, and the Chicago State Cougars, the Western Athletic Conference.

Various state parks also stand in Illinois.

Fort Massac makes up the oldest of these, going back to the 16th century when Spanish explorers built the so-called Ancien Fort on the site. The modern fort dates back to the mid-18th century, built by the French during the French-Indian War. Destroyed by the Indians, the patriots later rebuilt the fort during the American Revolution.

The US military decommissioned the fort in 1814, with the site falling into disrepair over time. The state government declared the site a state park in 1908, with the fort itself getting rebuilt twice, first in the 1970s, and again in 2002. Other state parks in Illinois include Starved Rock State Park, Starved Shore State Park, and the Trail of Tears State Forest, among others.

The state is infamous for several cases of political corruption.

Among the most recent ones include former Governor George Ryan, who found himself convicted of fraud and racketeering in 2006. This led to a sentence of six and a half years in prison, the last six months of which became commuted to house arrest over his old age.

Similarly, Governor Rod Blagojevich found himself charged with corruption in 2008, over trying to sell President Obama’s former Senate seat to the highest bidder. This later led to his 2011 conviction on that charge, as well as additional charges of perjury. The state legislature thus impeached him, in addition to his 14-year prison sentence.

Other corruption cases in Illinois include Congressman Dan Rostenkowski’s imprisonment for mail fraud and Judge Otto Kerner Jr. for taking bribes.

Illinois has given the USA three different presidents.

Abraham Lincoln makes up three of the US presidents from Illinois. While he had lived and worked in Illinois before his election, Lincoln’s parents actually had him in Kentucky. Illinois also produced Ulysses S. Grant, who led the Union Army to victory in the Western Theater, and down the Mississippi River. He also led them during the victory campaign in the final months of the war and accepted the Confederacy’s surrender in 1865.

Grant later became President in 1868 and completed rebuilding damage in the northern states from the war. He also reorganized the US Congress, crushed the Ku Klux Klan, and set an example by appointing Jews and African-Americans to federal offices. This later led to his reelection in 1872.

Finally, Illinois also gave the USA President Barack Obama in 2008. As President, he oversaw the USA’s recovery from the 2008 Financial Crisis and continued the War on Terror. He also supported the Arab Spring, which saw the rise of democratic governments in Libya and other places. All these achievements ultimately contributed to his reelection in 2012.

The state has a solid infrastructural network.

In fact, the O’Hare International Airport near Chicago actually held the title of the world’s busiest airport from 1962 to 1998. Even then, it remains one of the busiest airports in the world, serving 59 million domestic passengers, and another 11 million international passengers every year.

Chicago also remains a railway hub for Amtrak, with Amtrak having its own dedicated Illinois Service linking the state’s cities to each other. Amtrak also currently works to upgrade their railways to cut travel times by about 1 and a half hours. Ferries operate round the clock for travel through the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. More ferries also operate through the Great Lakes, linking Illinois with the Atlantic Ocean via the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

Illinois Facts, Terminal 1
Photo by Dllu from Wikipedia

The state also has a solid educational system.

In fact, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) operates freely of the governor and state legislature alike. The ISBE allows the various municipalities to operate their school districts freely but keeps them in line using the Illinois School Report Cards. These show the state government and public alike the ranked performance of schools against each other.

All children aged between seven and 17 must attend school in Illinois, with public schools available for elementary, middle, and high levels. For college-level education, the state has 11 national universities, in addition to a variety of private colleges. These include the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and Loyola University Chicago, among others.