57 Interesting Illinois Facts That You Should Know

Last updated on February 7th, 2023

Illinois is the 6th most populous and the 25th most extensive of the 50 states of the United States. It lies in the Midwestern region of the United States. The state attained statehood on December 3, 1818, becoming the 21st state to join the union. On December 3, 2018, the state celebrated its 200 years of statehood. Its six bordering states are Kentucky, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan (water boundary). See the full list of the 50 states and their borders here. Illinois (nicknamed: the Prairie State) has 102 counties. The state’s capital is Springfield. The postal abbreviation for Illinois is IL. With these 57 interesting facts about Illinois, let us learn more about its geography, history, people, economy and more.

Interesting Illinois facts

1. In 1673, French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet arrived in the region. They were exploring the Mississippi River in search of route to the Pacific Ocean.[14]

2. Waukegan: the largest city in Lake County began life as a French trading post, occupied by Potawatomie Indians and was initially known as “Little Fort”. The local community changed the name in 1849 to Waukegan, which is Potawatomie word for “trading post!”

3. Most of the area of the state was once covered with prairie grass, which earned the state its nickname – “The Prairie State.”[18]

The Flag of Illinois

Illinois Flag. Illinois fact file 4. After the invention of the self-scouring steel plow by John Deere in 1837, farmers from Germany and Sweden entered the region. The invention hence turned the region into some of the world’s most productive and valuable farmland.[1]

5. Train tracks in Chicago, Illinois, are set on fire to prevent rails from contracting and failing due to stress. Temperatures in Chicago fell several degrees below zero and thus the rail tracks were set on fire in a controlled way with the help of gas fed heaters that run alongside the rails. Due to low temperature, the metal contracts and the rails pull apart at their connection. Maintenance crews light the heaters by hand and stay in the area to monitor the flames and the heating system. A few of the rail lines are damaged but this method is considered safer than using the frozen tracks that can pull apart and cause accidents.

6. After the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal in 1848, the transportation between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River valley greatly improved. And thus the state became a transportation hub.[1]

7. Barack Obama, a former U.S. president was elected while he was living in Illinois. Ronald Reagan is the only U.S. president born in Illinois.[1]

Illinois on the map

8. The word “Illinois” comes from the French version of an Indian word which means “men” or “warriors.”[2]

9. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, located in Illinois, is one of the world’s busiest airports. It was ranked at the 6th spot in 2017 for the most number of passenger arrivals and departures.[3]

American Airlines Dreamliner at O`Hare International Airport.
American Airlines Boeing 787 at O`Hare International Airport, Illinois, United States. Photo © Dawid Swierczek

10. Willis Tower (renamed Willis Tower in 2009), formerly known as Sears Tower, is a 110 story building in Chicago, Illinois. The tower is 1450 feet high. At the time of its completion in 1973, it held the record for the world’s tallest building after surpassing the One World Trade Centre Towers in New York. The Willis Tower is now the second-tallest building in North America. From its Skydeck, you can see four states: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.[4]

11. In 2016, Illinois was 6th among the top ten agricultural producing states in terms of cash receipts. California (1st), Iowa (2nd), Nebraska (3rd), Texas (4th) and Minnesota (5th).[5]

12. The state’s capital (Springfield) was the birthplace of the wandering poet Vachel Lindsay in 1879, famous for the poem “the Congo”. He is considered to be the founder of modern singing poetry, in which verses should be sung, or at the very least chanted.

13. In 1829, Abraham Lincoln came to Illinois from Indiana. The former president of the United States of America, (served as the 16th president of the United States from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865), spent 24 years of his adult life in Springfield (in the west-central part of the state), Illinois. Interestingly, he started his political career while living in the state. Lincoln’s home and tomb in Springfield are open for visitors.[2]

Abraham-Lincoln-Statue. facts about Illinois.
Illinois facts: Abraham Lincoln Statue.

14. Illinois is considered a swing state because of its political stance.[6]

15. Chicago (a national railroad hub), one of the country’s most prominent cities, lies in the state of Illinois.[17]

16. James Duryea, won the United States’ very first ever motor-car race back in 1895, in what was basically a 54 mile loop from Chicago to Evanston and back. It was chaotic throughout, with snowstorms causing huge drifts and creating treacherous driving conditions. It took him 10 hours and 23 minutes to complete, averaging an impressive seven miles per hour! 

17. Charles Mound is Illinois’ highest point. It is 1,235 feet (376 meters) above sea level.[19]

18. About three-fourths of the state’s area is covered under farms. The rich black soil in the state helps in producing a lot of corn and soybean.[6]

19. A deadly fact about Illinois is that that it has eleven nuclear power reactors, more than any other state.[6]

20. The last episode of the award-winning “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was aired in Chicago. The show was the longest-running talk show (September 8, 1986, to May 25, 2011) in television history.[24]

21. Joliet, Illinois, features in two blockbuster movies. Firstly, it was where Johnny Hooker, played by Robert Redford, was from in the Sting; indeed the film’s opening story-line begins there. Also, John Belushi’s character in the Blues Brothers is nicknamed “Joliet Jake”, as he was imprisoned in Joliet Correctional Center.

22. Several nicknames of Illinois include “The Land of Lincoln” (also the Official State Slogan of Illinois), “The Prairie State”, “The Corn State”, “The Garden of the West”, “The Sucker State and Egypt”.[18]

23. Interestingly, the state quarter also has an image of resolute Lincoln with a book in his hand. 

24. The tallest man in the world was born in Alton, Illinois, on 22 February 1918. When last measured on 27 June 1940, he was found to be 2.72 m (8 ft 11.1 in) tall. The mighty man–ROBERT WADLOW– had an arm span of 2.88 m (9 ft 5.75 in). However, he did not live long and died on 15 July 1940 as a result of a septic blister on his right ankle.[7]

25. The city of Aurora gained a nickname as “the city of lights” after it became one of the first in the country to install street lighting, in 1881. This nickname was then carried forward and adopted as the city’s official motto just after the turn of the century.

26. By population, Chicago, Illinois is the third largest city in the U.S.[8]

27. The town of Naperville celebrated its 100th anniversary right in the middle of the Great Depression, but that didn’t stop a massive parade and spectacular fireworks display from taking place, which drew huge crowds from right across the northern districts of the State.

28. The Home Insurance Building in Chicago, which rose to 10 stories is the first metal-frame sky scrapper in the world. It was designed by engineer William LeBaron Jenney and was completed in 1885.[23]

29. Illinois is also considered to be one of the most politically corrupt states in the U.S. Six governors of the state have been charged with crimes and four of these were sent to prison.[22]

Interesting facts about Illinois: Boeing 747-8, Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington 2010.
Boeing 747-8, Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington 2010.

30. Boeing, the world’s largest commercial aerospace company, is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.[9]

31. Almost 33% of the population of the state have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

32. On April 15, 1955, the first McDonald’s franchise in Des Plaines, Illinois, was opened.[10]

A replica of the first McDonald restaurant stands on its original site in Des Plaines, Illinois.
Des Plaines, IL, USA October 16. A replica of the first McDonald restaurant stands on its original site in Des Plaines, Illinois. Interesting facts about Illinois.

33. Chicago, Illinois, was the starting point of Route 66, one of the essential icons of America. Route 66 (aka US 66) was opened in 1926 and extended from Chicago to Los Angeles, crossing much of the American Midwest, Great Plains, and Southwest. The road covered a total distance of 2,448 miles. During the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, the road served as a primary route for those migrating towards west.[11]

34. Among 50 U.S. states and District of Columbia, at 2.32%, Illinois has the second highest property tax rate. The highest property tax rate is in New Jersey (2.40%) while the lowest is in Hawaii at 0.27%.[12]

35. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2012 Census of Governments, Illinois has 6,963 units of local government. This is the highest number for any state. Texas (5147 units) and Pennsylvania (4,897 units) stand on the second and the third spot, respectively.[13]

36. Illinois has the third highest total of Interstate routes and mileage. According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, “Illinois is at the heart of the country’s interstate highway system.”[15]

37. In 1814, The Kaskaskia Illinois Herald was the first newspaper that was printed in Illinois.[21]

The state coat of arms

Illinois state coat of arms 38. In 1922, the first radio station broadcast was made in Illinois from Tuscola.[20]

39. Three rivers form the part of the boundary of Illinois – the Mississippi River, the Ohio River, and the Wabash River.[1]

40. After Wyoming and Kentucky, Illinois is the country’s third-largest bituminous coal producer. It has one-fifth of the nations demonstrated coal reserves.[25]

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