101 Interesting Facts About Illinois

Last updated on October 31st, 2023

Illinois is the 6th most populous and the 25th most extensive of the 50 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 interesting facts about Illinois, let us learn more about its geography, history, people, economy, etc.

Facts about Illinois

1. The word “Illinois” comes from the French version of an Indian word which means “men” or “warriors.”

2. In 1673, French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet arrived in the region. They were exploring the Mississippi River, searching for a route to the Pacific Ocean.

3. Illinois had two different state capitals before Springfield – Kaskaskia (1809 to 1819) and Vandalia (1819 to 1839).

4. Three rivers form part of the boundary of Illinois – the Mississippi River, the Ohio River, and the Wabash River.

5. The Chicago River is dyed green on St. Patrick’s Day.

Illinois on the map

6. The flow of the Chicago River was reversed on January 1, 1900, to empty into the Mississippi instead of the Michigan. The river’s flow was reversed to prevent epidemics of water-borne diseases, especially cholera. It took eight years and 8,500 workers to put the system in place. In 1999, the system was named a “Civil Engineering Monument of the Millennium” by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

7. The official language of Illinois was not English but was known simply as the American language. This fact lasted from 1923 to 1969 before it was changed officially to English.

8. By population, Chicago, Illinois, is the third-largest city in the U.S.

9. The Lincoln Park Zoo (founded in 1886) is one of the free zoos in the U.S. and among the nation’s oldest public zoos.

10. With nearly 10,000 miles of railroad tracks in Illinois, it is the second most in the US. More than 7700 of these tracks are operated by Class 1 railroads.

11. Chicago (a national railroad hub), one of the country’s most prominent cities, lies in Illinois.

12. 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 ran 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 frozen tracks that can pull apart and cause accidents.

13. A narrow gauge was constructed under the city of Chicago in 1899 to accommodate the telephone systems. It ended up as a transport hub.

14. 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. 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 toward the west.

16. Telephone communication services started in 1878 in Chicago. That was the year when the Bell Telephone Company began operating with only 75 telephones.

17. In 1922, the first radio station broadcast was made in Illinois from Tuscola.

18. The father of cell phones, Martin Cooper, hails from Chicago, Illinois. He led a team that built the first mobile phone in 1972.

Boeing 747-8, Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington. Illinois fact file
Boeing 747-8, Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington 2010. Facts about Illinois. Image source – Flickr

19. The city of Aurora gained the nickname “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.

20. Machines from the biggest pinball machine manufacturer, Stern, in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, are used worldwide. With this increase in demand, the company still grows.

21. The largest pinball machine ever made can be seen in the Chicago Museum of Science. This machine is about 15 feet wide and 7 feet high.

22. Boeing, the world’s largest commercial aerospace company, is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.

McDonald’s restaurant stands on its original site in Des Plaines. Illinois facts
A replica of the first McDonald’s restaurant stands on its original site in Des Plaines, Illinois.

23. On April 15, 1955, the first McDonald’s franchise in Des Plaines, Illinois, was opened.

24. The Nabisco Factory in Chicago is the world’s largest bakery, with an 18,000,000 square feet production facility.

25. Since the early nineties, Chicago has been known as the candy capital of the world. That was because they represented many candy companies from around the world.

26. After Wyoming and Kentucky, Illinois is the country’s third-largest bituminous coal producer. It has one-fifth of the nation’s demonstrated coal reserves.

27. The second largest pharmacy chain in the US, Walgreens, started in Chicago, Illinois, in 1901. Now, it has nearly 600 locations in the state of Illinois.

28. In 1814, The Kaskaskia Illinois Herald was the first newspaper printed in Illinois.

29. Rockford was one of the country’s first places to have its own all-female baseball team. The Rockford Peaches were one of only two teams who competed in all 12 years of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League’s existence. They were pretty good and won the competition several times during the 1940s.

30. Illinois is considered a swing state because of its political stance.

31. Barack Obama, a former U.S. president, was elected while living in Illinois. Ronald Reagan is the only U.S. president born in Illinois.

32. 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.

Abraham Lincoln Statue - the fact file
Abraham Lincoln Statue. For facts about Illinois. 

33. Abraham Lincoln worked as a postmaster in New Salem, Illinois. He was appointed On May 7, 1833, and was the only U.S. President who had served as a postmaster. 

34. Interestingly, the state quarter also has an image of a resolute Lincoln with a book in his hand. Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was nominated at the 1860 Republican National Convention which was held in Chicago?

35. 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 a Potawatomi word for “trading post!”

36. 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.

World's Largest Catsup Bottle. Facts about Illinois
World’s Largest Catsup Bottle. Facts about Illinois. Image credit – Erin

37. A landmark along Route 159 in Collinsville, Illinois, is the largest Catsup bottle in the world. This 170 feet tower can be seen since it was first erected in 1949.

38. You will find Metropolis, where Superman works and lives in Illinois. You can find it about 360 miles south of Chicago, where an annual celebration is hosted.

39. 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”.

40. Morton, Illinois, is dubbed as “the Pumpkin capital of the world.”

41. 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.

Home Insurance Building in Chicago. Image credit – Jason Woodhead

42. The Home Insurance Building in Chicago, which rose to 10 stories, is the first metal-frame skyscraper in the world. It was designed by engineer William LeBaron Jenney and was completed in 1885.

43. A collapse in the economy of New England caused John Deere to move to Illinois. He opened a blacksmith shop in Grand Detour, and the rest is history.

44. 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.

45. 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 soybeans.

barbed wire guarding farms
Image credit – Jason Trbovich

46. Joseph Glidden of Dekalb, Illinois, a farmer and tinkerer, received a patent for the modern version of barbed wire. He created it to prevent his cattle from wandering.

47. 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).

48. An oil boom occurred in the Crawford and Marion counties in the 1930s. It led to a solid infrastructure and a rich history in the area.

49. 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.

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

50. 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.

51. There are a few national monuments in Illinois. The only one you will find in Illinois is the Pullman National Monument in Chicago.

52. 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 third-tallest building in North America and the twelfth-tallest building in the world. From its Skydeck, you can see four states: Illinois, IndianaWisconsin and Michigan.

53. A replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa can be found in Niles, Illinois. It is half the size of the original and was completed in 1934.

54. The existence of the Sears Tower in Chicago was threatened in 2007 when a group plotted to blow it up. Fortunately, they were apprehended by the FBI.

55. Are you looking for the world’s largest arcade? Look no further than Illinois for the Galloping Ghost Arcade in Brookfield, Illinois, the gamers’ mecca of all ages.

56. On a farm in Spring Grove, Illinois, the first-ever round vertical silo was constructed. Everyone accepted the idea, and now they can be seen all over the countryside.

World's largest mailbox.
The World’s largest mailbox. Image credit – Duncan Rawlinson

57. Another fun fact from the small town of Casey is the giant mailbox on display. It is also known as the largest mailbox in the world.

58. If you want to know whether a gigantic pitchfork exists in Illinois, visit Casey. It is yet another of the world’s largest items in this small town.

59. You can find the world’s most oversized golf tee at the Casey Country Club to add another massive record to this small Illinois town.

rocking chair , Casey, Illinois
The largest rocking chair. Image credit – Joseph Gage

60. With 12 of the largest items to be found in the tiny town of Casey, Illinois, it has become a huge attraction. One of them is the largest rocking chair.

61. Downers Grove, in southwestern Chicago, has more than 200 DIY homes. These homes were all constructed from a kit provided by Sears and included everything you need.

62. 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 the founder of modern singing poetry, in which verses should be sung or, at the very least chanted.

63. 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.

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