Chicago is situated on the south-western tip of Lake Michigan in the state of Illinois. The narrow Chicago River extends one mile inland and splits the city into North, West and South sides. Jacques Marquette and Luis Joliet explored the area in 1673 but it was another hundred years before a trading post was established.
The present city was laid out in 1830. Its importance grew with the growth of the railways and by 1850 became the main transport centre for livestock and grain from the Midwest. Chicago was also recognised as having the largest slaughtering and meat packing business in the world.
On 8th October, 1871, a fire started in Patrick O'Leary's cow barn. In just over 24 hours it destroyed 17,000 buildings valued at $200,000,000, killed over 300 people and left 100,000 people homeless.
Chicago attracted a large number of immigrants from Europe including people from Germany, Italy, Sweden, England, Ireland, France, Russia, Norway, Austro-Hungary, Greece, Holland, Bulgaria, Portugal, Scotland, Wales and Finland. In 1890 an estimated 41% of the city's population had been born outside the United States and included large numbers from Germany (161,000), Ireland (70,000), Sweden (43,000), England (28,000) and Austria-Hungary (7,000).
In 1915 William Thompson was elected major of Chicago. The city was under the control of gangsters and Thompson was suspected of being on the payroll of Al Capone. His critics claimed this is why the police were unable to gain control of the city. During the First World War Thompson was staunchly pro-German and even organised public book-burning of British books taken from the city's public schools. In 1923 Thompson was investigated for fraud and he decided not to stand as mayor. He returned in 1927 when once again he was elected. Once again Thompson made little attempt to control gangsters in Chicago.
In 1931 Thompson was challenged by Anton Cermakwho accused Thompson of being under the control of Al Capone and other gangsters in the city. Cermak campaigned for social reform and an end to prohibition. On 7th April, 1931, Cermak defeated Thompson, by 200,000 votes. However, on 15th February, 1933, Cermak was assassinated by Guiseppe Zangara.
In the 19th century and for most of the 20th century Chicago was the second largest city in the United States. It was relegated to third place behind New York and Los Angeles in 1982. The city area covers 228 square miles (591 square km) and has a population of over 2,900,000 people.