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Chicago: from stink to skyscrapers

00:00 Thu 15th Feb 2001 |

by Steve Cunningham< xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

HOW did Chicago obtain its name asked albry.

Here's a glance at the early history of the town that became the third-largest city in the United States.

Chicago today
Chicago was once a flat, lakeside marsh inhabited by Indians. The word 'Chicago', is said to derive from an Indian word describing the strong smell of rotting plants in the marshes along the river banks.

The name certainly comes from the dialect for either wild onion or skunk, but some historians believe it means strong or great, in the sense of powerful, not necessarily qualifying the stink.

French explorer Louis Jolliet and missionary Jacques Marquette discovered in 1673 that more than a mile of waterside�in Chicago was suitable for water trade.

Marquette learned from the Indians that there was already an established route connecting the Illinois River with the Great Lakes by the Chicago River, and the Des Plains River with the Mississippi River Valley.

This was to become a great centre of water trade, made even more efficient by the Illinois and Michigan Canal in 1848, which brought trade of livestock, grain and lumber between the industrious East and the pioneering West.

Chicago's first settler was Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable (1745-1818) whose father was French Canadian and mother was Haitian. He went to Chicago about 1780 as a fur trader and built his house on the north bank of the Chicago River, just east of what is now Michigan Avenue.

He traded with the Indians until 1796. The Potawatomis adopted Du Sable as one of their own and allowed him to marry Catherine, cousin of their chief, Pokagon.

By marrying into one of the Midwest's largest tribes, and being of dark skin, Du Sable was a trusted ally. He started the city's first commercial enterprise, a trading post on the Chicago River.

In the mid-1800s, Chicago soon became the chief railroad centre in the States. By 1860, 27 years after Chicago had been incorporated as a town with 400 residents, its population had grown to 300,000.

Then boom was tempered by disaster. On the night of 8 October, 1871, a great fire started on the southwest side of the city (reputedly after a Katherine O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern). The flames jumped the river, and in two days the fire destroyed 18,000 buildings, killed 300 people, and left 90,000 homeless. It would take 20 years for Chicago to recover.

Out of the ashes came a remarkable revival. Advances in steel-making made it possible to build the world's first skyscraper, the 10-story Montauk building, in 1882. And,�ten years later, the first elevated train was running. By 1893 Chicago was host to the World Columbian Exposition, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America.

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