Did you know that Illinois was the first state to ratify (accept) the 13th amendment to abolish (end) slavery?  Did you know that Illinois is where Abraham Lincoln spent most of his life?

Named for the Illinois Indians, Illinois is a top supplier of soybeans and corn and is also known for its production of pork and dairy products, livestock, and grains.  Chicago, one of the largest cities in the US, is a national railroad hub and has one of the busiest international airports in the country. The state is also known for its skyscrapers:  Willis Tower, which stands at 1,451 feet, and the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower.

The state’s motto, “State Sovereignty, National Union,” appears on the state flag and state seal.  This was controversial after the Civil War when national unity was especially important, so state lawmakers required that the flag and seal be twisted to put “National Unity” at the top.  Illinois has a very diverse population of over 12.5 million.

In this article you’ll learn interesting facts about Illinois, including historical facts about Illinois, an Illinois history timeline, geography facts and more. Time4Learning members can download our list of PreK-12 interactive activities that align with your study of Illinois.  Here are a few Illinois facts for kids:

Illinois Fast Facts

Became a State:

December 3, 1818

Order it Joined the Union:

21st state

State Capital:

Springfield

State Abbreviation:

IL

Border States:

State Flag:

Flag of Illinois

State Song:

“Illinois”

State Flower:

Purple Violet

State Nickname:

  • The Prairie State
  • Land of Lincoln

Notable Illinoisans:

  • Harrison Ford, actor
  • Hillary Clinton, former first lady and politician
  • Jennifer Hudson, singer and actress
  • Jaimee Foxworth, actress
  • Michelle Obama, former first lady
  • Robin Williams, actor

Historical Facts About Illinois

Illinois’ history dates back to 8,000 BC when Native Americans lived along the waterways of Illinois. Some of the  tribes known to have lived in Illinois include the Algonquian-speaking people of the Kickapoo, Sauk, Fox, Potawatomi, Ottawa, Ojibwa (Chippewa), Kaskaskia, Peoria, Cahokia, and Tamaroa.

The first Europeans arrived from France in 1673, but France gave up its claims to Illinois to Britain as a result of the French and Indian War.  By 1773, as a result of the resentment of British policy in the area, the number of settlers declined to about 1,000, plus a few hundred slaves. After American forces captured Kaskaskia, the site of the region’s British government, Illinois became a county of Virginia. However, Virginia later on ceded the area to the newly formed United States to form the Northwest Territory.

When the Northwest Territory was divided in 1800, Illinois became part of the Indiana Territory, then the Illinois Territory was formed in 1809 when the Indiana Territory was divided, and later became a state.

As a state, Illinois became a leader in social policy, economic progress, and cultural growth.  It created laws protecting children in the 1880’s and 1890’s and was the site of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, showcasing America’s technological and scientific progress.  Chicago became the second largest city in the US by the 1880’s. The first atomic chain reaction occurred at the University of Chicago in 1942, beginning the country’s atomic age. All along, however, Illinois struggled with violence and scandals as a result of bootleg (illegal) liquor, organized crime under the notorious Al Capone, activities of the Ku Klux Klan, and coal strikes.

While the state still has higher violent crime rates, its cultural growth has continued.  Chicago has become a center for art, writing, and research. There is a rich movie-making history, and the area is known for its theater, dance, orchestra, opera, jazz, and blues.  Chicago has also become an architectural leader with its buildings becoming models for the world.

Read the Illinois history timeline below to learn important Illinois history facts through the events that occurred in this state.

1673

French explorers, Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette, explored the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers

1680

René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle established Fort Crèvecoeur near Peoria and Fort Saint Louis near Ottawa

1763

As a result of the French and Indian War, France ceded (gave up) its claim to all lands east of the Mississippi to Britain, beginning the difficult period of British rule

1773

Number of settlers had declined to about 1,000 plus slaves

1778

During the American Revolution, American forces captured Kaskaskia, the site of British government in Illinois, making Illinois a county of Virginia

1779

Jean-Baptist-Point Du Sable, a black pioneer, made the first settlement in Chicago

1800

Northwest Territory was divided, making Illinois part of Indiana Territory

1809

Indiana Territory was divided, forming Illinois Territory. Kaskaskia was named the capital of the territory.

1818

Illinois became the 21st state in the US

1819

Vandalia becomes the second capital of the state until 1839.

1832

Black Hawk War occurred as the final conflict with Native Americans

1839

Springfield becomes the third and current capital of Illinois.

1848

Illinois and Michigan Canal was finished, forming part of the route for travelers and settlers from the East Coast; new state constitution abolished slavery and outlawed importing of slaves

1861

Civil War broke out, with about 250,000 Illinoisans fighting for the Union under Illinoisans Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant

1871

Great Chicago Fire burned from October 8 to October 10, devastating a large section of Chicago

1886

Haymarket Riot, where violence occurred between police and labor protesters struggling for worker’s rights

1893

  • Illinois passed the “sweatshop law,” protecting children in the workplace
  • World’s Columbian Exposition, America’s first international exhibition of technological and scientific progress, was held in Chicago

1894

Pullman Strike, a railroad strike and boycott that disrupted rail traffic in the Midwest from May 11 to July 20, partially resulting in the creation of the national holiday of Labor Day

1933

Century of Progress Exposition highlighted progress in industry

1942

First atomic chain reaction occurred at the University of Chicago

Bring history and geography to life with Time4Learning’s interactive online social studies curriculum for grades 2-12.

Illinois Geography Facts

Illinois is mostly flat with farmland, forests, wetlands, and rolling hills.  The northern, southern, and western parts of the state consist of plains that used to be covered with tall grasses before the land was used for farmland and cities.  The southernmost part of the state is unique in that it was not affected by glaciers and contains a large section of land known as the Shawnee National Forest.

Early settlers stripped the state of its lumber, leaving only 10 percent forest cover.  There are rolling hills in the northwestern corner of the state, including the highest point at Charles Mound, and also gently sloping hills in southern Illinois.  The soils of northern and central Illinois are excellent for farming, and there are about 900 streams flowing into the Mississippi River system.

The entire state sits on natural underground reservoirs.  Due to pollution and the decline in forest areas, the abundant wildlife that used to thrive in Illinois (i.e., bears, wolves, bison, mountain lions, elk, and porcupines) have disappeared.  Deer became extinct in 1910 but were reintroduced in 1933 and have regained their population. Coyotes, foxes, migrating waterfowl, and some species of fish can still be found in natural areas and more in urban areas.

Check out this map of Illinois to start getting familiar with the state. Then read through the following Illinois geography facts. Print out the map of Illinois provided below and add these items to the map.

  • Illinois is bordered by Wisconsin in the north, Iowa in the northwest, Lake Michigan in the northeast, Missouri in the west, Indiana in the east, and Kentucky in the southeast.
  • The capital of Springfield lies near the west-central part of the state.
  • Its largest city, Chicago, is located in northeast Illinois, on the shores of Lake Michigan.
  • The city of Cairo, known as “Little Egypt,” sits at the southernmost tip of Illinois.
  • The Mississippi River flows along the western border of Illinois.
  • The Illinois River splits the northern portion of the state from northeast to southwest.
  • The Ohio River joins the Mississippi River at the southern tip near Cairo.
  • The highest point in Illinois is Charles Mound, a 1,235-foot high hill near the small town of Scales Mound, in the northern part of the state.
  • The lowest point in the state is on the Mississippi River (279 feet) at Cairo, at the southern tip of Illinois.

Illinois State Map

Download our FREE Illinois state map printable. Use it as a coloring page or use it to plot the state’s geographical features.

Download

Activities for Children in Illinois

How else can you learn fun facts about Illinois?  Try visiting some of the state’s unique sites. Homeschoolers in Illinois can take a day trip while those just visiting can make a list of the places they would like to see. Here are a few ideas to help you learn some Illinois facts:

  • The Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago): Tour this art museum that contains collections capturing cityscapes, animals, fashion, mythology, and local themes.  See artwork that represents impressionism, pop art, and the African diaspora. See museum “essentials” such as American Gothic (1930) and works by Salvador Dali, Vincent van Gogh, and Claude Monet.
  • Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago):  Discover nature and culture across time through exhibits on the Ancient Americas and dinosaurs (including the famous “Sue the T. Rex”), bug encounters, interactive Grainger Science Hub, and Crown Family PlayLab (for younger learners).  The museum’s collection grew out of the items displayed at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 and now numbers nearly 40 million artifacts. Middle school students can spend a day behind the scenes in their “Tween Saturdays” program.  Watch for free admission days throughout the year.
  • Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago):  Capture the true essence of Illinois in this museum focusing on creativity and innovation.  See exhibits ranging from the art of the bicycle and automated toys to the U-505 submarine and clothing technology.  Explore genetics through a chick hatchery and the science storms exhibit. Get involved in manufacturing design or experience flight simulators and a spacewalk.  Check the calendar for exciting opportunities like the Periodic Table Dinner or after-hours museum events.
  • Navy Pier (Chicago):  Originally completed in 1916, Navy Pier was reopened in 1995 and has since seen more than 180 million visitors.  Enjoy its 50 acres of lakefront experiences and attractions. Although many attractions require an admission fee, see the calendar to find free outdoor movies, jazz concerts, art exhibits, dance performances and more.

Looking for more things to do with your kids in Illinois? Check out this post full of field trip ideas in Illinois!

Illinois Freebies and Deals for Homeschoolers

You can also learn more Illinois facts and information without spending a lot of money. Below are just a few ideas:

  • Garfield Park Conservatory (Chicago):  Visit the 12 acres of indoor and outdoor gardens, including the Palm House and the Desert House.  Have the children climb around on the gigantic roots and seeds in the Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden, touch the Sensitive Plant, and smell the French Fry plants.  Admission is free.
  • Lincoln Park Zoo (Chicago):  This free-admission zoo is America’s oldest free public zoo.  Open every day, the zoo contains a working model of a Midwestern farm, an ape house, a birdhouse, a rainforest exhibit, a swan pond, and an African penguin habitat, as well as sea lions, elephants, giraffes, and reptiles.
  • Millennium Park (Chicago):  Enjoy this 3.5-acre garden and cultural center in the heart of the city.  View the stunning architecture of the surrounding buildings, see the famous Cloud Gate sculpture, and learn the history of how this area was transformed from an industrial wasteland to the world-famous urban park it is today.  Check the calendar for hundreds of free concerts, theater and dance exhibitions, tours, and family activities throughout the year.
  • National Museum of Mexican Art (Chicago):  View objects related to the folk art, sculpture, textiles, and drawings of Latino life.  There are over 10,000 objects, as well as performances and special events. The Day of the Dead display is especially popular, and admission is free.
  • Smart Museum of Art (Chicago):  Named for David and Alfred Smart, the original publishers of Esquire Magazine, the collection contains Asian and European art; works by Frank Lloyd Wright; sculpture by Matisse, Degas, and Rodin; and other paintings and sculptures totaling 15,000 items.  Check for family art-making programs as well. Admission is free.

Illinois Learning Games for Children

Now that you know some interesting things about Illinois, test your Illinois facts knowledge with these free games and activities:

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