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Nickname: The Prairie State
Statehood: 1818; 21st state
Population (as of July 2016): 12,801,539
Biggest City: Chicago
State bird: northern cardinal
State flower: violet
Archaeologists aren’t sure exactly when the first people arrived in what’s now Illinois. But archaeologists have uncovered ancient spear points and tools suggesting that humans lived here at least 10,000 years ago. Illinois’ first-known Native American tribes, which include the Miami and the Illiniwek (also known as the Illinois), lived on the land thousands of years later.
The first Europeans to reach the area were French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet, who arrived in 1673. In 1717 Illinois became part of the Louisiana territory, a French colony. But in 1763 at the end of the French and Indian War, the French ceded, or gave up, the region to Britain. After the American Revolution, Illinois became a U.S. territory, and in 1818 it was declared the 21st state.
During the Civil War (1861-1865) Illinois hosted no major battles, but more than 250,000 troops from Illinois fought for the Union.
Disaster struck in 1871 when a huge fire swept through Chicago, Illinois. But the reconstruction that followed the Great Chicago Fire made Chicago into a modern city that contained the world’s first skyscrapers.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
The name Illinois comes from the Native American tribe living on the land when the area was first explored by Europeans.
Much of Illinois was once covered in prairie grass, earning the state its nickname.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
Illinois is bordered by Wisconsin in the north; Lake Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky in the east; Kentucky and Missouri in the south; and Missouri and Iowa in the west. The state can be divided into three regions.
The Central Plains region covers almost all of the state and contains fertile land and low hills. It includes the Great Lakes Plain, which runs along Lake Michigan; the elevated Driftless Plains in the northwest; and the Till Plains in the north. The Till Plains are part of the nation’s Corn Belt, named for the fields of corn that grow there.
The Shawnee Hills region in southern Illinois is a narrow strip of land with higher elevations, rivers, and forests.
The Gulf Coastal Plain is a hilly area at the state’s southern tip. It’s sometimes nicknamed Egypt because it’s similar to the Egyptian Nile’s fertile delta.
Black bears, bobcats, and white-tailed deer are a few of this state’s common mammals. Birdwatchers can look for quails, orioles, meadowlarks, bluebirds, and northern cardinals (the state bird). Scarlet snakes, snapping turtles, and five-lined skinks are among the state’s reptiles. Illinois’ amphibians include tiger salamanders, western chorus frogs, and American toads.
Box elder, red maple, pawpaw, and sweet gum trees grow throughout the state. Illinois bundleflower, Illinois rose, and leopard lily are some of this state’s colorful wildflowers.
One of Illinois’ best known natural resources is its fertile soil. Some of Illinois’ top crops are corn, soybeans, and apples.
- The state’s official snack food is popcorn, which can be served Chicago-style—that’s a mixture of cheese-covered and caramel-covered popcorn!
- Famous folks from Illinois include Hillary Clinton, U.S. representative and civil rights activist Carol Moseley Braun, First Lady Michelle Obama, and women’s rights activist Betty Friedan.
- Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry contains the world’s largest pinball machine and a miniature castle.
- Illinois’ slogan is the Land of Lincoln because Abraham Lincoln lived there for 31 years. Today visitors can see Lincoln’s home and his tomb in Springfield.
Text by Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh
Photo credits: Guassian Blur, iStockphoto (quarter); FrankvandenBergh, iStockphoto (flag); Jeffrey Palm, Dreamstime (deer); Steve Byland, Dreamstime (cardinal); Merrymoonmary, iStockphoto (violet)
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