Throwback Thursday: Chicago Becomes Incorporated

Considering the fact that Chicago boasts a present day population of over 2.7 million people, it is hard to believe that there was a time where it was nothing more than a tiny village. However such a time does exist on the historical record. On August 12, 1833, Chicago became incorporated for the first time as a Town. Sporting a population of just 350 people back then, the Windy City covered less than half of a square mile confined by Kinzie Street, Des Plaines Street, Madison Street and State Street.

Rare view looking west on South Water Street possibly in the 1830s. Hogan’s store was at South Water and Market Streets, while Wolf Point Tavern can be seen in the distance.
From a painting owned by the Chicago History Museum

It was during the years after its incorporation where Chicago’s population truly started to blossom. By 1837, Chicago’s population had exploded to over 4,000 people. It was the 92nd-largest city in the United States and it was only getting bigger as schools, churches and businesses were popping up everywhere. One of the other reasons Chicago’s population expanded at such a fast rate is its newfound prominence as a transportation hub. The Illinois and Michigan Canal came to fruition in 1848, making it possible for ships carrying consumer goods to pass through Chicago from the Great Lakes en route to the Mississippi River.

Despite the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Chicago only kept growing. By 1890 it was the second largest city in the country, following New York, even after most of the city had to be rebuilt because of the fire. Coming from such humble beginnings, Chicago has always been known for its grit and resilience. It does not hold the flashiness of say New York or LA — but it has a certain edge to it in the sense that it can face anything that stands in its way, and will always come out on top. I would not count on that changing anytime soon.

Chicago Traffic 1833, Wolf Point
Wolf Point Tavern (Left) Millers Tavern (Right)

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