Illinois State Study

IllinoisJoin us for an Illinois State study.

Illinois is located in the central part of the United States.  It is a very diverse state ranging from big cities to little towns and family farms.  It has manufacturing, banking, tourism, agriculture, mining, timber, and technology sectors.  Sometimes Illinois is considered a microcosm of the United States as a whole.


Illinois was first explored by French trappers in the 1670s.  Fort Peoria was established in 1680 as the first permanent settlement in the area.  From that time French Canadians began to settle along the Mississippi River.  In 1763 the region, which had been part of French territorial claims was ceded by British after their win in the French and Indian War.  Not long after it would pass in to the hands of the brand new country of the United States of America.  In 1818 Illinois became the 21st state.

This is Gooselake Prairie State Park in Illinois. Photo by Dominic Sherony, CC license, Wikimedia.

Chicago gradually became the largest city over time, using its ports on Lake Michigan to make it a trade hub for the west.  Cattle and other livestock were brought there from farms and ranches as far away as Texas and Wyoming for slaughter.  This in turn created an opportunity for food packaging plants and other factories as well as making Chicago into a rail hub.  In addition Illinois’ rich mineral resources meant mining and ore processing plants began to spring up.  The rapid industrial growth led to shortages of labor, driving wages up.  In order to get cheap labor labor agents from Chicago began to spread their message of jobs to poor European countries like Italy and Eastern Europe.  Soon Chicago was flooded with immigrants who didn’t understand the language, laws, or customs of their new country.  They were easily taken advantage of and with big business and government colluding in corruption, the labor movement was born.

A harbor in Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan. Photo by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, CC license, Wikimedia.


Today Chicago is a major financial and industrial powerhouse in the world.  It also has major problems with government and business corruption, organized crime, drug trade, and gangs.  People die every day of gun violence in this city where guns are banned.


  • Make a poster showing the flag, tree, motto, nicknames, a few images and some facts of Illinois.  Add the map, below, to your poster.
  • Make a demographic bar graph showing the major ethnic groups of Illinois.
  • There are two prominent families in Illinois State politics.  Learn about one or both of them.  They are the Stevenson family, including Adlai Stevenson, a reformer who tried to clean up Chicago politics, and the Daley family, including Richard Daley, who was Chicago’s longest serving mayor ever.  Write a report on what you learn.
  • Find out which foods are iconic in Illinois and make some to try.  You can not go wrong with a Chicago style deep dish pizza.
  • Learn more about the Illinois State Capitol building.
This is the Illinois State Capitol building. Photo by Meagan Davis, CC license, Wikimedia.

Map of Illinois Exploration

Print this Illinois Map. Use a student atlas to label the major cities, waterways, and landmarks.  Color the map.  You may consider coloring the map to match the landscape, color it as an elevation map, or use it to create a distribution map for population, rainfall, political parties, religion, or any other distribution of people or resources.

Additional Layers

  • The region Illinois is located in is sometimes referred to as the “Heartland”.  Heartland means the center of the country geographically.  The connotation is that this region is the heart of America, a place where everyday Americans work hard, live life for their families, worship God, and build freedom.  The specific states included in the heartland differ according to who you talk to.
  • Though Illinois was never a slave state, many residents of Illinois held slaves even after laws against it were passed.  In 1820 a law preventing free slaves from settling in Illinois was passed.  And blacks were generally prevented from living in the state by prejudice and abuses.  But Illinois also became an abolitionist stronghold in the years running up to the Civil War.
  • Chicago controls the politics of the whole state of Illinois.  In Illinois the voice of rural and small town and medium city people is never heard.  Do you think this is a problem?  If so, what can be done about it?
  • The 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago was one of the most influential World’s Fairs of all time.  It was there that America first grasped the wonders of electricity.  Learn more about it.
  • Have you ever heard tell of Mrs. O’leary and the wayward cow of song? Well, it really happened.  A cow in Mrs. O’leary’s barn behind her home kicked over a lantern and the whole city of Chicago burned to the ground.  Learn more about it and sing the song for your kids.
  • The University of Chicago was one of the most influential and prominent players in 20th century history.  It was there that modern education movements of John Dewey were formed, the fiscally conservative economics of the Chicago Boys was championed, and the Manhattan project was developed.  Eighty-nine Nobel Laureates, forty-nine Rhodes Scholars and nine Fields Medalists have either graduated from there or taught there.

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