95 Interesting Facts About Illinois

Fun and interesting Illinois facts

Illinois state is often described as a microcosm of the US, with its diverse economy and rich social, cultural, and political history.

Find out what the “Land of Lincoln” is famous for with these fascinating and fun Illinois facts! Also read these fun facts about Chicago, the state’s largest city!

General Facts Illinois Facts

  • Illinois is located in the Midwestern region of the United States and the Great Lakes region.
  • With a total land area of 57,915 mi² (149,997 km²), Illinois is the 25th largest state in the nation, between Georgia and Iowa in terms of size.
  • If it were a country, Illinois would be larger than Greece, or twice as large as Panama.
  • With a total population of 12.8 million people, Illinois is the 6th most populous state, between Pennsylvania and Ohio.
  • Springfield is the capital city of Illinois. With a population of 114,300, it is smaller than Springfield, Massachusetts and Springfield, Missouri (but no, it did not inspire the Springfield in the Simpsons).
  • Chicago is by far the state’s largest city, and 3rd largest city in the United States, after New York City and Los Angeles. It has a population of 2.7 million (metropolitan 9.7 million).
A statue of Abraham Lincoln in front of the Illinois State Capitol building in Springfield
Abe Lincoln at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield
  • 75%, or 3 out of 4 people in Illinois live in the Greater Chicago Metropolitan Area, also called “Chicagoland”. It is the 40th largest population center in the world, between Tehran, Iran and Chengdu, China.
  • St. Louis, the second largest city in Missouri, extends into Illinois, with the Mississippi separating the Missouri section from the Illinois one, called Metro East or East St. Louis.
  • As a part of the Great Migration due to racial discrimination in the South, many Blacks made their way to Illinois, developing famous jazz and blues scenes in Chicago. 
  • Illinois’ most prominent tribes were the Illinois, Fox, Winnebago, Miami, Sacs (Sauk), Pottawatomie, and Kickapoo tribes.
  • The name “Illinois” comes from the French version of a Native American word meaning “men” or “warriors”.
  • Residents of Illinois are called Illinoisans, Illinoians, or Illinoisians.
A sea of skyscrapers lining the shore of Lake Michigan in Illinois
Chicago on Lake Michigan
  • IL is the official abbreviation of Illinois.
  • The state’s official nickname is “The Land of Lincoln”, as Abraham Lincoln’s early career was focused there. Lincoln is featured on the state quarter and on state license plates.
  • Other nicknames for Illinois include “The Prairie State”, “The Corn State”, “The Sucker State” (after the people who used to travel up the Mississippi to work, just like suckerfish), “The Garden of the West”, and “The Inland Empire State” (referring to its rivalry with New York, the Empire State).
  • The official state motto of Illinois is “State Sovereignty, National Union”.
  • Violets, the state flower of Illinois, are found growing on the prairie, woods, wetlands and lawns of Illinois.
The state flag of Illinois
The Illinois state flag
  • The official state fruit is the Goldrush apple. Thanks to their complex sweet-tart flavor, they are an excellent option for the production of hard cider.
  • The state flag has the state seal in the center on a white background. The seal features an eagle with a banner that has the state’s Motto and the year Illinois became a state, 1818, and the year the seal was redesigned, 1868.

Random Interesting Facts About Illinois

  • The Illinois city of Nauvoo, founded by Mormons in 1839, rivalled Chicago in size. That is, until the movement’s founder, Joseph Smith, was killed in jail in Illinois, and the Mormons fled the state, bound for Utah. The city is now home to the Joseph Smith Historic Site.
  • The Baháʼí House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois is the religion’s main temple for the continent of North America. It was the second Baháʼí temple ever built (1912), after one in Turkmenistan, which is no longer there, so the Illinois one is the oldest in the world.  
White exterior of Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois
The oldest Bahai temple in the world in Wilmette
  • From 1923 to 1969, the official state language of Illinois was not English but “the American Language.”
  • A third of people in Illinois have a bachelor’s degree or higher, the fifth highest rate in the country.
  • There are no national parks in Illinois, but the state is home to 69 state parks and more than 50 other protected areas. This amounts to the 7th highest number of any state.
  • Illinois has one UNESCO World Heritage Site: Cahokia Mounds. Around 80 mounds there date to 1000 years ago, when the area was home to more people than the city of London. The site is across the Mississippi from St. Louis, Missouri.
Staircase leading up one of the Cahokia Mounds, with the sun setting on the side of the picture.
Cahokia Mounds
  • Skyscrapers were invented in Illinois, with the 1885 Home Insurance Building in Chicago widely considered the first.
  • The Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) in Chicago was the tallest in the world from 1973 to 1998, when it was outranked by the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  
  • Pullman National Monument is the only national monument in Illinois. Pullman was the first planned, industrial community in the US, built by the Pullman Company.
Red brick building at Pullman National Monument in Illinois
Pullman National Monument
  • There are also 88 National Historic Landmarks in Illinois. On this list you’ll find a planetarium, aquarium, historic churches, houses, and schools, lighthouse, lily pool, the Lincoln Tomb, and various archaeological sites.
  • Illinois has had six capitol buildings: one in Kaskaskia, three in Vandalia, and two in Springfield.
  • The University of Chicago is ranked 6th best in the US, and it is considered one of the top-10 in the world. Its business school is often ranked best in the US.
  • Every Saint Patrick’s Day the Chicago River, a system of rivers and canals mostly in Chicago, is dyed bright green.
A bright green Chicago River in Chicago City
Green Chicago River for St. Patrick’s Day
  • Boeing is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. It’s the largest commercial aerospace company in the world.
  • McDonald’s was headquartered in Chicago from 1955 to 1971, then moved to Oak Brooks until returning to Chicago again in 2018.
  • Other famous companies that started or are headquartered in Illinois include United Airlines, John Deere, Kraft Foods, ADM (a huge food processing company), Walgreens (the country’s second largest pharmacy chain), and Sears (bankrupted in 2018).
  • Chicago native Martin Cooper is considered the father of the cellphone.
A baseball glove on the grass holding a green softball
Softball was invented in Illinois
  • The world’s first Ferris wheel was designed by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. for World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Today, the Centennial Ferris Wheel stands on Navy Pier, one of Chicago’s most famous attractions.
  • Softball also began in Chicago, Illinois, developing out of a game called indoor baseball.
  • Other Illinois inventions include the mechanical dishwasher, zipper, pinball machine, barbed wire, vacuum cleaner, yellow pencils, and brownies.
  • The first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize was Gwendolyn Brooks of Chicago, Illinois.
  • The youngest recipient to win an Oscar for an acting role was Marlee Matlin of Morton Grove, Illinois. She was 21 years old at the time.
A mosaic of famous people from Illinois
Famous Illinoisans Ernest Hemingway, Walt Disney, Betty White, Cindy Crawford, Hillary Clinton, and Bill Murray (clockwise from top-left)
  • Jane Addams of Cedarville, Illinois was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in helping America’s inner city poor and establishing settlement houses such as Hull House.
  • Hillary Clinton of Chicago was a lawyer and politician. She became the First Lady to President Bill Clinton and the first First Lady to be elected to the US Senate.
  • Among America’s greatest novelists is Ernest Hemingway, who was from Oak Park, Illinois. “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, “The Sun Also Rises”, and “A Farewell to Arms” are among his greatest works. Ernest won both a Pulitzer and Nobel prize.
A mosaic of famous musicians from Illinois
Illinois musicians Miles Davis, Patti Smith, Billy Corgan, R. Kelly, Eddie Vedder, and Quincy Jones (clockwise from top-left)
  • Other famous people from Illinois include Walt Disney, actresses Betty White and Jennifer Hudson, actors Robin Williams, Harrison Ford, John Cusack, Charlton Heston, and Bill Murray, models Cindy Crawford and Jenny McCarthy, athlete Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee, basketball player Dwayne Wade, and politician Ronald Reagan.
  • Three US presidents have been elected while living in Illinois: Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Barack Obama.
  • Musicians Miles Davis, Eddie Vedder, Patti Smith, R. Kelly, Curtis Mayfield, John Prine, and Quincy Jones (producer), as well as the bands Smashing Pumpkins, Wilco, Earth Wind, and Fire, Rise Against, and Chicago are all from Illinois.
  • The films Wayne’s World 1 and 2 were set was set in Aurora, Illinois, as one of the film’s writers was from neighboring Naperville and thought it had the right feel.
Aerial view of a farmhouse in Illinois with some trees around it, surrounded by farmland
Farmland in Illinois
  • Illinois has a highly diverse economy, with its immense farmland and small industrial cities in the north and center, and its natural resources in the south.
  • The Gulf Coastal Plain, where the Ohio River meets the Mississippi at the southern tip of Illinois, is sometimes called “Egypt” or “Little Egypt” because it is fertile like the Egyptian Nile delta. There’s even a Cairo there, and a Lake of Egypt and Egyptian Hills nearby.
  • Illinois is the 3rd largest bituminous coal producer in the country. The state also has one-fifth of the country’s coal reserves.
  • About ¾ of the area of Illinois consists of farms. The state’s rich black soil helps in the production of corn and soybean.
  • The state’s highest point is found in the northwest Driftless Area at Charles Mound, with a height of 1235 ft (376 m), while the lowest point is found in Cairo on the Mississippi River, with a height of 279 ft (85 m).
  • On 14 July 1954, Illinois recorded its highest temperature of 117°F (47,22°C) in East St. Louis. The lowest on record was -36°F (-37.78°C) in Congerville.
View of the Mississippi River meanders through a green landscape in Illinois with cloudy skies
The Mississippi River in Illinois
  • There’s actually an old law stating it’s illegal to pee into your neighbor’s mouth in Champaign, Illinois.
  • It’s also prohibited to share your whiskey with your dog in Chicago.
  • If you don’t have a dollar in cash, you can be arrested for vagrancy, according to another old Illinois law.
  • It’s also illegal to eat inside a burning building in Chicago.
  • If your style includes wearing sagging pants, make sure not to if you’re in Collinsville, where that’s also banned.

Historical Facts About Illinois

  • Before the time of the dinosaurs, Illinois was under a shallow sea and located near the equator.
  • Later, the land of Illinois and the Great Lakes region was carved out by immense glaciers.
Beach on Lake Michigan, with the lake visible all the way to the horizon
Mighty Lake Michigan in Illinois
  • The earliest humans arrived in Illinois 12,000 years ago. The Koster Site in western Illinois was inhabited from 9500 to 1000 years ago.
  • The Mississippian culture at Cahokia built the largest mounds north of the Valley of Mexico, reaching their peak 1000 years ago, and disappearing in the 15th century.
  • In 1673, explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet of France became the first Europeans to reach the region of Illinois.
  • A mission was founded by Marquette at the Great Village of Illinois, near present day Utica, in 1675.
  • In 1682, the French built Fort St. Louis on the Illinois River. Today it is in Starved Rock State Park, the most visited state park in Illinois.
Waterfall in Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park, famous for its waterfalls, was the site of an early French fort.
  • Illinois became part of the French colony of Louisiana in 1717.
  • The US boundary was extended by the Treaty of Paris to include Illinois in 1783.
  • In 1784, Virginia relinquished its claim to Illinois.
  • The Illinois Territory was created in 1809, with its capital at Kaskaskia. The Illinois Herald was the first newspaper to be published in the state, at Kaskaskia in 1814.
  • Illinois became the 21st state of the US in 1818, with its capital still at Kaskaskia.
The Old State Capitol, with a red domed roof, in Springfield, Illinois
One of 5 old state capitol buildings in Illinois
  • In the 1832 Black Hawk War, the indigenous people in the Chicago region were ultimately defeated and forcefully relocated to Iowa.
  • Chicago was founded in 1833 and became a major Great Lakes port. By 1857, it was the state’s largest city.
  • In 1837, the capital was moved to Springfield, which was closer to the major populations in the north, but still relatively central.
  • In 1860, Abraham Lincoln, then representative of Illinois, was elected 16th president of the US.
  • The Bell Telephone Company began its service in Chicago, Illinois in 1878.
  • Chicago became home to the world’s first skyscraper, the Home Insurance Building, in 1885.
Black and white photo of the world's first Ferris wheel in Chicago, Illinois
The world’s first Ferris wheel in Chicago
  • The first Ferris wheel was built for the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893.
  • One of the worst mining disasters in history occurred in 1909 when there was a coal mine fire at Cherry, Illinois. It resulted in 259 deaths.
  • The Chicago World Fair, held there in 1933-1934, gave the country a glimmer of hope during the Great Depression.
  • The discovery of oil in Marion County and Crawford County in the late 1930s led to an oil boom.
  • In 1974, the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) was completed in downtown Chicago, becoming the world’s tallest building.
  • In 1983, Harold Washington became the first African-American to become mayor of Chicago.
Distant view of skyscrapers in Chicago, with black Willis Tower visible on the left
Willis Tower (Sears Tower), once the tallest in the world, on the left
  • History was made in 1992 when Chicago’s Carol Moseley-Braun was elected to the US Senate. She was the first African-American woman to be elected.
  • The western and southern regions of Illinois were ravaged by the worst floods in the state’s history in 1993.
  • In 2003, Governor George Ryan commuted the death sentences for all 167 inmates on death row in Illinois.
  • In 2006, 7 people were arrested by the FBI after they were suspected of plotting to blow up Sears Tower.
  • Illinois Senator Barack Obama announced his bid for President of the US in 2007, winning the election a year later.
  • In 2018, McDonalds moved its headquarters from Oak Brooks, Illinois, back to Chicago, where it had previously been headquartered from 1955 to 1971.
  • In March 2020, Governor J.B. Pritzker issued a state-wide stay-at-home order due to COVID-19.

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