Many images come to mind at the mention of this great city's name. Mrs. O'Leary's cow. The Stockyards. The Second City. The Windy City. The City That Works. The Sears Tower. Al Capone. The Loop. Michael Jordan. Oprah. Some of these images, it's true, have become outdated. The Stockyards are long gone. The Second City title was lost to L.A. in the 1990 census. Historians now seem to be pretty sure that the O'Leary cow didn't knock over any lantern; the Great Fire was likely started by a neighbor. And Michael Jordan---well, Chicagoans have their memories.
But the wide variety of these images illustrates the diversity of Chicago's past as well as its present. It's a city where the stone lions in front of one of the nation's finest art museums wear giant football helmets to celebrate an important Bears victory. And it's a city where knowing a good hot dog stand is as important as reservations at a four-star restaurant.
The French explorers Jolliet and Marquette were the first Europeans to explore the area in 1673. The first permanent settlement wasn't established until 1779, however, when Jean Baptiste Point du Sable started a trading post. Local traders, as well as Native Americans, built a village and named it for checagou, the Native American word for the wild onions that grew along the lakeshore.
The city's fortunes grew in the 1830s and 1840s as railroads and canals connected Lake Michigan with the rest of the state and points east. After the Civil War, the city was booming, thanks to industries like meat-packing, lumber, and shipping. But the city suffered a tremendous loss when, in October 1871, the Great Chicago Fire swept across the city, killing 300 people and destroying 18,000 buildings. Chicagoans took it in stride, quickly rebuilding and improving as they went. The city that rose out of the ashes is known today for its distinctive and innovative architecture, strong business backbone, and cultural institutions (including a world-class symphony, top-flight museums, and an impressive literary heritage). Chicago's lakefront is a big-city wonder---a vast expanse of water fringed with parks and beaches.
The O'Hare area is home to dozens of hotels and restaurants catering to busy travelers' needs, as well as a large number of malls and outlets ranging from outrageously expensive designers to J. Crew and Nike. The landscape is dominated by busy highways such as the Kennedy Expressway (1--90).