Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States and the leader who preserved the Union from dissolution in the Civil War, began his political career in Illinois. During that war, more than 250,000 Illinois men – including General Ulysses S. Grant, who became the 18th president – served in the Union Army. It had become the 21st state in 1818.
Chicago, situated on the shore of Lake Michigan, became a booming city after the Civil War, attracting immigrants and freed blacks from the South during the second half of the 19th century. Rail yards, slaughterhouses and mills all drew workers as the city saw extraordinary growth and development, spurred in part by the devastating Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
When prohibition arrived in 1920, renowned Chicago gangsters such as Bugs Moran wreaked havoc and bootlegged liquor from Canada to sell across the country. The infamous Al Capone arrived from New York. While organized crime in the U.S. wasn’t formed as a result of prohibition, the alcohol ban helped solidify its influence, and Chicago as one of its bases.
Today, about 2.7 million of Illinois’ nearly 13 million residents call the Windy City home – the nation’s third largest city. The next most populous cities in the state are Aurora, Joliet and Rockford, with only Aurora home to more than 200,000 people. The state’s capital, Springfield, is the sixth most populous city, with about 116,000 residents, according to U.S. Census data. President Barack Obama proclaimed his candidacy there, echoing Lincoln’s 1860 campaign announcement at the party’s state convention in Decatur, Illinois.
Thousands of Illinois residents are moving out of the state, especially the Chicago area, fleeing high taxes, crime, the unemployment rate and bad weather. In 2017, the state recorded a minimal decline in population since 2010 whereas the U.S. overall grew 5.5 percent.
Unlike the U.S. as a whole, the foreign-born population in Chicago has shrunk in recent years, though the state still boasts a slightly higher rate than the national average, at 13.9 percent. Statewide, 46 percent of foreign-born residents are from Latin America, while 30 percent come from Asia and 21 percent are European.
Walgreens, Boeing, State Farm, Sears and United are headquartered in the state. In 2017, high-tech vacuum maker Dyson relocated its U.S. headquarters to Chicago, joining the growing number of businesses calling the Prairie State home. In addition to business, Illinois’ largest industries are manufacturing, education, agriculture, energy and biotechnology. . Illinois is also a leader in clean energy technology, with huge wind farms and considerable ethanol fuel production in the state.
About one in three Illinois residents has a bachelor’s degree or higher. The private University of Chicago ranks in the top five on U.S. News’ Best National Universities list. The University of Illinois and Northwestern University host engineering programs among the country's top 15.
Half of Illinois adults say religion is a very important part of their lives, according to research from Pew. While it was once a critical swing state politically, Illinois realigned firmly as a Democratic stronghold in the 1992 election, and its electoral votes have reflected that in the last seven elections.