50 Interesting & Fun Facts About Illinois State to Know

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A river winding through many modern glass buildings under a partly cloudy sky
Illinois is home to one of the biggest cities in the world, Chicago

Illinois is far from an underrated state. As the "Land of Lincoln" and the home of one of the biggest cities in the world, it would be hard to find someone who doesn't know about the state!

However, if you asked someone to name a few fun and interesting facts about Illinois state, they might have some trouble. Even people from Illinois sometimes struggle to come up with a long list of trivia about the state!

If you want to impress the locals on your trip to this great Midwestern state, or you just want to brush up on your Illinois knowledge, keep reading! Here are 50 facts about Illinois state that might surprise you.

  • 50 Illinois facts

50 Illinois State Facts

  1. Illinois Fun Facts
    1. It was the 21st state
    2. It's where Abraham Lincoln got into politics
    3. Chicago O'Hare International Airport is a major hub
    4. Explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet were the first Europeans
    5. Chicago is the largest city in the state
    6. Lincoln gave a speech at the old State Capitol
    7. You can find the Walt Disney birthplace home
    8. It's the location of the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home
    9. Downers Grove is a hub of DIY homes
    10. The population has decreased
    11. Robert Pershing Wadlow was born here
    12. It was the birthplace of First Lady Michelle Obama
    13. Hillary Clinton called Illinois home
    14. The Home Insurance Building was an early skyscraper
    15. The ice cream sundae legal loophole
  2. Interesting Facts About Illinois
    1. The Chicago metropolitan area covers 14 counties
    2. It has renowned resources to learn world history
    3. The Chicago Public Library has 81 locations
    4. It's where Dairy Queen started
    5. It's covered by Lake Michigan
    6. No Civil War battles were fought
    7. Native Americans created a confederation
    8. It's bordered by the Ohio River
    9. You can find gold in the rivers
    10. The Illinois River flows into the Mississippi
    11. It's also called the "Prairie State"
    12. Many African American ex-slaves moved here
    13. Illinois has the most of the Mississippi River
    14. The Chicago River turns green annually
    15. Don't call it Willis Tower
  3. Facts About Illinois History
    1. The capital is Springfield
    2. Galena was the biggest city
    3. It has a historic post office
    4. It's had 3 state seals
    5. Artifacts date back 10 thousand years
  4. Creepy Facts About Illinois
    1. H. H. Holmes terrorized Chicago
    2. Galena has been haunted since the 1800s
    3. There's an abandoned asylum still standing
    4. Floods created ghost towns
    5. It could be scary to get your mail
  5. Weird Facts About Illinois
    1. Illinois produces a lot of nuclear energy
    2. It has the world's largest cookie factory
    3. A metal bean is a landmark
    4. Chicago railroad tracks are set on fire
    5. There are a lot of personalized license plates
  6. Cool Facts About Illinois
    1. Three-quarters of the state is farmland
    2. Illinois means "men" and "warriors"
    3. Aurora is the "City of Lights"
    4. It's the starting point of Route 66
    5. It was the first state to ratify the 13th Amendment

Show all

Illinois Fun Facts

A downtown skyline overlooking a pond surrounded by green trees
Chicago, Illinois has a population of 2.7 million

It was the 21st state

One of the first state facts about Illinois you need to know is when it entered the Union. The state joined the USA and earned its star on the flag in December of 1818.

That date made Illinois the 21st state. However, like many states, Illinois had been a US territory for longer than that. It was first acquired in 1809.

It's where Abraham Lincoln got into politics

Illinois is known as the "Land of Lincoln", yet he only lived in the state for 6 years. So, why is he so important to Illinois history?

Illinois is where Abraham Lincoln first got into politics. Before that, he was a self-taught lawyer. Then his morals and desire for change pushed him to run for Congress.

flowertiare/Depositphotos.com
American flags are lined up with a globe sculpture on the white roof of the airport
O'Hare International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the United States

Chicago O'Hare International Airport is a major hub

O'Hare International Airport is the more popular of the 2 major airports in the Chicago area. However, O'Hare isn't just the busiest airport in the city, it's one of the busiest in the world.

For nearly 30 years, O'Hare held the title of the busiest airport in the USA. Today, it serves over 50 million passengers each year.

Explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet were the first Europeans

Like most US states, before settlements began in Illinois, it needed to be explored. Marquette and Joliet were a pair of French explorers who were responsible for mapping out much of the US in the name of France.

By following the path of the Mississippi, the two explorers traveled much of the country. Starting in northern Illinois, they were able to explore virtually the entire state this way.

Tall modern buildings and a Ferris wheel against a cloudy sky
Chicago is the third largest city in the United States

Chicago is the largest city in the state

Chicago is the largest city in Illinois. However, it might be surprising to learn that it's the third largest city in the United States.

New York is the largest city and has a population that's roughly three times the size of Chicago's 2.7 million residents. Los Angeles is the second most populated city with just over 1 million more residents than Chicago.

A neoclassical capitol building against a red dome, under a cloudy sky
Abraham Lincoln delivered the House Divided speech at the Old State Capitol in 1856

Lincoln gave a speech at the old State Capitol

History fans are likely aware that Abraham Lincoln was one of the most ethical and moral men in history. His career in politics aimed to bring the US together and create a just country for everyone.

In 1856, while campaigning for a spot in the U.S. Senate, he delivered what would become known as the "House Divided" speech. This speech was delivered at the old Illinois State Capitol and hoped to bring the country together to outlaw slavery.

You can find the Walt Disney birthplace home

One of the least well-known fun facts about Illinois is that it's the state where the famed Walt Disney was born. Before going on to create one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world, Disney was just a young boy from Chicago.

In the downtown area of Chicago, you can find the quaint, little home where Walt was born. Though Walt only lived in the home for 4 years, it's remained a state landmark.

wasppics/Depositphotos.com
A vernacular wooden house surrounded by green trees, facing a road
Ronald Reagan's childhood home in Dixon was named a historical place in 1982

It's the location of the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home

Before Ronald Reagan was president and a Hollywood star, he was just a young boy from Illinois. Dixon is a small town in northern Illinois, but it's where Reagan was shaped into the man who would become the 40th US president.

In 1911, the family moved to Tampico, a similarly small town in Illinois. However, despite this, the Dixon home has remained intact and was named a national historic place in 1982.

Downers Grove is a hub of DIY homes

Though its popularity has greatly decreased, Sears used to be a major supplier of everything from home goods to tools. Between 1908 and 1942, one of the many things that could be ordered from Sears was the "do it yourself" house kits.

These kits supplied everything you needed to build a home from the ground up. Though 70,000 were sold nationwide, the largest concentration was in the Chicago suburb, Downers Grove. Here over 200 DIY houses were constructed.

The population has decreased

The number of Chicago's population has been steady over the years, but the same can't be said for the rest of the state. Typically, state populations grow over the years, but Illinois is one of the only states to have seen a decrease in its population.

The population between 2010 and 2020 went down by roughly 2%. This is in part due to surrounding states seeing a boom in their job and economic markets which draws young professionals out of state.

Robert Pershing Wadlow was born here

Though there are many tall people in the world today, none have ever managed to beat the record set by Robert Pershing Wadlow. At 8 feet 11 inches, Wadlow still maintains the record as the tallest person to ever live.

This world-record holder was born in Alton, Illinois, a small town near the Missouri border. Wadlow only lived 22 years, but his incredible height has earned him a place in history.

It was the birthplace of First Lady Michelle Obama

While Reagan may have been the only US president born in Illinois, the same can't be said about the first ladies of the USA. Illinois has been the home state of 3 different first ladies.

Michelle Obama was a well-loved first lady due to her philanthropic work, and she became a role model for young women around the country. She's also been very vocal about her love for her hometown of Chicago, where she was born and raised.

Hillary Clinton called Illinois home

Here is another first lady-related entry on this list of facts about the state of Illinois. The former first lady and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was also born in Chicago.

At that time, she wasn't a Clinton, her name was Hillary Rodham. Initially, Hillary's family lived in the city but later moved to one of the Chicago suburbs where she remained until she left for university.

The Home Insurance Building was an early skyscraper

Though it's no longer standing, the Home Insurance Building in Chicago was, at the time of its construction, an architectural marvel. That's because it was the first modern skyscraper.

The building was only 10 stories high, but at the time that was taller than most buildings in even the biggest metropolitan areas. Unfortunately, the building was demolished in 1931, but its memory remains.

Some people like to say that Illinois is the birthplace of the ice cream sundae. That can't be confirmed, but sundaes were served as a legal loophole.

In the late 1800s, it was illegal to serve soda on Sundays in the Midwest. To make up for the lost revenue, soda shops in Illinois served ice cream sundaes instead.

Interesting Facts About Illinois

A downtown skyline overlooking a blue lake under a clear blue sky
Lake Michigan passes through multiple states, including Illinois

The Chicago metropolitan area covers 14 counties

Typically, when people talk about Chicago's counties they are referring to Cook County. That's where the city center is located.

Chicago's metropolitan area spans a much larger territory at over 10 thousand miles. That amount of space is much larger than one county can manage. 14 counties are considered part of the Chicago metropolitan area, affectionately known as Chicagoland.

bloodua/Depositphotos.com
A staircase leading to a neoclassical museum with blue banners of "Field"
The Field Museum of Natural History is famous for its exhibits and artifacts

It has renowned resources to learn world history

Chicago is a cultural hub for art and history. The city takes so much pride in the fact that it's created numerous places where locals and tourists can easily learn about world history.

The Field Museum of Natural History is renowned for its artifacts that showcase geological and biological history. The Art Institute also showcases art history, among many other types of history.

jbyard/Depositphotos.com
A contemporary building with arched glass windows against tall buildings
The Chicago Public Library is the 2nd largest library in the city, with 81 branches

The Chicago Public Library has 81 locations

The Chicago Public Library contains 10 million books spread out around its 81 branches. If you count the number of volumes it has, it's the second largest library in the city after the University of Chicago.

If you count size by the number of locations, the Chicago Public Library is easily the largest public library in the Midwest. If you count the number of books, that honor goes to the Detroit Public Library, with Chicago a close second.

It's where Dairy Queen started

One of the little-known interesting facts of Illinois is that it's the birthplace of Dairy Queen. DQ as it's commonly called is a beloved nationwide fast-food chain, but it had humble beginnings.

The first Dairy Queen location opened in 1940 in Jolliet, Illinois. Though the chain is known for its shakes and malts, they weren't added to the menu until 1949.

Two trees on green grass against a river with a downtown skyline at the far back
Lake Michigan is a famous weekend gateway spot for the people across the state

It's covered by Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan is a beloved place for many Illinois locals. As a major body of water near Chicago, it's a popular weekend getaway spot for people all over the state.

As one of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan covers thousands of square miles. Its size is so great that it greatly affects the weather in much of northern Illinois.

No Civil War battles were fought

As part of the Union, Illinois was deeply involved in the Civil War. Yet, you might be surprised to learn that not a single battle was fought in the state.

Instead of being the site of actual fighting, Illinois was, instead the location of several important supply bases. Of course, the state also supplied its fair share of soldiers, including General Ulysses S. Grant.

Native Americans created a confederation

Before settlers came to Illinois, 13 Native American tribes were located in the state's territory. These tribes lived along the Mississippi River due to its fertile land and fresh water.

To maintain peace, these tribes joined together to create the Illinois Confederation, also called the Illiniwek or Illini. According to records, this confederation was made up of over 20 thousand men, women, and children.

It's bordered by the Ohio River

Southern Illinois is bordered by the Ohio River. It's also the starting place of the river's path.

The Ohio river may share its name with a state, but it actually flows through 6 different states. Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia are all in the river's path.

You can find gold in the rivers

If you find yourself on the banks of the Mississippi or Ohio rivers in Illinois, keep your eyes peeled, you might find some gold dust. Recreational gold panning has been a staple for people visiting the state's river shores.

However, while you might find some small bits of gold, don't expect to get rich. Illinois doesn't have any known gold deposits worth mining.

The Illinois River flows into the Mississippi

One of the most interesting facts on Illinois involves two of the state's rivers. Both the Mississippi and the Illinois Rivers are major water bodies within the state.

To keep the Mississippi's flow consistent, it needs tributaries or its water level could drop. One of the river's main secondary water sources is the Illinois river.

It's also called the "Prairie State"

Most people are familiar with the Illinois state nickname the "Land of Lincoln". However, it's also known as the "Prairie State."

Illinois is full of sprawling fields of grasses in the heart of the great planes. Though you'll find hills in the northern parts of the state, much of its territory is relatively flat which helped earn the state this moniker.

Many African American ex-slaves moved here

After the Civil War, many former slaves left the south to find a better life in the northern states that freed them. Though these men and women found homes all over the Union, many found their way to Illinois.

Chicago represented a land of opportunity. Even though it would still take time for Illinois to provide benefits to its African American residents, the booming economy still allowed many ex-slaves to start afresh.

Illinois has the most of the Mississippi River

The Mississippi River flows through 10 different states. Its flow starts in Minnesota and ends in Louisiana where it meets the Gulf.

However, though 10 states share the river, more of its path runs through Illinois than any other state. Between East Dubuque and Cairo, 575 out of the river's 2340 miles run through the state.

A green color river with boats winding through the downtown buildings
For over 60 years, the Chicago River is dyed green on St. Patrick's day

The Chicago River turns green annually

The Chicago River is one of the most popular landmarks in the city. Once a year, though, the river is made extra special.

On St. Patrick's day, the Chicago River is dyed green. The tradition has been ongoing for over 60 years. The color lasts between 24 and 48 hours to celebrate the holiday. The dye used is food-grade coloring, so it's completely safe.

filedimage/Depositphotos.com
A tall skyscraper in the middle with other buildings on its sides
Sears Tower remained the tallest building in the world for almost 28 years

Don't call it Willis Tower

For 28 years, the Sears Tower was the tallest building in the world. Since 1998, that title has been passed to other skyscrapers around the world.

Chicagoans were able to get over that sting, but they'll never get over the building's change in name. Officially, it might be known as the Willis Tower, but don't let any locals hear you call it that. It will always be the Sears Tower to them.

Facts About Illinois History

A metal canon against a town with historical buildings surrounded by trees
At one time in the 1850s, the size of Galena, Illinois had surpassed Chicago
A neoclassical capitol building with a dome under a partly cloudy sky
Springfield is the capital city of Illinois, with the State Capitol Building

The capital is Springfield

Chicago might be the largest city in the state, but its capital is found in central Illinois. One of the most important facts of Illinois is that Springfield is the seat of the state's government.

Springfield was named capital in 1839 due to its central location. Chicago had only been incorporated into the state for two years, so its importance and population hadn't grown to prominence yet.

Galena used to be a mining town, which is one of the facts about Illinois state
One of the historical facts about Illinois state is that Galena was a mining town

Galena was the biggest city

Galena, Illinois is known for being a quaint, picturesque town in the western corner of the state. However, at one time, its size surpassed Chicago.

Galena was a mining town in the 1800s due to the presence of lead in the area. To mine this natural resource, thousands of people came to Galena. Eventually, the mining boom came to an end and the population dispersed.

It has a historic post office

Galena isn't just known for its mining history. It's also home to one of the oldest continuously running post offices in the country.

The post office was built in 1858 and is still standing today in its original form. It's been named a "Great American Post Office" by the Smithsonian Institute due to its historic significance.

It's had 3 state seals

Every state in the USA has a state seal that is used on official documents and buildings. Illinois is no different.

However, Illinois hasn't just had a single seal. It's had three throughout its history. The current seal has been in use since 1867. If you're doing the math, that means the state changed its seal design three times in less than 50 years!

Artifacts date back 10 thousand years

Europeans have only been in Illinois for the last 300 years, but populations in the area date back much further. Historic artifacts found in the state show that people have lived in its territory for around 10 thousand years.

Spears found along the Illinois River have been dated to around 6000 B.C. These ancient people were likely nomadic but stuck around the river where they eventually settled.

Creepy Facts About Illinois

A lit-up skyline of modern buildings overlooking a pathway by a river
There are a number of creepy facts about Illinois that you should know

H. H. Holmes terrorized Chicago

In 1893, Chicago was swarmed with visitors who were attending the World's Fair. At that same time, H. H. Holmes was terrorizing the city.

Holmes owned a hotel in the city that was later dubbed the "murder castle." He modified the building to trap and murder guests.

There is only a single verified victim of the hotel. However, with the number of people who visited the city, the number could be much higher.

Galena has been haunted since the 1800s

Most lists of Illinois facts and history seem to forget that Galena is one of the most haunted towns in the state. That's in part because many of Galena's buildings date back to the early 1900s or earlier.

Galena's ghost sightings aren't a new phenomenon. They date back to the 1800s. The town has made the best of its haunted history. You can take multiple ghost tours throughout the city.

There's an abandoned asylum still standing

Stories of the Peoria State Hospital have swirled around the city since its construction in 1895. After it closed in 1973, those stories have just increased.

As a hospital for the incurably insane, it saw its fair share of interesting patients. Its history and contributions to the field of mental health have earned the asylum a spot in the registry of nationally historic places.

Floods created ghost towns

Every state has its ghost towns, but Illinois has a particularly large collection. Since the state has multiple river valleys, towns were often built nearby to capitalize on the water source.

Many towns in southern Illinois were built too close to rivers or had elevations that were too low, so they suffered flooding. After years of constantly rebuilding, these towns were eventually largely abandoned.

It could be scary to get your mail

For a few weeks in 2002, if you lived in the Midwest, getting your mail could be dangerous. During that time, 18 explosive devices were found in mailboxes in multiple states.

Most of these devices weren't triggered, but a few were. Some of which were in Illinois. Luckily, the terror only lasted a few weeks. People were injured, but one was killed.

Weird Facts About Illinois

demerzel21/Depositphotos.com
Looking up at an overhead track with a train against tall buildings
The train tracks in Chicago are set on fire to melt away snow and ice in winter

Illinois produces a lot of nuclear energy

Many people don't think about where their energy comes from. While different sources allow people to use electricity, nuclear is the main source of energy.

Nuclear energy is produced all over the country, but Illinois is one of the largest contributors. One-eighth of America's nuclear power comes from Illinois.

If you've ever been in a grocery store cookie aisle, you're probably familiar with Nabisco cookies. Did you know your favorite sweet treat might have been made in Chicago?

Nabisco's Chicago bakery plant is nearly 2 million square feet in size. That makes it the largest bakery in the world. It takes 1,200 workers to keep the production chain running smoothly.

Ffooter/Depositphotos.com
A huge metal bean sculpture against tall modern buildings under a partly cloudy sky
Cloud Gate is one of the biggest tourist sites of Chicago, Illinois

A metal bean is a landmark

One of the weird facts about Illinois is that one of Chicago's biggest tourist sites is Cloud Gate. If you've never heard that name, you may have heard about "The Bean."

Officially unveiled in 2006, Cloud Gate is the centerpiece of Millennium Park. It's a giant, reflective metal bean that has become a popular spot for photos.

A train on on railway tracks between tall glass buildings
Many people who work and live around Chicago city center take trains to commute

Chicago railroad tracks are set on fire

As a big city, public transportation is a necessity to get around Chicago. Many people take trains to commute.

Since Chicago is no stranger to below-freezing temperatures, the city came up with a solution to keep the trains moving. Little gas burners are set up along the tracks and are lit to melt away snow and ice. Essentially, the tracks are set on fire.

There are a lot of personalized license plates

Getting a personalized license plate for your car is a unique way to set yourself apart from other drivers. However, most people don't bother with this extra cost.

Illinois locals disagree. Though it might not be the state with the most custom license plates, it's up there in the ranking. When compared to states with similar populations, Illinois has hundreds of thousands more personalized plates.

Cool Facts About Illinois

A black bench against tall concrete buildings under a partly cloudy sky
Aurora is an unknown city to most people outside of Illinois
A field full of prairie flowers under a partly cloudy sky
The majority of the land of Illinois is dedicated to agriculture

Three-quarters of the state is farmland

The Midwest is known for its farmland, and Illinois is no different. It might be home to one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the country, but the majority of the state is dedicated to agriculture.

Currently, there are 72,000 farms in the Prairie State. This farmland covers 27 million acres of the state's territory, which comes out to roughly 3/4 of its total area.

Illinois means "men" and "warriors"

Illinois gets its name from 2 languages. The current spelling and pronunciation come from the French who first settled in the area. This spelling was their interpretation of the Native American language.

In the Peoria tribe's language, the word "Illiniwek" meant "men" and "warriors." This word was often used to refer to the tribal confederation in the territory. When the French began settling, they adopted the word as the name of the future state.

An arched bridge against a historical building on a road intersection
Aurora, Illinois was the first city to light its streets with electric lights

Aurora is the "City of Lights"

Aurora is an often unknown city to most people outside of Illinois. It gained some notoriety in 1881 when it earned the moniker the "City of Lights."

At that time, electricity was still up and coming in the world and many streets were lit with gas lamps. Aurora was the first city to light its streets with electric lights.

It's the starting point of Route 66

As far as cool facts about Illinois are concerned, its relationship with historic Route 66 deserves to be at the top of the list. Illinois is one of the states the famed highway runs through, but that's not all.

Downtown Chicago is the route's starting point. From there, countless drivers have taken the nearly 2500-mile journey through eight states. The highway no longer exists, but you can still follow its famous path.

It was the first state to ratify the 13th Amendment

In 1865, the US government passed a law to amend the constitution for the 13th time so slavery would be officially abolished. However, it wasn't ratified right away.

Each state needed to amend its constitution to include the new law. This can be a lengthy process. Illinois was prepared, though. The same day the amendment was passed by congress, it was ratified in Illinois, making it the first state to do so.

In Summary

Now that you're done, how many of those facts about Illinois state did you already know? How many were a surprise? Hopefully, you learned a thing or two about this important US state.

With any luck, this list has inspired you to do your own research on the "Prairie State." There are plenty of other fun, weird, creepy, and historic facts out there!

This article was edited by Henry Grahame.

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Written by Gabrielle T

ggtraveler1213 WRITER Hi! I'm a lover of all things travel and culture. I'm originally from the USA, but I've lived in Italy for over a decade! I'm always ready to pack my bags, get my passport, and head out on an adventure!


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