Primary tabs


Commercial Cities and Towns of the United States.

Art. IV. — Commercial Cities and Towns of the United States.
Number VII.
City of Chicago, Illinois.

Chicago, the principal commercial city of Illinois, is situated on the South-western bend of Lake Michigan, at the head of navigation on the great lakes. Its natural harbor is fully equal, if not superior, to any on the lakes — formed by a river of the same name, running in two streams from the North and South, nearly parallel with the lake shore; and, uniting about three-fourths of a mile from the lake, runs directly East into it, varying in depth from 10 to 20 feet, and separating the city into three parts. The ground upon which the city is built, is sufficiently elevated to prevent inundation, and stretches away West and South, from eight to twelve miles, almost a dead level; giving to the traveler almost invariably the idea that it must be unhealthy, which is by no means the case, at least to the extent of first impressions.

The city is regularly laid out, the streets crossing at right angles; those nearest the lake being chosen and adorned with shrubbery for residences. The principal part of the business is transacted on the South side of the main stream; and on both sides of the South branch, the bank of the river is lined by substantial docks, extending from the large warehouses which front the street, next to, and parallel with the river. Thus, while receiving cargoes from, and loading vessels on one side, they discharge freight, and receive the produce from the loaded teams on the other.

Of the early history of Chicago, a glance only must suffice. It was visited by the French as early as 1763, but the first occupancy, by our government, was 1796; a fort having been built soon after General Wayne concluded the treaty of Greenville. This fort was destroyed, and the garrison massacred by the Indians, in 1812. In 1817, it was rebuilt, and called Fort Dearborn, which still remains at the mouth of the river, and serves for a recruiting station. In 1830, General Scott visited this section, (in the trouble with Black Hawk,) and made such representations to Congress, soon after his return, seconded by others, that an appropriation was made to improve the harbor, which resulted in extending two substantial piers some distance into the lake, one of which is surmounted by a light-house. From this period, therefore, Chicago may with propriety date its beginning; with a population, including the garrison, of about two hundred. Some, however, contend that its birth was some three or four years subsequent. It received its charter at the session of 1836, '37. "The oldest inhabitants" are yet in the prime of life, and among our most enterprising business me; and look upon a city in 1847, grown up around them, of nearly or quite 17,000 inhabitants.

The great importance of its location is readily seen by a glance at the map of the United States. The improvement in appearance is almost as rapid as its increase of population; the old buildings, thrown together in the shortest possible time, are rapidly giving way to substantial brick


edifices, more in keeping with the times. Of the public buildings of this character, there are some six very neat churches, (and preparations for more the coming year,) a medical college, three very commodious school-houses, a court-house, a merchants' exchange, etc. There are upwards of fifteen worshipping congregations; three public primary schools, occupying the buildings above-named; several select, and one classical school; two female seminaries; one Mechanics', and one Young Mens' Association, with libraries attached; together with several other societies and associations; seven weekly, four daily, and one monthly (agricultural) paper; also a Hydraulic Company, for supplying the city with water from the lake, which is distributed "a la Croton."

Northern Illinois has justly been termed one of the richest and most fertile sections of our country, and all its products naturally seek a market in Chicago, which are brought to the city by teams, which come from such distances, as to make them absent from home from two to eight days, and frequently longer. The shipping is composed of steamboats, propellers, and sail vessels; of which, seventeen of the first-named form a daily line to Buffalo, and intermediate ports; and, in point of strength, comfortable accommodations, speed, and finish, will not suffer by comparison with any similar vessels in the world. There are also regular lines of each of the others to the ports on Lake Ontario, via Welland Canal, as also to Buffalo. The aggregate amount of business is sketched as follows, viz: — 1847, exports (low estimate) $2,325,000. Imports for 1847, (estimate based upon consignments to owners here, not including property passing through for the interior,) $2,685,000. Amount of wheat shipped from the opening of navigation to 15th November, upwards of 2,800,000 bushels. Arrivals — steamboats, 188; other craft, (propellers and sail,) 427; total, 615. Departures — steamboats, 181; other craft, (propellers and sail,) 355; total, 536.

Internal improvements, in progress and contemplation, as follows, viz: — 1st. "The Illinois and Michigan Canal" will be completed early in 1848, connecting this point with the navigable waters of the Illinois River at Peru, 104 miles South-west. This affords easy access to the Mississippi, and also to the immense coal beds and quarries, in which that part of the State is very rich. 2d. "The Galena and Chicago Union Railroad," 250 miles North-west, to Galena. This affords easy and quick access to the mineral region of the North-west. This work is to be commenced immediately; as I am informed by one of the directors, that sufficient stock has already been subscribed, here and on the route, to build and put in operation the first section, from this to the Fox River, (thirty miles,) as rapidly as possible. Both these channels of communication afford inestimable facilities for the increase of the business of this already busy point. Other contemplated improvements, of a like character, as well as of a more local one, might be named, were time at command, but will appear more properly in a more detailed paper, should an opportunity offer for preparing one. One more, however, will be named as the third; which, though last, is by no means least, viz: the telegraph, which is now nearly completed; and a few days, or at most, weeks hence, we shall have the pleasure of a "tete-a-tete" with our Eastern friends. s. n. s.


In order to exhibit more fully the rapid growth of Chicago, it may be well to introduce in this place an extract from one of a series of letters written by an intelligent traveler, in 1837: —

"Chicago is, without doubt, the greatest wonder in this wonderful country. Pour years ago, the savage Indian there built his little wigwam — the noble stag there saw undismayed his own image reflected from the polished mirror of the glassy lake — the adventurous settler then cultivated a small portion of those fertile prairies, and was living far, far away from the comforts of civilization. Four years have rolled by, and how changed that scene! That Indian is now driven far West of the Mississippi; he has left his native hills — his hunting grounds — the grave of his father — and now is building his home in the far West, again to be driven away by the mighty tide of emigration. That gallant stag no longer bounds secure o'er those mighty plains, but startles at the rustling of every leaf, or sighing of every wind, fearing the rifles of the numerous Nimrods who now pursue the daring chase. That adventurous settler is now surrounded by luxury and refinement; a city with a population of over six thousand souls has now arisen; its spires glitter in the morning sun; its wharves are crowded by the vessels of trade; its streets are alive with the busy hum of commerce.

"The wand of the magician, or the spell of a talisman, ne'er effected changes like these; nay, even Aladdin's lamp, in all its glory, never performed greater wonders. But the growth of the town, extraordinary as it is, bears no comparison with that of its commerce. In 1833, there were but four arrivals, or about 700 tons. In 1836, there were four hundred and fifty-six arrivals, or about 60,000 tons. Point me, if you can, to any place in this land whose trade has been increased in the like proportion. What has produced this great prosperity? I answer — its great natural advantages, and the untiring enterprise of its citizens. Its situation is unsurpassed by any in our land.

"Lake Michigan opens to it the trade of the North and East, and the Illinois and Michigan Canal, when completed, will open the trade of the South and Southwest. But the great share of its prosperity is to be attributed to the enterprise of its citizens; most of them are young — many there are upon whose temple the golden lock of youth is not darkened; many who a short time since bade adieu to the fascinations of gay society, and immured themselves in the western wilderness, determining to acquire both fame and fortune. And what has been the result? While many of their companions and former associates are now toiling and struggling in the lowly vale of life, with scarcely enough of the world's gear to drive away the cravings of actual want, the enterprising adventurer has amassed a splendid fortune — has contributed to build up a noble city, the pride of his adopted State, and has truly caused the wilderness to bloom and blossom like the rose. Such are always the rewards of ever-daring minds."

The following description of the country in the vicinity of Chicago, is from the pen of Mr Schoolcraft: —

"The country around Chicago is the most fertile and beautiful that can be imagined. It consists of an intermixture of woods and prairies, diversified with gentle slopes, sometimes attaining the elevation of hills, and irrigated with a number of clear streams and rivers, which throw their waters partly into Lake Michigan, and partly into the Mississippi River. As a farming country, it unites the fertile soil of the finest lowland prairies with an elevation which exempts it from the influence of stagnant waters and a summer climate of delightful serenity; while its natural meadows present all the advantages for raising stock, of the most favored part of the valley of the Mississippi. It is already the seat of several flourishing plantations, and only requires the extinguishment of the Indian title to the lands, to become one of the most attractive fields for the emigrant. To the ordinary advantages of an agricultural market-town, it must hereafter add that of a depot for the inland commerce between the Northern and Southern sections of the Union, and a great thoroughfare for strangers, merchants, and travelers.


"Along the North branch of the Chicago, and the lake shore, are extensive bodies of fine timber. Large quantities of white pine exist in the regions towards Green Bay, and about Grand River, in Michigan, from which lumber in any quantities is obtained, and conveyed by shipping to Chicago. Yellow poplar boards and plank are brought across the lake from the St. Joseph's River.

"The United States has a strip of elevated ground between the town and lake, about half a mile in width, on which Fort Dearborn and the light-house are situated, but which is now claimed as a pre-emption right, and is now in a course of judicial investigation.

"Fort Dearborn was for a considerable period occupied as a military station by the United States, and garrisoned generally by about three companies of regular troops; but the expulsion of the Indians, and the rapid increase of settlements at all parts of this region, have rendered its further occupancy as a military post unnecessary: in consequence, the troops have been recently withdrawn. It consists of a square stockade, enclosing barracks, quarters for the officers, a magazine, provision-store, etc., and is defended by bastions at the Northern and South-east angles.

"During the last war with Great Britain, this place was the scene of a most foul and bloody tragedy. In 1812, in consequence of the disgraceful surrender of General Hull at Detroit, it was determined to abandon the fort. A number of the troops, shortly after leaving it, were inhumanly murdered by the savages, who lay in ambush on the margin of the lake."

Mr. Baldwin, a civil engineer, in his report showing the cost and income of a railroad from Toledo, Ohio, to Chicago, Illinois, describes the geographical position of Chicago for a city as most auspicious —

"With rich prairies extending to the South-west, West, and North-west, across the country to the Mississippi River: important as a point where many long lines of intercommunication must unavoidably converge, coming in from all points of the compass, bearing the rich products of forests, mines, and agriculture; and it is quite apparent, at the present time, that what was prognosticated at its birth, is actually taking place. We have here the termination of the great Illinois and Michigan Canal, projected upwards of twenty years ago, but now on the eve of completion. This canal is one of the largest class, and extends 954 or 100 miles, to the head of steamboat navigation on the Illinois River; it opens a water communication, 1,700 miles, to the Gulf of Mexico, and completes an inland navigation of 3,200 miles to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, by way of the lakes, Canada Canals, and St. Lawrence River; and, by way of the lakes, the Erie Canal, and Hudson River, to the city of New York, a distance of 3,100 miles.

"We have, also, at Chicago, the projected Galena and Chicago Union Railroad, which is, in effect, but a continuation of the Buffalo and Mississippi Railroad, extending to Galena. The charter is broad in its terms, and will, by the influence of the citizens of Chicago, be soon carried into effect, if operations have not been already arranged. Under a clause in the charter, permitting lateral lines to be built, it is conceded that that part of our line which lies in Illinois, and which, for the sake of simplicity, has been considered as a part of the Buffalo and Mississippi Railroad, would be built. The charter to the company grants the privilege of connecting the road with the Central Railroad in its course to Galena, should they prefer it to a more direct route. The distance, by the direct route. Would be 160 miles, supposing it no greater than the present stage-route. If it diverges to the Central Railroad, passing by way of Dixonville, on Rock River, the distance from Chicago to Galena would be 170 miles — supposing, as before, the line to be of the length of the stage-road. The charter allows a capital of $2,000,000.

"The appropriations by government for improving the harbor of Chicago have been great, and further extensive improvements, I am informed, are contemplated. Some of the early appropriations were as follows: — In 1833, $25,000; in 1834, $32,801; in 1835, $32,800; and in 1836, $68,350 was demanded by the estimates for completing the work agreeably to a plan proposed at that time, which,


if carried out, would have made the cost of the work $205,661. In 1837, a further appropriation of $40,000 was granted; and, in January, 1838, it was stated all the appropriations amounted, up to that time, to $162,601.

The subjoined tabular statements of exports and imports, exhibit the extent and importance of the trade and commerce of Chicago: —

Table of Exports and Imports.
1836 $1,000 64 1836 $325,203 90
1837 11,065 00 1837 373,667 12
1838 16,044 75 1838 579,174 61
1839 33,843 00 1839 630,980 26
1840 228,635 74 1840 562,106 20
1841 348,362 24 1841 564,347 88
1842 659,305 20 1842 664,347 88
1843 682,210 85 1843 971,849 75
1844 785,504 23 1844 1,686,416 00
1845 1,543,519 85 1845 2,043,445 73
1846 1,813,468 00 1846 2,027,150 00
1847 2,296,299 00 1847 2,641,852 52

Exports of Leading Articles from 1842 to 1846, Inclusive.
Years. Wheat. Flour. Beef and Pork. Wool.
  Bushels. Barrels. Barrels. Pounds.
1842 586,907 2,920 16,209 1,500
1843 628,967 10,786 21,492 22,050
1844 891,894 6,320 14,938 96,635
1845 956,860 13,752 13,268 216,616
1846 1,459,594 23,045 31,224 281,222
1847 1,974,303 32,538 48,920 411,488

ARTICLES.   1842. 1843. 1844. 1845.
Wheat bush. 586,907 628,967 891,894 956,860
Corn   35,358 2,443    
Oats   53,486 3,767    
Peas   484      
Barley   1,090      
Flaxseed   750 1.920    
Flour bbls. 2,920 10.786 5,320 13,752
Beef   762 10,380 7,889  
Pork and ham   15,447 11,112 7,049  
Fish   915      
Lard     2,823 1,630  
" lbs. 376,200      
Lard oil bbls     55  
Potash       36  
Neats' oil       8  
Cranberries       31  
Grass seed       72  
Hemp seed       16  
Hides No. 6,947 14,536 11,042  
Brooms   5,587 2,160    
Calf skins       1,246  
Deer skins       5,194  
Furs lbs.     8,000  
Stuffed birds boxes       2
Furs and peltries pks. 446 393 158  
Maple sugar lbs. 4,50      
Lead   59,990 360,000    
Feathers   2,409     7,332
Tallow   151,300 1,133 34,899  
Mustard seed         2,182


    1842. 1843. 1844. 1845.
Soap   2,400 5,300 74,465  
Candles   500 4,900    
Tobacco   3,000 74,900 526,536 61,125
Butter   24,200      
Rags         7,446
Wool   1,500 22,050 96,635 216,616
Beeswax       5,410  
Buffalo robes bales     51 32
Horns casks     29 32
Hemp lbs.       2,800
Hay tons       227
ARTICLES.   1842. 1843. 1844. 1845.
Merchandise tons   2,012 say 4,673  
Packages pkgs.   101,470    
Salt bbls.   27,038 27,462  
Whiskey     2,585    
Lumber feet   7,545,142 19,160,407 21,026,508
Shingles No.   4,117,025 12,285,000 15,883,000
Timber feet   16,600 66,478 67,484
Staves No.   157,000 137,000  
Bark cords   430    
Laths No.       1,397,000
Coals tons     2,008 6,000

The amounts of exports and imports entered in the above table, under the year 1845, show only a few items. A considerable portion of the ex-ports, not included in any of the statistics, go to the lumber region around Green Bay, Northern Michigan, &c. in return for lumber. In the region alluded to, there are about one hundred saw-mills, employing about two thousand men — half of them with families. The mills are capable of producing fifty millions of lumber, two-thirds of which is sent to Chicago, having a value, after delivery, of some 8165,000. It is believed two-thirds of this amount, $110,000, is paid for in beef, flour, dry-goods, groceries, iron, nails, and mill-castings.

The value of imports for 1846 was $3,027,150, besides articles of considerable amount not included. From October 1st, 1845, to October 1st, 1846, the importation of lumber was 24,424,299 feet. The following is a table of exports for 1846: —

Wheat. bush. 1,459,594 Brooms dozen 896
Oats   52,113 Flour bbls. 29,045
Corn   11,047 Tongues lbs. 100 1/2
Hemp lbs 4,517 Oil galls. 3,600
Tobacco   28,287 Hay tons 130
Wool   281,222 Beeswax lbs 3,560
Bacon and hams   238,216 Ginseng   6,800
Dried beef   11,000 lead   10,895
Beef and pork bbls. 31,224 Cranberries bbls. 529
Lard and tallow   1,835 Fish   322
Butter lbs. 3,905 Hides and leather value $24,685
Candles boxes 810 Furniture   9,000
Raw furs lbs. 37,514      
The amount of land offered for sale in the Chicago district was acres 3,624,535      
Sales to 1846, inclusive   2,682,670      
Lands unsold January 1st, 1847   996,475      


Since the foregoing table was in type, we have received the report of Jesse B. Thomas, as a member of the executive committee appointed by the Chicago Harbor and River Convention, of the statistics of Chicago, from which we derive more recent statements of the trade of that city. The following table exhibits the amount of goods, wares, and merchandise received at Chicago, from the opening of navigation in the spring of 1847, to November 1st, near the close of navigation, 1847; not including goods landed there and taken to the interior; compiled from the original invoices of merchants: —

Dry-goods $837,451 22 Liquors $86,334 67
Groceries 506,027 56 Tobacco and cigars 3,716 00
Hardware 148,811 50 Ship chandlery 23,000 00
Iron and nails 88,275 00 Tools and hardware 15,000 00
Stoves and hollow-ware 68,612 00 Furniture trimming 5,564 07
Crockery 30,505 00 Glass 8 949 24
Boots and shoes 94,275 00 Scales 4,044 55
Hats, caps, and furs 68,200 00 Coaches, &c 1,500 00
Jewelry, &c 51,000 00 Looking glasses, &c 2 500 00
Books and stationery 43,580 00 Marble 800 00
Printing paper 7,284 11 Oysters 2,500 00
Presses, type, and printing materials 7,432 50 Sportsman's articles 2,000 00
      Musical instruments 6,426 00
Drugs and medicines 92,081 41 Machinery, &c 30,000 00
Paints and oils 25,460 00      
Total value of imports of merchandise $2,259,309 83      
Salt bbls. 24,817 Coal tons 15,782
Salt Sacks 5,537 Water lime bush. 1,618
Value $117,210 29        

And numerous other articles not here enumerated, such as pig-iron, white fish and trout, fruit, grindstones, cider, &c.

Plank, boards, &c feet 32,118,225 Shingle bolts cords 328
Shingles M. 12,148,500 Tanners' bark   600
Lath   5,655,700 Staves   50,000
Square timber feet 24,000 Spokes   100,000
Total Value $265,332 50        

Wheat bush. 1,974,304 Flax seed bush. 2,262
Flour bbls. 32,598 Mustard seed   520
Corn bush. 67,315 Timothy seed   536
Oats   38,892 Hay tons 415
Beef bbls 26,504 Cranberries bush. 250
Pork   22,416 Buffalo robes bales 60
Hams and shoulders lbs. 47,248 Dry hides   8,774
Tallow   208,435 Deer skins lbs 28,259
Butter   47,536 Sheep pelts   1,133
Beans bush. 430 Furs pkgs. 278
Wool lbs. 411,088 Ginseng lbs. 3,625
Tobacco   28,243 Ashes bbls. 16
Lard   139,069 Bristles lbs. 4,548
Leather   2,704 Glue   2,480
Beeswax   5,490 Brooms   3,168
Oil galls. 8,793 White fish bbls. 1,229
Lead lbs. 10,254 Barley bush. 400
Hemp   6,521      
Value $2,296,299        


Besides, a large amount of merchandise, produce, provisions, grain, horses, cattle, salt, and supplies of all kinds sent to the lumber and Mining regions, and different ports on the upper and lower lakes. The following is the shipping list of Chicago: —

Shipping List of Chicago, 1846.
No. of           No. of vess.
  Vessels. Arrivals. Entries. Clearances. Departures. Tonnage. Employed.
Steamboats 19 352 160 158 358 14,351 380
Propellers 17 111 111 82 109 5,170 204
Brigs 36 94 94 62 94 8,781 324
Schooners 120 837 157 134 835 16,443 720
Total 192 1,394 522 436 1,396 44,745 1,628

It may not be irrelevant to give here a catalogue of the different kinds of business, trades, &c., for the close of the year 1845; carefully ascertained by Mr. Norris, for insertion in his "Directory of Chicago, for 1846." The list embraces only those trades considered most worthy of notice: —

6 auction and commission stores. 12 or 15 insurance agencies.
7 bankers and brokers. 2 leather stores.
8 boot, shoe, and leather stores. 15 lumber dealers.
6 botanical vegetable gardens. 2 marble factories.
12 cabinet and chair manufactories. 15 private market-houses.
11 ready-made clothing stores 2 Steam-mills (3 of them flour and 1 saw) wind-mills
2 colleges 2  
7 drug stores. 1 museum.
8 dry-goods and fancy stores. 10 newspapers (3 daily and 7 weekly.)
64 wholesale and retail dry grocery stores. 8 oil, soap, and candle manufactories.
8 or 10 commission stores. 6 packing-houses for beef and pork.
14 forwarding commission stores. 3 steam planning-mills
4 foundries. 1 pottery.
1 French burr mill-stone manufactory. 8 printing houses (job and book.)
63 retail grocery stores. 8 saddle and harness makers.
17 hardware stores. 2 ship builders.
4 hat, cap, and fur stores. 2 ship chandlers.
23 hotels and taverns. 13 wagon makers.
9 bakers. 12 blacksmiths.
40 practical lawyers. 25 boot and shoe makers.
53 learned lawyers. 3 breweries.
5 book stores. 13 coopers.
3 crockery stores. 4 door and sash blind factories.

The vessels trading with Chicago, in 1844, numbered 194; of which 18 Were steamboats; 10 propellers; 26 brigs; 136 schooners; 1 bark, and 4 sloops. Their total tonnage amounted to 35,919 tons.

The table below shows the number of arrivals and departures for recent years: —

1842 Arrived 705 Cleared. 705 Total 1,410 Ag. tonnage 117,711
1843 " 756 " 691 " 1,447 " 289,852
1844 " 1,243 " 1,243? " 2,486 " 459,910
1845 " 1,159? " 1,159 " 2,318 " ?

The arrivals and departures for 1845, here given, do not include coasting vessels, or the mail steamer running to St. Joseph, Michigan.



1. It appears, from a tabular statement in the report of Jesse B. Thomas, Esq., concerning the statistics of Chicago, that the population of that city in 1840 was 4,853; in 1843, 7,580; in 1845, 12,088; in 1846, 14,199; and by the census completed on the ist of September, 1847, in round numbers, 17,000.

2. This communication with the East has been completed, and is in the full tide of successful operation. — [ED]