What is now Chicago was first settled by Europeans in the 1780s. During the War of 1812 it was the sight of Fort Dearborn, an important outpost of the US Army. The town of Chicago was founded along the southwest shore of Lake Michigan on August 12, 1833 after the remaining Native American population was forcefully removed following the Treat of Chicago.
The name Chicago comes from the Romanization of the Indian word for wild garlic, which grew in the area. In the mid and late 1800s Chicago was the fastest growing city in the world, owing to its position as a portage point between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. The population grew from under 5,000 in 1840, to more than 100,000 in 1860, to more than 1,000,000 in 1890.
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed 10 square km of downtown and killed hundreds. Allegedly started by Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking over a lantern, the fire paved the way for the city's skyscraper boom. The world's first skyscraper was the 55m, nine story Home Insurance Building, built by William le Baron Jenny in 1885. By 1893, Chicago had become a world class city and played host to the World's Colombian Exposition, the most influential fair in history.
The population explosion continued throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Chicago became the hub of America's industrial economy, and began building one of the world's most spectacular skylines. In 1974, the Willis (nee Sears) Tower became the tallest building in the world, and remains the tallest building in the United States.
After World War II, the city's population began to decline somewhat, as middle class whites fled to the suburbs and manufacturers began moving overseas. Today the population has declined from a peak of 3.62 million to 2.7 million. Nonetheless, Chicago is a beautiful and cosmopolitan city, with world class museums, hotels, and dining.