Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Interpretive Digital Essay : Globalization: Chicago and the World
Globalization: Chicago and the World
Essay: Introduction
Essay: Chicago in the Middle Ground
Map: Chicago's World¬óWithin a Day's Travel
Essay: Global Chicago
Colonial Trans-Atlantic Networks
A Cosmopolitan Frontier
Global Capitalism and Chicago Real Estate
Built Environment in a Mercantile Metropolis
Networks of Rails
World's Columbian Exposition of 1893
Turn-of-the-Century Industrialization and International Markets
The Chicago Region and Its Global Models
An Upstart Behemoth
Mailing To the World
The World in Chicago
Chicago's Twentieth-Century Cultural Exports
"The Whole World Is Watching"
Corporate Headquarters and Industrial Relics
Map: Changing Origins of Metropolitan Chicago's Foreign-Born Population
The Historic Illinois & Michigan Canal Corridor in 1851
Return to "Global Chicago"

First broached by Louis Jolliet in 1673, the idea of a canal at the base of Lake Michigan did not materialize until 1836-1848, when the Illinois & Michigan Canal was built. Its vital function was to unite the waters of the Great Lakes with those of the Mississippi Basin. The canal was the crucial catalyst for the early growth of Chicago, after which railroads confirmed the city's centrality within the nation. The federal land grant to help build the canal with the proceeds of land sales (the first such aid in the nation) stimulated farm settlement in northeastern Illinois, while the canal itself spurred town growth along its route. Twice as many towns were founded by overzealous promoters as could ultimately survive, so half remained mere "paper towns." Water power and minerals added industry to the commercial base of many of the canal towns, and all benefited from the steady stream of farm produce, lumber, and other necessities moved on the canal in the early 1850s. Despite losing much traffic to the railroads after 1855, the canal remained important for bulk movements until the end of the century. The only major American canal to pay off its construction debts and make a profit, it was succeeded by a modern replacement, the Illinois Waterway.