See the first-ever map of the city, and how it evolved over a century.

In 1829, the State of Illinois appointed a commission to lay out what is current-day Chicago. The final map (for what was then a town of less than 100 people), was submitted by James Thompson on August 4, 1830.

The town grew quickly, as East Coast settlers moved for the area's rich farmlands and potential as a transportation hub. Chicago was officially incorporated in 1833 as a town, and granted a city charter four years later. By the end of its first decade, it had exploded to 4,470 inhabitants. Despite the devastating Great Chicago Fire of 1871 (which killed 300 residents, displaced 100,000 more and destroyed 18,000 buildings) the city kept growing, eclipsing the one million mark by 1890.

Below, a look back at the city's first century, from Thompson's original plat map to the post-Great Fire version of itself, through its maps:

Original plat map of Chicago by James Thompson, 1830. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons (see larger).
"Chicago," 1857. Courtesy Library of Commons (see larger).
"Map showing the burnt district in Chicago," 1871. Courtesy Library of Congress (see larger).

"The City of Chicago, showing the burnt district," 1874 . Courtesy Library of Congress (see larger).

"Rascher's birds eye view of the Chicago packing houses & union stock yards," 1890. Courtesy Library of Congress (see larger).

"All elevated trains in Chicago stop at the Chicago Rock Island and Pacific Railway Station, only one on the Loop," 1897. Courtesy Library of Congress (see larger).

"Bird's-eye-view of the business district of Chicago," 1898. Courtesy Library of Congress (see larger).

"Terminals of the Chicago and North-Western Railway at Chicago," 1902. Courtesy Library of Congress (see larger).

Birds-eye view of the elevated railroads and the parks and boulevards of Chicago.1908. Courtesy Library of Congress (see larger).

"Chicago, central business section," 1916. Courtesy Library of Congress (see larger).

"Chicago, central business section," 1916. Courtesy Library of Congress (see larger).

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    In Copenhagen, Bike Commuting Gets a Little Less Popular

    Denmark’s capital may be a cyclists’ paradise, but recent trends show what’s really necessary to sustain a bike boom.

  2. Transportation

    If You Drive Less Than 10,000 Miles a Year, You Probably Shouldn't Own a Car

    Up to one-quarter of all U.S. drivers might be better off using ride-sharing services instead.

  3. Maps

    Mapping Where Europe's Population Is Moving, Aging, and Finding Work

    Younger people are fleeing rural areas, migrating northward, and having fewer children. Here’s how that’s changing the region.

  4. Transportation

    How Seattle Bucked a National Trend and Got More People to Ride the Bus

    Three experts in three very different positions weigh in on their city’s ridership success.

  5. Mass Transit

    Could These Crazy Intersections Make Us Safer?

    Dispatches from the imagination of transportation engineers.