What is Illinois Known For? (21 Famous Things, People & Places)
What is Illinois known for?
Illinois is known for its rich history, historic sites, sports teams, and cuisine. Illinois is also famous for being the Land of Lincoln, for the city of Chicago, and for its agriculture.
In this post, we’ll take a look at just some of the things this Midwestern state is known and famous for. If you love good food, professional sports, American history, urban expeditions, or road trips, the Prairie State can’t be beaten!
- 21 Things Illinois is Known For
- 1. Chicago
- 2. Chicago Cuisine
- 3. The Horseshoe Sandwich
- 4. Corn Dogs
- 5. The Chicago Bulls
- 6. The Chicago Bears
- 7. Baseball and Hockey teams
- 8. The Ohio and Mississippi Rivers
- 9. The Civil War
- 10. Abraham Lincoln
- 11. Ulysses S. Grant
- 12. Ronald Reagan
- 13. Barack Obama
- 14. Walt Disney
- 15. Pumpkins
- 16. Ernest Hemingway
- 17. Trains
- 18. McDonald’s
- 19. Route 66
- 20. Superman
- 21. Corruption
- FAQs about Famous Things in Illinois
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21 Things Illinois is Known For
There is such a rich history and wealth of attractions in Chicago (Chicago is known for many things just itself!). This city in Illinois’ Cook County is the most populated city in Illinois and the third largest city in America.
Visitors to downtown Chicago can look over the city from the lofty height of the Willis Tower. This skyscraper held the record for the tallest building in the world from 1973-1998. Before 2009, the building was known as the Sears Tower.
When the Willis Group Holdings company leased the tower, one of the conditions included naming rights, hence the change to Willis Tower.
Other attractions the city is known for include the Chicago Bean, and the Chicago River, actually a series of canals spanning the city. One can also visit the Navy Pier and the prestigious Northwestern University. The Art Institute of Chicago offers visitors an unparalleled collection of art, ranging from antiquity to the modern era.
2. Chicago Cuisine
Chicago is also a great place for foodies. One can roam the streets of Chicago in search of the perfect slice of Chicago’s famous deep-dish pizza.
Another lesser-known, yet delicious Chicago dish is the Chicago-style hot dog. This take on the American classic sits on a poppy-seed bun and is topped with relish, onions, tomatoes, a dill pickle wedge, hot peppers, and celery salt.
3. The Horseshoe Sandwich
Springfield, Illinois, also brings a hearty contribution to the table for this list of things Illinois is known for.
The Horseshoe Sandwich consists of hamburger patties or slices of ham between two slices of toast. The sandwich is then covered in french fries and cheese-beer sauce. Yum!
👉 Fun Fact: Chicago’s nickname, the Windy City, comes from a Cincinnati newspaper headline in 1876 describing the aftermath of a tornado in Chicago. However, evidence suggests that “Windy” was also a subtle jab at Chicago residents’ alleged tendency to be “full of hot air.”
4. Corn Dogs
Illinois is known for being the home of one of the most famous variations of hot dogs–the corn dog.
At the Cozy Dog Drive-In, owners Ed Waldmire and Don Strand offered patrons the now-famous cornbread-clad hot dog on a stick. Waldmire based his idea on a cornbread-covered hot dog dish he’d seen in Oklahoma.
5. The Chicago Bulls
Made famous by the likes of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and other basketball greats, the Chicago Bulls have one of the most enduring legacies in the NBA.
To this day, many people still regard Jordan as the G.O.A.T.
6. The Chicago Bears
Who could forget dat certain team from dat certain town–The NFL’s Chicago Bears? Legendary players, such as Walter Peyton and Mike Ditka (who would later return as coach) led the Bears to many victories.
In fact, as an article on Wikipedia notes, the Bears franchise holds the record for the number of victories, 739.
7. Baseball and Hockey teams
The Windy City boasts more than just legendary basketball and football teams. Baseball fans know Chicago well for the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs. The city also has a professional hockey team, the Chicago Blackhawks.
8. The Ohio and Mississippi Rivers
Illinois is a state of rivers. America’s most famous river, the Mississippi, forms the state’s western boundary. The Ohio River runs along southern Illinois, forming the state’s southern boundary, and joins the Mississippi River running at the southern tip of Illinois.
These waterways served as important arteries for shipping throughout the history of Illinois, especially in the most famous of America’s internal conflicts.
9. The Civil War
Though no battles were fought in Illinois, Illinois played an important part in this conflict. Sending 250,000 troops into battle, Illinois ranked 4th for its contribution of manpower to the Union cause.
Sitting on the shores of the Great Lakes, Chicago served as an important shipping and banking center for the Union. Although not the first state to individually abolish slavery, Illinois is famous for being the first state to ratify the 13th Amendment after the war on February 1, 1865.
10. Abraham Lincoln
Illinois prides itself on being the home of Abraham Lincoln during his early political career. The state slogan of Illinois “Land of Lincoln” reflects this claim. Springfield, Illinois preserves the memory of America’s 16th President in two museums.
One is the Lincoln Home National Historic Site (the actual house where he lived). The other is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
11. Ulysses S. Grant
America’s 18th President lived only briefly in the Prairie State. He moved to the small town of Galena in 1860, but spent barely over a year there before being called to service as an officer for the Union army in1861.
After the war, he returned to Galena, but in three years’ short time, he would leave again, this time for the Oval Office.
12. Ronald Reagan
America’s 40th President, Ronald Reagan, was born in the small town of Tampico, Illinois. His childhood home in the nearby town of Dixon now functions as a museum.
Several other sites associated with his life in Dixon also feature displays about the small town boy who would later become President of the United States.
13. Barack Obama
Although born in Hawaii, America’s 44th President, Barack Obama, served three terms in the Illinois State Senate from 1997-2005. From there, he went on to serve in the United States Senate from 2005-2008 and continued on to serve two terms as President from 2009-2017.
The Barack Obama Presidential Library in Hoffman Estates, a village in the Chicago metropolitan area, was named in his honor.
14. Walt Disney
Another of Illinois’ famous people is animator Walt Disney. The man who would go on to revolutionize animated films was born on December 5, 1901 in a small cottage in Chicago.
Young Walt lived in this humble home until the age of four when the Disney family moved to Missouri. The house where he was born was later turned into a museum in 2013.
The small town of Morton, Illinois is known as the pumpkin capital of the world. Back in 1978, the mayor of Morton bestowed this title on his town because 85% of the world’s canned pumpkin came from a local factory.
Each year in September, the otherwise sleepy town transforms into a pumpkin-themed party center complete with competitions, carnival rides, parades, and concerts.
16. Ernest Hemingway
One of America’s most famous authors was born in Oak Park, now part of the greater Chicago area, on July 21, 1899. The home where he was born and spent the first years of his life was sold by the Hemingway family in 1905.
After several decades of use as multi-family housing, the Hemingway Foundation bought the property and renovated it to resemble what it would have looked like during Heminway’s childhood. It now houses a museum dedicated to this famous American novelist.
Illinois, especially the Chicago area, is a major hub for America’s railways. Historically, railroads helped convey freight and passengers to the state (and beyond) since the 1830s.
Today, freightlines such as Union Pacific, as well as America’s only passenger service, Amtrak, continue operations throughout the state. Visitors can learn all about the Prairie State’s extensive railway heritage at the Illinois Railway Museum
In addition to deep-dish pizza, pumpkins, and corn dogs Illinois is known for bringing McDonald’s to the world. California is known for the first McDonald’s in San Bernardino.
However, it was the restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois where Ray Kroc got involved with the franchise, taking it to new heights.
❗ Fun Fact: The world’s largest catsup bottle stands in place of a water tower in the town of Collinsville in the southwest corner of Illinois. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether this monumental bottle is actually full of tomato-based sauce, though.
19. Route 66
The most iconic of American highways, Route 66, begins in the state of Illinois. From the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago, the route heads southwest, crossing the state border with Missouri before continuing on its way.
The aforementioned giant catsup bottle is one of the attractions along this route. A number of retro diners and cafes serve classic American dishes for those about to set out on their adventure towards the Southwestern states.
👉 Read Next: What is Michigan Known For?
Both Chicago and New York City served as inspirations for Metropolis, Superman’s city of residence.
Interestingly enough, though, a tiny town in southern Illinois named Metropolis designated itself the “Home of Superman” and holds an annual Superman Celebration on the second weekend of June.
👉 Read Next: What is Kentucky Known For?
According to Wikipedia, Illinois has a well-earned reputation for being one of the more corrupt states. A 2022 study by the University of Illinois Chicago found that 4 out of the 11 most recent state governors served time in prison. Perhaps the state’s claim on Superman has a deeper appeal to Illinois residents than just bragging rights.
👉 Read Next: What is Arizona Known For?
FAQs about Famous Things in Illinois
Which state has the most nuclear power plants?
Illinois holds the record for nuclear plants with 11 of them, mostly in the north and central parts of the state.
Where does the name “Illinois” come from?
“Illinois” comes from the French name for the Illiniwek tribe of Native Americans.
What does “Illinois” mean?
The name derives from the Illiniwek tribe, whose name means “he who speaks the regular way.” An article on Wikipedia clears up some misconceptions in a thorough explanation of how the name Illinois came to be.
These are just some of the things Illinois is known for. If you’re eager to learn more about another great Midwestern state, check out our article on what Indiana is known for.