Notable Illinois People

Illinois Biography Resource File

Listing by Category

Adventurers & Explorers

Coleman, Bessie (1893-1926) Aviator.  First African-American woman to get a pilot's license.

Jolliet, Louis (`1645-1700) French Explorer and merchant, born in Canada. Was with Marquette in exploration of the Mississippi River.  Helped open western North America.

Sable, Jean Baptiste Pointe du (1745?-1818), Trader, trapper.  First permanent non-Native American resident of the area now called Chicago, Illinois.   Site: Historic Peoria

LaSalle, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de ( 1643-1687) Estate owner and explorer.

Marquette, Jacques , S. J (Father) ( 1637-1675 ) Jesuit priest and explorer. European (French) discoverer of the Mississippi River Site:Catholic Encyclopedia




Artists & Architects

Burnham, Daniel (1846-1912) Architect. Chicago architecture.

Sullivan, Louis (1856-1924) Architect. Carson, Pirie Scott Building, Chicago Auditorium, Wainwright Building,  Famous for his quote: "Form ...follows function."

Taft, Lorado (1860-1936) Sculptor. Site: University of Illinois Archives

van der Rohe, Ludwig Mies (1886-1969) Architect. Famous for his dictum 'Less is More', Mies attempted to create contemplative, neutral spaces through an architecture based on material honesty and structural integrity. Over the last twenty years of his life, Mies achieved his vision of a monumental 'skin and bone' architecture.

Wright, Frank Lloyd (1867-1959) Architect.  Led the way to the development of a truly American architecture. Site: Oak Park Tourism.  Also: All-Wright Site. A  compilation site of online information about Frank Lloyd Wright by a Frank Lloyd Wright fan.  


Armstrong, Louis "Satchmo" (1901-1971) US jazz musician.  Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, he began playing at 13 in the band at the New Orleans Waif's home. Later he played cornet in New Orleans and Mississippi River boat bands. He joined King Oliver's group in Chicago in 1922. In 1925, he formed the Louis Armstrong's Hot Five, and recorded in the "Chicago Dixieland" style.  Armstrong became popular on radio, in film and later on TV. Famous for his gravel scat singing and trumpet tone, he is one of the most famous jazz musicians. Songs recorded include 'Hello Dolly' "It's a Wonderful World." He married Lillian Hardin in 1924; they were  divorced in 1938. He remarried in 1942. His nickname Satchmo is an elided version of Satchel Mouth. Site: PBS. JAZZ: A Film by Ken Burns -- Biographies.


Benny, Jack (1894-1974) Film, radio, and television actor and comedian. Born in Waukegan, Illinois.  Site: Jack Benny on the Web (A nicely done personal site.)   

Dunham, Katherine (1909- 2006) Dancer, Choreographer, Anthropologist. Site: The Black Collegian Magazine Online

Goodman, Benny (1909-1986) Musician. Clarinet player. Band leader. Site: PBS: American Masters

Jackson, Mahalia (1911-1972), Gospel singer. Born October 16, 1911, New Orleans, Louisiana; died January 27, 1972, Evergreen Park, Illinois.  Site: Women in History by Lakewood Public Library (Ohio)

Winfrey, Oprah (1954-     ) Television talk show host, actress, entrepreneur. Site: The Hall of Business

Industrialists &  Entrepreneurs

Armour, Philip Danforth (18321901) Site: The Columbia Encyclopedia.

Field, Marshall (1834-1806) Businessman. Merchant.  Founded Marshall Field & Company in Chicago. Site: Infoplease Encyclopedia.

Kroc, Ray. (1902-1984) Entrepreneur. Founder of McDonalds. Site:  McDonalds Media.Com.  Also: Time: Persons of the Century--Builders and Titans.

Mayer, Oscar F. ( 1859-1955) Meat packer and businessman.  Chicago company.  Legend: Oscar Mayer (Site: Youngstown University)

Pinkerton, Allan (1819-1884) American Detective. Site: The Columbia Encyclopedia.

Sears, Richard Warren (1863-1914) Merchant and entrepreneur

Winfrey, Oprah (1954-     ) Television talk show host, actress, entrepreneur. Site: The Hall of Business

Wrigley, William, Jr. (1861-1932) Salesman, entrepreneur and chewing gum manufacturer. Site: Youngstown University.

Inventors & Entrepreneurs

Deere, John (1804-1886) Agricultural toolmaker and Inventor,  Deere was born in Rutland Vermont. He worked as blacksmith until 1837 when he moved to Grande Detour, Illinois selling these and then branched out into manufacturing other farm implements as well. By 1855 his factory was selling more than 10,000 units a year. John Deere and Company, US farm implement manufacturer, is located in Quad Cities area of Illinois and still markets under his name.   Site: John Deere and Company. (Moline, IL)

Ferris, George Washington Gale, Jr. (1859-1896) Civil engineer and builder of the Ferris Wheel. Site: American National Biography Sample Page. Also: Interactive Guide to the World's Columbian Exposition  Chicago, Illinois May-October, 1893.

McCormick, Cyrus   (1809-1894) Inventor and industrialist.  Invented the mechanical reaper. Site: Shenandoah Valley Agricultural Research & Extension Center (Virginia)

Pullman, George (1831- 1897) Inventor and industrialist.  Developed the first modern railway sleeping car. Site: Graceland Cemetery  Also: Photographs form Chicago Daily News

Military Leaders

Clark, George Rogers (1852-1818)  Revolutionary War hero, frontiersman, founder of Louisville, Kentucky. He was noted for his farsightedness and his persuasive abilities. Site: Indiana Historical Bureau.

The Role of George Rogers Clark in the Illinois Frontier

Grant, Ulysses S. (1822-1885) United States Army General.  18th President of the United States.  

Grant, Ulysses S. (1822-1885) from World Almanac for Kids

-Ulysses S. Grant from U. S. Senate Website




 Native Americans

PONTIAC (1720?-1769 ) Ottawa Indian Chief, warrior and orator. He led an Indian uprising against the British during the French and Indian War.  Pontiac was ultimately defeated.  He spent his last days near Cahokia and was killed by a Peoria tribesman.

BLACK HAWK (1767-1837) Sauk chief. Lived in area now called Rock Island.  He led Sauk, Winnebago and Potawatomi Indian tribes in defense of their homelands in Illinois and Wisconsin..  Abraham Lincoln was among the militia from Illinois who fought in the war. Site: Black Hawk Middle School in Madison, Wisconsin.

Illinois Statehood and the Demise of the Native American

Illini Confederation of the Mississippi Valley: Kaskaskia, Peoria, Tamaroa, Cahokia, Michigamea Site: Lords of the Mississippi Valley

The Trail of Tears: The Cherokee Tribe The Cherokee faced tragic hardships when they were forced from their homeland in the Great Smoky Mountains in 1838-9. They crossed the the land on foot to Oklahoma. Part of their trail, known as the Trail of Tears, went through Illinois.

Newspapermen, Journalists, & Cartoonists

Gould, Chester (1900-1985 ) Cartoonist: Creator of Dick Tracy - Site: Comic Art & Graffix Gallery

Gruelle, Johnny (1880-1938) Political cartoonist, Author and Illustrator.  Born in Arcola, Illinois.  Created Raggedy Ann and Andy stories and dolls. Site: Johnny Gruelle Raggedy Ann & Andy Museum.

Lovejoy, Elijah Parish (1802-1837) Teacher. Minister. Newspaperman. Murdered by a pro-slavery mob while trying to preserve a printing press for his anti-slavery newspaper. Site: Altonweb, City of Alton, IL  Slavery's Martyr; The Life of Elijah Parish Lovejoy

McCormick, Robert R. (1880-1955) Publisher and Editor, Chicago Tribune  Site: Robert R. McCormick Museum

Two Men Built Tribune Tower

Medill, Joseph (1823-1899 ) Publisher and Editor, Chicago Tribune  Site: Robert R. McCormick Museum

Two Men Built Tribune Tower



Presidents of the United States




Grant, Ulysses S. (1822-1885) United States Army General.  18th President of the United States.  Also: The White House.

Lincoln, Abraham (1809-1865)  Lawyer. Legislator. 16th US president. 
Abraham Lincoln was born in log cabin in Kentucky. His father was an itinerant laborer who turned to carpentry. By the time the Lincolns left Kentucky, Abraham's father had 3 farms. Lincoln's parents were anti-slavery.  In 1816 they moved to Indiana, partly because slavery was illegal there and partly because land tenure there was more secure.  Abe had less than 1 year of schooling.
  In 1834, Lincoln was elected to lower house of the Illinois legislature.  He served 4 terms.  He became a lawyer in 1836.  He married Mary Todd in 1842 and settled in Springfield, Illinois.  He lost an election to the US Senate but made an impression by opposing the spread of slavery saying "A house divided against itself cannot stand." In 1860, he won the presidential election. In 1861, he made a symbolic supply to Fort Sumter, a federal outpost in a slave state, thus prompting the Civil War. He appointed hard-fighting generals such as Ullyses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. In 1864, he won re-election. Lincoln agitated Southern-sympathizer John Wilkes Booth who assassinated him on April 26, 1865, after Robert E. Lee's surrender to General Ullyses S. Grant on April 9,1865.SITE: The American Presidency by Grolier. Also: The White House.

Reagan, Ronald (1911-    ) Fortieth President of the United States.  Actor, Governor, Politician.  Site: The White House.

Obama, Barack (           ) Forty-fourth President of the United States.

Politicians, National

Bryan, William Jennings (1860-1925) Lawyer and politician.  Bryan was born in Salem, Illinois and moved to Nebraska in 1877.  He became United States Congressman from Nebraska and ran for president of the United States three times.  He was considered a great orator and writer by the people of his day. Site: 1896: The Presidential Campaign; Cartoons and Commentary : A Vassar College Website

Clinton, Hillary Rodham (1947-    ) Born October 26, 1947 in Park Ridge, Illinois. First Lady of the United States, 1993-2001.  Elected Senator from New York on Nov. 7, 2000. Online Office

Douglas, Stephen Arnold (1813-1961) Cabinetmaker, Lawyer, Politician. Candidate for president.  Lincoln-Douglas Debates.  Site: Illinois in the Civil War. Stephen A. Douglas Site: InfoPlease.Com Also: Douglas Monument Park. (Graveyards of Chicago).

Grant, Ulysses S. (1822-1885) United States Army General.  18th President of the United States. Site: The American Presidency by Grolier. Also: The White House.

Lincoln, Abraham (1809-1865)  Lawyer. Legislator. 16th US president.   Also: The White House.

Reagan, Ronald (1911-    ) Fortieth President of the United States.  Actor, Governor, Politician.  Site: The White House.

Politicians, State and City




Bond, Shadrach (1773-1830) First Governor of Illinois serving from 1818 to1822. Also: Shadrach Bond at Illinois Genealogy Web Project.

Daley, Richard J. (1902-1976) Lawyer. Politician. Born in Chicago.  Mayor of Chicago. Site: The Columbia Encyclopedia.

Daley, Richard M. (1942-    ) Lawyer. Politician. Born in Chicago.  Mayor of Chicago.  Son of earlier mayor with similar name. Site: Official Site of the City of Chicago.

Ogden, William Butler (1805 -1877) First Mayor of Chicago, IL  Site: PBS: American Experience: Chicago: City of the Century

Pope, Nathaniel (1784-1850) Territorial Delegate to Congress and leader in establishment of Illinois statehood in 1818.

Washington, Harold (1922-1987) 42nd Mayor of Chicago  Harold Washington





Social Reformers

Addams, Jane (1860-1935) Social reformer.  Born in Cedarville, Illinois.  Started Hull House in Chicago.  Won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.  Site:  Hull House Museum.  Also:Nobel Laureates 

Bickerdyke, Mary Ann Ball (1817-1901) Hospital worker. Born in Knox County, Ohio, Mother Bickerdyke became the best known, most colorful, and probably most resourceful nurse in the American Civil War. By the end of the war, with the help of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, Mother Bickerdyke had built 300 hospitals and aided the wounded on 19 battlefields.  Site: "Civil War Interactive: The Daily Newspaper of the Civil War"

Dix, Dorothea Lynde  (1802-1887) Teacher, Social reformer, and Humanitarian. Site:  Civil War Nurses

Jones, Mary (Mother) Harris (1837-1930) Social reformer. United Mine Workers strike organizer. In 1909 she organized a Children's March to protest child labor practices in the United States.

Lovejoy, Elijah Parish (1802-1837) Teacher. Minister. Newspaperman. Murdered by a pro-slavery mob while trying to preserve a printing press for his anti-slavery newspaper. Site: Altonweb, City of Alton, IL

Wells-Barnett, Ida Bell (1862-1931) Teacher, Journalist, Social activist. Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Ida Wells was the daughter of slaves. She was educated at Rust University, a freedman's school in Holly Springs. By the age of 14 she was teaching school. Her belief in justice and educational opportunity for Black American children led to a career in journalism. In 1985, she married Ferdinand L. Barnett, a Chicago lawyer, editor, and public official, and adopted the name Wells-Barnett.  She was active in Chicago civic affairs and led a crusade to stop lynchings. Site: Women in History









Writers & Poets

Brooks, Gwendolyn (1917-2001) Poet and Author.
First black poet to win a Pulitzer Prize.  Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas; her family moved to Chicago when she was one.  She lived in Chicago for the rest of her life. She is best known for her poems of street-wise authenticity. One of her well known poems begins "We Real Cool. We/Left school. We/..." (1960). A children's book of poetry is titled Bronzeville Boys and Girls.  She wrote many other poems: "Medgar Evers" (a civil rights leader in Mississippi, murdered in 1963), "The Bean Eaters"(1960), "Boy Breaking Glass", (1968) and "Kitchenette Building" (1945). Site: Academy of American Poets

Lindsay, Vachel (1879-1931) Poet. A comprehensive, but scholarly site on the life and work of Vachel Lindsey.  Graphics include poet's handwriting, covers and some content of original editions of his books, and his home in Springfield, IL. Site: Modern American Poetry Site (MAPS).

Masters, Edgar Lee (1869-1950)  Lawyer and Poet. Most famous work: Spoon River Anthology.  Born in Kansas, he grew up near Petersburg, IL.

Peck, Richard  (19  -      ) Illinois author.  Richard Peck is a Newbery Award winning author.  His books about crusty Grandma Dowdel are set in a small southeastern Illinois town in the 1930s. Mr. Peck was born in Decatur, Illinois.  His many books are popular with young adult readers.

Sandburg, Carl (1878-1967) US poet, historian, lecturer, and folk-singer.  He wrote poetry, biography, autobiography, fiction and newspaper articles. He was a lecturer and folk-singer as well. His newspaper coverage of social unrest in 1919 resulted in a book called The Chicago Race Riots. The stories he invented for his three daughters became The Rootabaga Stories. When he was 70 he published his first and only novel, Remembrance Rock.  Son of Swedish immigrants, Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois.  He worked his way through Lombard College and graduated 1902. He married in1905.  In 1914, some work was published in a magazine.  It included the poem "Chicago."

"And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces
of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger."

This poem celebrated working class people and the great sprawling and often brutal American cities. Sandburg also compiled an anthology of folksongs and ballads, The American Songbag (1927). He wrote 3 books for children including  Rootabaga Stories, a collection of original fairy tales. His twelve volume biography on Abraham Lincoln (1926) and (1939) won him the Pulitzer Prize. Sandburg's Complete Poems (1950) also won a Pulitzer Prize. His autobiography of his youth is called Always the Young Strangers (1952).  Site; EduETH

Religious Figures

Cabrini, Mother Francis Xavier (1850-1917) First American Saint of the Roman Catholic Church. Site:  St. Frances Cabrini School in Piscataway, NJ

Smith, Joseph (1805-1844) Founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, popularly known as the Mormons. Lived in Nauvoo, IL.

Young, Brigham (1801-1877) President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Led followers to Salt Lake City, Utah after Joseph Smith's death in Carthage, IL.

Scientists & Doctors

 Williams, Daniel Hale (1856-1931) African American surgical pioneer and innovator, founded the first black voluntary hospital in the United States.

Fermi, Enrico (1901-1954) Experimental and Theoretical Physicist. Won Nobel Peace Prize for his work in nuclear physics. A major scientist of the 20th century.   Site: Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory 

Lederman, Leon (1922-    ) Nobel Prize winner in Physics. Site: The Hall of Science & Exploration.



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