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The State of Illinois

Chicago Skyline
Chicago Skyline

Welcome to Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, and the heart of America. Illinois prides itself on both its central location and its representation as the cultural center of the country, a microcosm of America. The state certainly does have everything from small towns and idyllic farms to big cities and industrial might.

Illinois is one of the leading producers of corn and soybeans, but it is also the home of the world's busiest airport and towering skyscrapers

With access to the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, and its central location within the states, Illinois is a natural center for transportation. In fact, the state has the greatest concentration of land, water, and air transportation facilities in the entire world.



The state of Illinois was named after the Illinois River.

The river was named by French explorer Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle in 1679 after the Indians he found living along the banks.

Illinois is the French spelling for the Illinois and Peoria Indian word "iliniwok," meaning men or warriors and perhaps referring to members of the Illinois tribe.


Soy Bean Field
Soy Bean Field, Hudson

The Prairie State

This familiar nickname for Illinois dates back at least as far as 1842. Most of the state was once covered with prairie grasses. Today, Illinois continues to pay homage to the prairie. According to the Illinois Compiled Statutes, Illinois has designated the third full week of September as Illinois Prairie Week "...to be observed throughout the State as a week for holding appropriate events and observances in the public schools and elsewhere to demonstrate the value of preserving and reestablishing native Illinois prairies."

Land of Lincoln

This name refers to Illinois as the state where Abraham Lincoln began his political career. This name is the Official State Slogan of Illinois, designated in 1955. In the same year, the U.S. Congress granted Illinois a special copyright for exclusive use of the "Land of Lincoln" insignia. Though Lincoln was born in Kentucky and lived in Indiana before moving to Illinois, it was in Illinois where young Abraham Lincoln began his political career with an unsuccessful run for the Illinois General Assembly in 1832. Lincoln eventually was elected to four terms in the Illinois General Assembly and served from 1834-1841. Illinois was also where Lincoln lived when he became President of the United States in 1861.

The Corn State

An appropriate nickname for a state where corn plays such an important role in the agricultural economy. Illinois is one of the leading producers of corn in the country. The region of the country referred to as the Corn Belt is centered in Iowa and Illinois.

The Garden of the West

This old nickname came about because of the rolling prairies of Illinois and the miles of cultivated fields that made Illinois one of the leading producers of corn and later, soy beans, in the United States. A similar term, "The Garden State" was sometimes heard.

The Sucker State

There are a few of theories about the origin of this interesting nickname. One has it that the name was the result of a comparison between the large number of miners going to and coming from the Galena Lead Mines in 1822 and the fish. According to Malcolm Townsend, in his U.S.: An Index to the United States of America (1890), "An old miner said to them 'Ye put me in [the] mind of suckers, they do go up the river in the spring spawn, and all return down ag'in in the fall.'"

Malcolm Townsend talks about another possible origin of the nickname. Evidently, the prairies were filled, in many places by crawfish holes. Travelers were able to suck cool pure water from these holes using long, hollow reeds. According to Malcolm Townsend, whenever a traveler would happen upon one of these holes, he would cry out "A sucker, a sucker!"

Yet another theory, offered by former Governor Thomas Ford in A History of Illinois (1854), has it that this nickname referred to the poor folk of southern Illinois that moved into the state to escape the suppression of wealthy landowners in the southern states. According to Ford, sucker was a reference to the sprouts off the main stem and roots of tobacco plants. These suckers will sap nutrients from the main plant and are stripped off by farmers and thrown away. In the same way, according to Ford, "These poor emigrants from the slave States were jeeringly and derisively called "suckers," because there were asserted to be a burthen upon the people of wealth; and when they removed to Illinois they were supposed to have stripped themselves off from the parent stem and gone away to perish like the "sucker" of the tobacco plant. This name was given to the Illinoisans at the Galena mines by the Missourians."


This nickname referred to the southern end of Illinois. It is thought that the nickname for this fertile soil around Cairo, Illinois was a reference to the fertile soil or Cairo, Egypt after the Nile has flooded. The nickname may have also been related to the city name as well.


People who live in or come from Illinois are called Illinoisians, Illinoisans or Illinoians.

Nicknames for Illinoisians have included Sand-hillers, Egyptians and, Suckers. Sand-hillers was probably used to characterize Illinoisians that lived on some of the slopes and broken sandy plains of the state. Egyptians referred to those who lived in the southern part of Illinois. In the western territories, Illinoisians were often referred to as Suckers.


Illinois State Quarter
United States Mint Image

The Illinois State Quarter is the 21st quarter released in the U.S. Mint's 50 State Quarters™ Program and the first to be released in 2003. It's jam-packed with symbolism.

On January 6, 2003, U.S. Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore said, "The Illinois quarter sends a powerful message. It highlights how the state's agricultural traditions and business and financial climate - all the things that make Illinois a major hub of international commerce - rest on Lincoln's legacy of integrity and hard work.

Centered in the design is a young Abraham Lincoln at a turning point in his life, where in New Salem Illinois, he resolved to "put down the ax and pick up the book." The image of Lincoln, superimposed over an outline of Illinois, is based on a sculpture by Avard Fairbanks; "The Resolute Lincoln."

To the left of Lincoln lies a farm scene, representing the agricultural tradition of the "The Prairie State," and the official state slogan, "Land of Lincoln."

On the right, the Chicago skyline symbolizes the Illinois as a powerful industrial, business and financial leader. The inscription "21st State/Century," notes Illinois as the 21st state and the state's present and future role in the Union.

A wreath of 21 stars echoing Illinois' position as the 21st state to enter the Union and the date of its acceptance, 1818, complete the design.

For more about the state commemorative quarters, visit this page.

This 50 State Quarter Map is a great way to collect and display all 50 State Quarters.


Carpenter, Allan & Provose, Carl. The World Almanac® of the U.S.A.. World Almanac Books (An Imprint of K-III Reference Corporation, A K-III Communications Company). Mahwah, N.J., 1996.
Shankle, George Earlie. State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers, and Other Symbols. Irvine, Calif.: Reprint Services Corp, Revised edition, 1971.
Shearer, Benjamin F. and Barbara S. State Names, Seals, Flags and Symbols: A Historical Guide Third Edition, Revised and Expanded. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 3 Sub edition, 2001.

Additional information

Illinois (From Sea to Shining Sea)
Barbara A. Somervill

Illinois (From Sea to Shining Sea), by Barbara A. Somervill. 80 pages. Publisher: Scholastic Library Publishing (December 2001) Reading level: Grades 3-5. Presents information about Illinois's people, geography, history, landmarks, natural resources, government, state capitol, towns and cities, and more.

Illinois (World Almanac Library of the States)
Kathleen Feeley

Illinois (World Almanac Library of the States), by Kathleen Feeley. 48 pages. Gareth Stevens Publishing (January 2002) Reading level: Grades 4-6. Filled with the most up-to-date information, including the latest Census results. Full-color photos bring to life the story of Illinois. In addition to an in-depth factual profile of Illinois in the form of a state Almanac, this book offers fascinating and lively discussions of the state's history, people, geography, government, economy, culture, and lifestyles. A section on Notable People, a calendar of events, and enough primary source documents, time lines, maps, and other tools to make this unquestionably the best young adult reference material on the USA available anywhere.

Illinois: A History Of The Land And Its People
Roger Biles

Illinois: A History Of The Land And Its People, by Roger Biles. 351 pages. Northern Illinois University Press (November 30, 2005) Crossroads of the continent, Land of Lincoln, hub of commerce-or, as Charles Dickens viewed it, a landscape "oppressive in its barren monotony"-Illinois boasts a rich and varied past. In this far-reaching but compact history, Roger Biles provides a much-needed, up-to-date account of the state's development, from the early native settlements to the present. Focusing on Illinois's demographic changes over time, he highlights the key figures who contributed to the state's government, economy, culture, and the arts.

While devoting attention to the touchstones of history, Illinois illuminates also the achievements of ordinary people, including the women, the African Americans, and the other minorities who-along with the politicians, the captains of industry, and the military heroes-contributed to the state's growth and prosperity. National events shaped the state as well, and Biles explores the impact of such crises as the Civil War and World War II on the people of Illinois.

No history of Illinois can ignore the state's largest city, the dynamic metropolis on Lake Michigan-Chicago. Drawing on extensive research, Biles illuminates Chicago's past-its outbursts of labor unrest and racial tensions as well as the splendors of two world's fairs and an artistic renaissance-while at the same time relating Chicago to the larger story of Illinois and its people.

Connecting lesser-known stories with the main events of the state's past, Biles writes in an accessible style that is at once entertaining and enlightening. Featuring 67 illustrations, Illinois will captivate readers of all ages and interests.

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