Embark on Chicago's Maritime History

Waterways and Rivers: Chicago's Maritime History/Embark on Chicago's Maritime History
Chicago Maritime Museum
Written By Chicago Maritime Museum

It is a tall order to tell the story of Chicago’s waterways and their emotional and prosperous impact on 19th, 20th and 21st century American growth. Welcome to the Chicago Maritime Museum and our developing story of Chicago’s maritime traditions and impact.

The city's maritime history connects Lake Michigan, the Chicago River, Lake Calumet, as well as beaches, deep tunnels, and pumping stations. It involves many nationalities and ethnicities of canoeists, schoonermen, lumbershovers and recreational boaters.

The city's strategic location is key to Chicago's rich maritime history. Connecting the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River system was essential to early trading in canoes and to today's more substantial commerce. Chicago became a busy port city by connecting the produce and products of the Midwest with a national distribution system of lake vessels, canal boats, and railroads. The number of ships arriving and leaving the Port of Chicago in 1872 exceeded any port in North America and rivaled all the great harbors of the world including London and Hamburg.

The permanent reversal of the Chicago River in 1900 (building on technology in use from the late 1860s) encouraged additional growth of the area's waterways and rivers commerce. Today, maritime commerce continues to be a vital part of the regional economy.

{Cover photo from Chicago Maritime Museum.}

Did You Know?

The waterways in the region determined the location of the city of Chicago and impacted its history. On the eve of statehood in 1818, Illinois moved its northern boundary 61 miles north to include the southern tip of Lake Michigan so that one state could control the vital link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system.

To learn more about Chicago's history, visit the Chicago Maritime Museum
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Waterways and Rivers: Chicago's Maritime History

Embark on Chicago's Maritime History

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