The Port of Waukegan lies on the western shores of Lake Michigan in the State of Illinois about 50 nautical miles (65 kilometers, 40 miles by air) north-northeast of the Port of Chicago. The Port of Waukegan is part of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway system. Two of the Port of Waukegan's favorite sons include comedian Jack Benny and author Ray Bradbury. In 2010, over 89 thousand people lived in the Port of Waukegan.
The name "Waukegan" is the Potawatomi word for "trading post" or "fort." Originally a French trading post, the Port of Waukegan became more important as a port city during the 1800s. When the railroad arrived, manufacturing grew in the Port of Waukegan. Part of the Milwaukee-Chicago industrial region, the Port of Waukegan has been hit hard declines in manufacturing in the late 20th Century and by the recession of the early 21st Century. Over the past few years, the city has invested much energy and many resources into reinventing itself.
Before Europeans came to the area that would become the Port of Waukegan, the Potawatomi Nation inhabited the area. Father Jacques Marquette arrived in the area in 1673, making the Port of Waukegan one of Illinois' oldest towns. The infant Port of Waukegan was a French trading post, and a Potawatomi settlement called "Little Fort" surrounded the trading post. Eventually, the Potawatmi transferred their land to the United States Government and were driven out of the area.
When the Port of Waukegan, or Little Fort, was incorporated in 1849, about 2500 people lived there. The residents were proud of their growing town and adopted the name Waukegan when it was incorporated.
During its early years, the Port of Waukegan attracted many settlers as it was a focal point for shipping grain and produce from local farms to Chicago. In 1855, the Illinois Parallel Railroad was created to connect Chicago to Kenosha, Wisconsin. By the middle of the 19th Century, the Port of Waukegan was one of the Great Lakes' busiest harbors.
Running through the Port of Waukegan, the new railway (known today as the Chicago & Northwestern) brought manufacturing to the city and stimulated a diverse local economy. The Port of Waukegan was incorporated as a city in early 1859.
By the end of the 19th Century, the Port of Waukegan was a busy industrial center with ship and wagon builders, flour millers, meat packers (mainly pork), shepherds, and dairymen. One of the Port of Waukegan's most popular industries was brewing malt liquor. Major industries that located in the Port of Waukegan included the Washburn and Moen Wire Mill (later known as U.S. Steel), the U.S. Sugar Refinery, Thomas Brass and Iron Works, and U.S. Starch Works.
By 1900, the Port of Waukegan had electric and trolley services. In the early 20th Century, a substantial middle class was growing in the Port of Waukegan. While the city was a residential community for most of the 20th Century, it was also an industrial center supporting large companies like Abbot Laboratories, National Gypsum, Baxter International, Anchor Glass, and Fansteel. During the final decades of the 20th Century, the Port of Waukegan's economy expanded to include legal services, government, finance, and retail.
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