Site of Chicagou on the lake in Guillaume de LIsles map Paris 1718
Site of Chicagou on the lake, in Guillaume de L’Isle’s map (Paris, 1718)

Even by the 1820’s, a disappointed land speculator reported, “I was up to my stirrups in muck and water (between the fort and Wolf Point). I wouldn’t have given sixpence an acre for whole of it.”

How did this unpromising track of marsh land, raked by blistering lake winds, become the colossus we know today?

That remarkable story awaits you on board our Historical cruise.

“I act… I move… I push.”

The thriving river cities of St. Louis and Cincinnati each had at least a 20-year head start on Chicago. Places such as Milwaukee and even Kenosha were more naturally blessed. But it was here the American story took root and grew to epic proportions.

Joliet’s rival La Salle was among the first to see Chicago’s great destiny. He wrote in 1683 that – some day – this continental crossroad would be “the gate of empire, the seat of commerce. Everything invites to action.”

“The typical man who grows up here must be an enterprising man,” wrote La Salle. “Each day he will exclaim, ‘I act, I move, I push.’ And there will be spread before him a boundless horizon.”

To this day, no one has penned a more fitting description of Chicago’s indomitable founders and early history. This is a tale of ironic turns of fate and iron-willed pioneers, with plenty of heroes and tragic figures on the way.

Here’s just one example:

In the early 1800’s, isolated in the wilderness, Chicago had no natural harbor. A sandbar blocked entry to the river, forcing boats to anchor in the lake and shuttle their passengers and freight. Newly-arriving Easterners – few in number – came by stagecoach from Detroit.

But a poker game changed all that.

During a boisterous night of cards with the Chicago fur trader-turned-entrepreneur Gordon Hubbard, a young US Army engineer named Jefferson Davis explained how a channel could be carved through that sandbar – shored-up with long piers on each side (looking much as it does today). By 1834, Hubbard and Chicago had remade the harbor, instantly transforming the city’s prospects.

Less than three decades later, the south side of Chicago was home to a prison camp for Confederate soldiers who had served under that same Jefferson Davis. And by 1893, the harbor he envisioned was busier than New York’s.

Ironic turns of fate and iron-willed pioneers

Chicago’s story begins with prehistoric nine-foot sea scorpions and rises to buildings so high that, in the words of Carl Sandburg, “they had to put hinges on the top floors to let the moon go by.” In a span of only six years – after the Great Fire – Chicago went from a city without one recognizable landmark to the center of world architecture.

A birds-eye view of Chicago in 1898 It became the second American city to reach a population of 16 million
A bird’s-eye view of Chicago in 1898. It became the second American city to reach a population of 1.6 million

No matter which way you turn from the deck of our flagship Ft. Dearborn, or the classic Innisfree, yet another story looms up from the riverside – related in fascinating detail by our expert Historical Tour guide.

This is where Queen Victoria started the public library with her personal gift of 8,000 volumes … where a former clerk, Marshall Field, invented the concept of the department store … where Armour devised the meat-packing assembly line (later copied by Henry Ford) and refrigerated distribution. “Make no little plans,” said the architect of Chicago’s 1893 World Columbian Exposition, Daniel Burnham.

Chicago always beckoned the ambitious – from the resourceful Haitian fur trader du Sable, to the builders of industrial and merchant empires – and now it beckons you. If you’re looking for a terrific story, this one is incomparable. Not only does a river run through it, the river runs backward.

Sail with us and discover the city that redefined cities. Chicago took almost everyone by surprise, and it will take your breath away.

Three and a half centuries ago, what we call Chicago was little more than a swamp … and a shortcut home. Marquette and Joliet “discovered” this uninhabited expanse in 1673 on their return trip to Canada, having already paddled 2,500 miles to chart the Mississippi River. Carrying a calumet (peace-pipe) given them by an Illinois chief to assure safe passage, the priest and the explorer had to manhandle their canoes the last few miles to find “du Portage de Checagou.” It was a muddy and malodorous stretch of land so apparently useless the Potawatomi hadn’t bothered to settle it.

Site of Chicagou on the lake, in Guillaume de L’Isle’s map (Paris, 1718)
Site of Chicagou on the lake, in Guillaume de L’Isle’s map (Paris, 1718)
Even by the 1820’s, a disappointed land speculator reported, “I was up to my stirrups in muck and water (between the fort and Wolf Point). I wouldn’t have given sixpence an acre for whole of it.”

How did this unpromising track of marsh land, raked by blistering lake winds, become the colossus we know today?

That remarkable story awaits you on board our Historical cruise.

“I act… I move… I push.”

The thriving river cities of St. Louis and Cincinnati each had at least a 20-year head start on Chicago. Places such as Milwaukee and even Kenosha were more naturally blessed. But it was here the American story took root and grew to epic proportions.

Joliet’s rival La Salle was among the first to see Chicago’s great destiny. He wrote in 1683 that – some day – this continental crossroad would be “the gate of empire, the seat of commerce. Everything invites to action.”

“The typical man who grows up here must be an enterprising man,” wrote La Salle. “Each day he will exclaim, ‘I act, I move, I push.’ And there will be spread before him a boundless horizon.”

To this day, no one has penned a more fitting description of Chicago’s indomitable founders and early history. This is a tale of ironic turns of fate and iron-willed pioneers, with plenty of heroes and tragic figures on the way.

Here’s just one example:

In the early 1800’s, isolated in the wilderness, Chicago had no natural harbor. A sandbar blocked entry to the river, forcing boats to anchor in the lake and shuttle their passengers and freight. Newly-arriving Easterners – few in number – came by stagecoach from Detroit.

But a poker game changed all that.

During a boisterous night of cards with the Chicago fur trader-turned-entrepreneur Gordon Hubbard, a young US Army engineer named Jefferson Davis explained how a channel could be carved through that sandbar – shored-up with long piers on each side (looking much as it does today). By 1834, Hubbard and Chicago had remade the harbor, instantly transforming the city’s prospects.

Less than three decades later, the south side of Chicago was home to a prison camp for Confederate soldiers who had served under that same Jefferson Davis. And by 1893, the harbor he envisioned was busier than New York’s.

Ironic turns of fate and iron-willed pioneers

Chicago’s story begins with prehistoric nine-foot sea scorpions and rises to buildings so high that, in the words of Carl Sandburg, “they had to put hinges on the top floors to let the moon go by.” In a span of only six years – after the Great Fire – Chicago went from a city without one recognizable landmark to the center of world architecture.

A bird’s-eye view of Chicago in 1898. It became the second American city to reach a population of 1.6 million
A bird’s-eye view of Chicago in 1898. It became the second American city to reach a population of 1.6 million
No matter which way you turn from the deck of our flagship Ft. Dearborn, or the classic Innisfree, yet another story looms up from the riverside – related in fascinating detail by our expert Historical Tour guide.

This is where Queen Victoria started the public library with her personal gift of 8,000 volumes … where a former clerk, Marshall Field, invented the concept of the department store … where Armour devised the meat-packing assembly line (later copied by Henry Ford) and refrigerated distribution. “Make no little plans,” said the architect of Chicago’s 1893 World Columbian Exposition, Daniel Burnham.

Chicago always beckoned the ambitious – from the resourceful Haitian fur trader du Sable, to the builders of industrial and merchant empires – and now it beckons you. If you’re looking for a terrific story, this one is incomparable. Not only does a river run through it, the river runs backward.

Sail with us and discover the city that redefined cities. Chicago took almost everyone by surprise, and it will take your breath away.