History of Rockford

Explore the history of Rockford, Illinois

Knowing the history of the city let’s you know its character, and the character of the people that make it up. The history of Rockford, Illinois is quite interesting.

This mid-sized city in northern Illinois was founded in 1834 and called the “Village of Midway” initially. This is because it was located at the mid-way point between Chicago and Galena. This name stuck around until 1837 when it was officially changed to Rockford because of its location on the Rock River. This name was chosen because of the good “ford” on the Rock River. A ford is a naturally occurring low water area in a river, allowing people to walk or drive across without a bridge

Initially, settlers were from New York and New England who had moved west, but the late 1800s brought the Irish and then a large migration of Swedes. At the time, many people spoke Swedish in the area (along with English). Rockford, Illinois, history shows that it was a pretty quiet little town until trade and immigration began to expand it and it became the seat of Winnebago County around 1850. By the turn of the century, the first census shows 31,051 people in the city.

Also around the turn of the century, Rockford began to be known as a manufacturing hub producing agricultural equipment, tools, furniture, and a great amount of machinery and industrial equipment. Around this time, the Rockford Power Company was established, and the Galena and Chicago Railroad made the scene.

Other points of historical interest in Rockford, IL, include the Rockford Female Seminary.  The Seminary, which had been operating in Rockford, became a chartered college in 1847 and then became Rockford College in 1892. It was not co-ed until 1958, and its best-known graduate, Jane Addams (class of 1881) went on to become the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Some fun facts about Rockford are tucked away in its history. One is that the socks used to make sock monkeys (the one with red heels) were originally manufactured in the city. Additionally, a Harley Davidson dealership that was founded in 1910 still operates there, and has earned the distinction of being the oldest family owned dealership in the country. It is now run by the great-grandchildren of the original owner.

Rockford has a rich and interesting history just waiting to be explored! From immigration, to manufacturing, the city and its people have a lot of stories to tell.