Waukegan, residential and industrial city (1990 pop. 69,392), seat of Lake co., NE Ill., on Lake Michigan; inc. 1859. It has a good harbor and is the first port of call in Illinois on the St. Lawrence Seaway route. Its industries are closely allied with those of Chicago and Milwaukee. Fluorescent fixtures, electrical wire, transportation equipment, leather and paper products, and asphalt roofing materials are among the area's many manufactures. Waukegan was settled (1835) as Little Fort near an old French stockade on the site of a Native American village. Naval Station Great Lakes, the U.S. navy's main training center for naval recruits, is nearby.

Waukegan (IPA: /wɔˈkigən/) is a city in Lake County, Illinois. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 87,901. A 2003 census estimated the city population to be 91,452. It is the ninth-largest city in Illinois by population.


Waukegan is located at (42.372471, -87.861521). Waukegan is on the shore of Lake Michigan, about 8 miles south of the border with Wisconsin and 40 miles north of downtown Chicago, at an elevation of about 669 feet above sea level.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 59.8 km² (23.1 mi²). 59.6 km² (23.0 mi²) of it is land and 0.2 km² (0.1 mi²) of it (0.35%) is water.

Waukegan is commonly referred to as the midpoint between Chicago and Milwaukee.


As of the census of 2000, there were 87,901 people, 27,787 households, and 19,450 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,475.0/km² (3,819.8/mi²). There were 29,243 housing units at an average density of 490.7/km² (1,270.8/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 50.14% White, 19.21% African American, 0.54% Native American, 3.58% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 22.96% from other races, and 3.50% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 44.82% of the population.

There were 27,787 households out of which 40.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.5% were married couples living together, 14.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.0% were non-families. 24.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.09 and the average family size was 3.68.

In the city the population was spread out with 30.2% under the age of 18, 12.1% from 18 to 24, 33.4% from 25 to 44, 16.4% from 45 to 64, and 7.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 29 years. For every 100 females there were 103.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 103.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $42,335, and the median income for a family was $47,341. Males had a median income of $30,556 versus $25,632 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,368. About 10.7% of families and 13.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18.1% of those under age 18 and 8.0% of those age 65 or over.


Waukegan, visited by Pere Marquette in 1673, is one of the oldest communities in Illinois. The city started as a French trading post and Potawatomi Indian settlement known as "Little Fort". Records dating back to 1829 tell of a treaty signed by the Potawatomis in which they ceded all of their land in this area to the Federal Government.

Little Fort became the County Seat of Government in 1841 by virture of its population, replacing Libertyville. Between 1844 and 1846, the town's population grew from 150 to 750 people. In 1849 when the town was incorporated, the population had risen to 2,500.

Proud of the growth of their community and no longer wanting to be characterized as "little", on March 31, 1849 the residents of Little Fort changed the name of their town to Waukegan, the Potawatomi word for "fort" or "trading post".

Early settlers were initially attracted to Waukegan as a port city and shipped produce and grain from Lake and McHenry County farms to Chicago. The creation of the Illinois Parallel Railroad (now the Union Pacific Railroad) in 1855 stimulated interest in Waukegan as a manufacturing center. The town continued to grow and diversify, and Waukegan was incorporated as a city on February 23, 1859, with an area of 5.62 square miles.

Superfund sites

Waukegan contains three Superfund sites that are on the National Priorities List.

In 1975, PCBs were discovered in Waukegan Harbor sediments. Investigation revealed that during manufacturing activities at Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC), hydraulic fluids containing PCBs had been discharged through floor drains at the OMC plant, directly to Waukegan Harbor and into ditches discharging into Lake Michigan. The OMC plants were subsequently added to the National Priorities List, and was designated as one of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern. Cleanup of the site began in 1990, with OMC providing $20-25 million in funding. During the OMC cleanup, additional soil contaminants were found at the location of the former Waukegan Manufactured Gas and Coke company. Soil removal was completed at the Coke site in 2005, and cleanup of that soil will continue for several years.

The Johns-Manville site is located one mile north of the OMC site. In 1988, asbestos contamination found in groundwater and air prompted listing on the National Priorities List and subsequent cleanup. In 1991, the soil cover of the asbestos was completed. However, additional asbestos contamination was found outside the Johns-Manville property which will require further cleanup. Pieces of asbestos also continue to wash up at Illinois Beach State Park.

The Yeoman Creek Landfill is a Superfund site located 1.5 miles west of the Johns-Manville site. The site operated as a landfill from 1959 to 1969. In 1970, it was discovered that the lack of a bottom liner in the landfill had allowed leachate to enter groundwater, contaminating the water with volatile organic compounds and PCBs, and releasing gases that presented an explosion hazard. All major cleanup construction activities were completed in 2005, and monitoring of local water and air continues.


The city has plans for redevelopment of the lakefront . The lakefront and harbor plan calls for most industrial activity to be removed, except for the Midwest Generation power plant and North Shore wastewater treatment facilities. The existing industry would be replaced by residential and recreational space. The city also set up several tax increment financing zones which have been successful in attracting new developers. The first step in the revitalization effort, the opening of the Genesee Theatre, has been completed, many new restaurants have opened, and there are preliminary discussions to bring a National Football League team to the downtown area.

Notable people

Waukegan is considered the hometown of comedian Jack Benny (1894-1974), though he was born in Chicago; a Waukegan middle school is named for him, and a statue of him stands in the downtown. Waukegan is the birthplace of writer Ray Bradbury (born 1920), whose great-grandfather was mayor of the city in 1882. The Waukegan of the 1920s appears as "Green Town" in several of Bradbury's fictional works, particularly Dandelion Wine. Ray Bradbury Park, named in the author's honor, includes the bridge over the ravine featured in that novel. A noted science fiction writer of a later generation, Kim Stanley Robinson, was born in Waukegan in 1952.

Other notable people


Waukegan has a port district which operates the city harbor and regional airport.

  • Waukegan Harbor:
    • Marina provides services and facilities for recreational boaters.
    • Industrial port provides access for 90-100 large shipping vessels yearly. Companies with cargo facilities at the port currently include Gold Bond Building Products (capacity for 100,000 tons of gypsum), LaFarge Corp (12 cement silos), and St Mary's Cement Co (2 cement silos). The industrial functions at the port are scheduled to be shut down in the future due to problems dredging the harbor.
  • Waukegan Regional Airport:

The Lake County (IL) McClory recreational trail passes through Waukegan.

  • Provides a non-motor route spanning from Kenosha, WI to the North Shore.

Metra provides service between Waukegan and downtown Chicago via the Union Pacific North Line. Service runs daily from early morning to late evening.

Pace provides public bus service throughout Waukegan and surrounding areas. Most buses run Monday thru Saturday with limited Sunday/Holiday service on two routes.

Artistic references

  • Waukegan's Amstutz Expressway, locally known as the "Poopdeck to poon," has been used as a shooting location for such films as Groundhog Day, The Ice Harvest, and Batman Begins.
  • Waukegan is mentioned in the Tom Waits song "Gun Street Girl."
  • The book The Man From Waukegan by J.P. Zabolski is an autobiographical account comparing Waukegan in the '60s with the city in 2003.
  • The poet Frank O'Hara mentioned Waukegan in his poem "Mary Desti’s Ass."
  • The poem, "Wonders of the Visible World," by J.Tarwood seems to be about Waukegan.
  • The character Johnny Blaze from the Marvel comic book Ghost Rider is described as having been born in Waukegan.
  • In an episode of Married... with Children, Al flips off a random point on an Illinois map during his Army reserve training. Jefferson replies, "I think you owe the nice people of Waukegan an apology."
  • In an episode of That '70s Show, Kelso mentions that the new police academy he is going to attend (after he burned down the old building with a misfired flare) is located in Waukegan.
  • In 2005 Ringo Starr and the Roundheads recorded a concert for an episode of Soundstage at Genesee Theatre in Waukegan.
  • The hip-hop group Atmosphere namechecks the city in live performances of the song "You."


External links

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