Illinois is called the prairie state because the state has an abundance of prairie grasses. The nickname for Illinois probably dates back to around 1842, maybe even earlier. Before the first European settlers came to Illinois, the state was mostly covered in prairies. Illinois has never forgotten its roots, and continues to celebrate the prairie, designating a week in September just for this purpose. During this week of celebration, the schools, and townships, hold events to pay homage to the native prairies in Illinois.
Many different types of native grasses grow in Illinois, and there are different types of prairies in different parts of the state. The central part of the state is where most of the tallgrass prairies were found, with big bluestem one of the main grasses in these prairies. In 1989, it was designated as the state's official prairie grass. Little bluestem was found in Illinois prairies as well, along with Eastern gamagrass, Indian grass, and switchgrass.
In addition to being called the prairie state, the official state slogan for Illinois is the Land of Lincoln. The political career of President Abraham Lincoln began in the state, even though he was born in the state of Kentucky. Lincoln was living in the prairie state in 1832 when he ran for the General Assembly, as well as when he began his term as United States president.
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The prairie state is one of Illinois' nicknames, but it does have a few other, less used, nicknames. An older nickname for Illinois is the Garden of the West. This name was used to describe the state's rolling prairies and cultivated fields. The state was one of the leading producer of soy beans and corn, which lead to the occasional use of the nickname The Corn State. The area often known as the Corn Belt is located in Iowa and Illinois.
The Sucker State is an interesting nickname for Illinois with a few possible origins. Some say the name refers to a common term for Illinois lead miners, or possibly a type of fish common in Illinois rivers. Others say the nickname refers to the free slaves or the "suckers" that are plucked from tobacco plants. Still others insist the name is derived from travelers sucking water from crawfish holes with long, hollow reeds.
The state was named by a French explorer for the Illinois River and the people who lived along it. Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle named the river in 1679. The name comes from "iliniwok," which means "warriors" or "men," and Illinois is the French variation of this Peoria Indian word.