Illinois History Minutes

As WILL-AM celebrates a century of being on the air, we are sharing a minute-long snippet of Illinois history every weekday in 2022. This daily feature includes memorable people, places and events of that helped shape the prairie state.

Hosted by Illinois Public Media reporter Jim Meadows, the minute of Illinois History will air on WILL-AM/FM at 7:42 a.m. during Morning Edition and 5:32 p.m. during All Things Considered; as well as on WILL-AM in the 1 o'clock hour of Here & Now and at 8 o'clock in the evening. We've also made them available below for all of you history buffs!

January 21 Illinois History Minute

It’s January 21st, and William A. Wrigley the Third was born this day in 1933. He took the reins of the Chicago-based Wrigley chewing gum company in 1961, introducing such brands as sugarless Orbit and Extra, Hubba Bubba bubble gum, and cinnamon-flavored Big Red. William Wrigley inherited the Chicago Cubs in 1977 when his father, P.K. Wrigley died. He sold the team to the Chicago Tribune four years later to pay off the tax bill. 

Sammy was one of the biggest hits from Chicagoan L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” --- not the movie with Judy Garland, but the musical that opened at New York’s Majestic Theatre on this day in 1902. All but forgotten today, this first “Wizard of Oz” musical ran for years on Broadway and on the road.

January 20 Illinois History Minute

It’s January 20th, which was the first-term inauguration day for two presidents from Illinois --- Republican Ronald Reagan, and Democrat Barack Obama. Reagan took the oath of office in 1981 and said that he wanted a smaller federal government that would work with Americans, not over them. 

But in 2009, former Illinois senator Barack Obama used his first inaugural address to challenge the concept that big government was the problem. 

Voters elected both Reagan and Obama to second terms as president. 

January 19 Illinois History Minute

It's January 19th, and on this day in 1881, the student newspaper at Illinois Industrial University in Urbana announced on its masthead that the school’s proper name was the University of Illinois. In a later issue, editors of the Illini argued the word ‘industrial’ suggested a reform school, and “University of Illinois” would be more dignified. The administration agreed --- four years later. 

The Chicago public TV station WTTW premiered "Bird of the Iron Feather" on this day in 1970. Funded by the Ford Foundation to be a Black soap opera, Black activists fought to have African-Americans not just in the cast, but as writers and directors, creating a drama about a slain Black police officer whose story is told through diary entries.  

January 18 Illinois History Minute

January 18th is the 60th birthday of basketball player Bob Hansen, whose best-remembered NBA season may have been his last one. The shooting guard from Iowa who played mostly for the Utah Jazz was traded to the Chicago Bulls in 1992. And in a memorable playoff game against Portland, coach Phil Jackson pulled Michael Jordan from the game temporarily, in favor of Hansen, who helped the Bulls rally from a 15 point deficit, going on to win the second of their six NBA titles.  

And Jim O’Rourke was born in Chicago on this day in 1969. He was active in the Windy City’s experimental and improv scene, and has performed in and produced for several bands, including Sonic Youth, who you’re hearing now. 

January 17 Illinois History Minute

January 14th was inauguration day for three Illinois governors who didn’t get what they wanted on taxes. Republican Jim Edgar, sworn in on this day in 1991, told WILL’s David Inge he could not get state lawmakers to move the main burden of school funding from local property taxes to the state income tax. 

Both Republican Louis Emmerson and Democrat JB Pritzker, inaugurated in 1929 and 2019 respectively, wanted a progressive income tax. 

Emmerson’s version was struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court. A later court allowed a flat state income tax. But Illinois voters rejected Pritzker’s proposal to make it a progressive one. 

January 14 Illinois History Minute

January 14th was inauguration day for three Illinois governors who didn’t get what they wanted on taxes. Republican Jim Edgar, sworn in on this day in 1991, told WILL’s David Inge he could not get state lawmakers to move the main burden of school funding from local property taxes to the state income tax. 

Both Republican Louis Emmerson and Democrat JB Pritzker, inaugurated in 1929 and 2019 respectively, wanted a progressive income tax. 

Emmerson’s version was struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court. A later court allowed a flat state income tax. But Illinois voters rejected Pritzker’s proposal to make it a progressive one. 

January 13 Illinois History Minute

It’s January 13th, and this day in 2003 was inauguration day for Illinois’ 40th governor, Rod Blagojevich. The previous governor, George Ryan, finished his term under a growing cloud of scandal. Blagojevich pledged to fix the state’s budget problems and root out corruption. 

But Blagojevich’s own corruption scandals would lead to arrest, impeachment, conviction, and imprisonment. 

Illinois Congressman and Agriculture Secretary under the first President Bush, Edward R. Madigan, was born this day in 1936 in Lincoln Illinois.  

And former Earth Wind and Fire drummer Fred White turns 67 today. Fred White played with the band for about a decade, starting in 1975.

January 12 Illinois History Minute

January 12th was Illinois inauguration day in 2015. The new governor, venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, promised budget reform and said he would also curb government corruption.  

Rauner did NOT see eye to eye with legislative Democrats led by Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan. The result was a state budget impasse that lasted for 25 months.  

January 12th is also the day that a Chicago puppeteer made his debut on network television. Kukla Fran and Ollie featured Burr Tillstrom’s cast of low-tech hand puppets, bantering with Fran Allison. The Chicago-based show debuted on NBC in 1949.

January 11 Illinois History Minute

It’s January 11th, and on this day in 2003, as his term in office was ending, Governor George Ryan told an audience at Northwestern University’s law school that he was clearing out Illinois’ Death Row. 

Ryan cited his doubts about the justice system’s ability to avoid putting innocent men to death. Illinois lawmakers would vote to abolish capital punishment for good in 2011. 

Also on this day, in 1989, president and Illinois native Ronald Reagan defended his policies in a farewell address. He said he saw an increase in free markets and free speech in other countries. In Reagan’s words, “We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world”. 

January 10 Illinois History Minute

On this day in 1977, Republican James R. Thompson was sworn in for the first of four terms as Illinois governor. Jim Thompson ran on his reputation as a corruption-busting federal attorney. He promised honesty and transparency in this 1976 campaign ad.

January 10th is also the day when two reform-minded Democrats took office as governor --- John Peter Altgeld in 1893 and Adlai Stevenson the Second in 1949. But Democrat Joel Matteson, who took office on this day in 1853 and Republican Len Small, sworn-in on June 10th 1921, both had to pay money back to the state that they had obtained improperly.