The Des Plaines River Valley was occupied by the Potawatomi, Ottawa, and Chippewa Indians immediately prior to the arrival of the first settlers from the east during the second quarter of the 19th century. Following the Treaty of Chicago in 1833, pioneers from New England and New York began farming the prairie that would eventually become Des Plaines. German immigrants, seeking economic and political freedom, arrived in the area in large numbers during the 1840s and 1850s. German was the primary language in many Des Plaines homes and churches.
The present site of Des Plaines was determined during the 1850s by the Illinois and Wisconsin Land Company, a group of land speculators engaged in building a railroad from Chicago to Janesville, Wisconsin. In 1857, when the Chicago, St. Paul, and Fond du lac Railroad introduced daily train service between Janesville and Chicago, a subdivision plat was recorded for the "Town of Rand," named for Socrates Rand, one of the first settlers in the area. The CSP and FDL Railroad, which was purchased by the Chicago and North Western in 1859, named its station here Des Plaines and, in 1869, the name of the subdivision was changed to correspond with the name of the station.
The Town of Des Plaines was incorporated in 1869 and the federal census of the following year shows that the village had grown to a population of 800. Des Plaines was reincorporated as a Village in 1873 and was officially organized in 1874 with the election of the first village board. Franklin Whitcomb, a local brick manufacturer, was the first village president.
In addition to the railroad, local farmers were drawn to the steam-powered grist mill next to the Des Plaines River in what is now downtown Des Plaines. Constructed by the railroad developers in 1852 to cut ties from the forested belt of burr oak and hickory along the river, the mill was later purchased by Socrates Rand who converted it to a grist mill. It has since been demolished. The downtown business area of Des Plaines began to grow on either side of the tracks near the mill and at the point where trains would naturally stop to take on water.
Des Plaines was a thriving community when, in 1925, voters approved a proposal to adopt the present city form of government, with H.T. Bennet as the first mayor. During the same year the Village of Riverview, to the south of Des Plaines, was annexed, adding land for industry and homes. The city annexed the Orchard Place area in 1956. Known in 1881 as Farwell, Illinois, Orchard Place developed simultaneously with Des Plaines and Riverview until much of it was razed during construction of the Northwest Tollway.
Following World War II, movement of people from Chicago, plus the development of Chicago-O'Hare International Airport at Orchard Place, signaled a great period of growth for Des Plaines. The population jumped from the prewar 9,000 to over 50,000.
Over 30 churches representing every major denomination are now in the City. Additionally, the City's elementary and secondary schools are nationally acclaimed. The art and theater guilds, the community concert series, a fine public library system, and a historical museum are true indications of the cultural growth of the community. A progressive park district and extensive forest preserve options accommodate the recreational needs of all ages.
During the past two decades industrial growth has also been phenomenal, the City having become a raw materials and finished products distributing center as well as the headquarters of several major corporations. The combination of superior air transportation, good railroads, and a network of expressways have fostered the full development of Des Plaines. Today, Des Plaines is indeed a progressive city characterized by diverse residences, industrial opportunities, and an abundance of business and trade facilities. Des Plaines is a growing environment, constantly on the move.