Waukegan, Illinois
Flag of Waukegan, Illinois
WaukTown, Green Town
An Illinois Arts-Friendly Community
Location of Waukegan in Lake County, Illinois.
Location of Waukegan in Lake County, Illinois.
Waukegan is located in Illinois
Waukegan is located in the United States
Coordinates: 42°22′13″N 87°52′16″W / 42.37028°N 87.87111°W / 42.37028; -87.87111
CountryUnited States
Incorporated (town)March 31, 1849
Incorporated (city)February 23, 1859
Named forPotawatomi: Wakaigin
(Fortress or Trading Post)
 • TypeMayor–council
 • MayorAnn B. Taylor
 • City24.47 sq mi (63.38 km2)
 • Land24.22 sq mi (62.72 km2)
 • Water0.26 sq mi (0.66 km2)  0.99%
Elevation715 ft (218 m)
 • City89,321
 • Rank10th largest in Illinois[3]
390th largest in U.S.[4]
 • Density3,688.36/sq mi (1,424.06/km2)
 • Metro
Time zoneUTC−6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP Codes
60079, 60085, 60087
Area code(s)847 & 224
FIPS code17-79293
U.S. Routes
Major State Routes
WaterwaysWaukegan River
AirportsWaukegan National Airport

Waukegan (/wɔːˈkɡən/) is the most populous city in and the county seat of Lake County, Illinois, United States. It is an industrial suburb about 36 miles (58 km) north of Chicago. As of the 2020 census, its population was 89,321,[5] making it the seventh-most populous city within the Chicago metropolitan area and the 10th-most populous city in Illinois.

Unlike many of the surrounding North Shore suburbs, Waukegan is socioeconomically diverse. A significant working-class population and moderately sized middle-class community exist in the community, as well as a number of poorer neighborhoods.[6]


Founding and 19th century

The site of present-day Waukegan was recorded as Rivière du Vieux Fort ("Old Fort River") and Wakaygagh on a 1778 map by Thomas Hutchins. By the 1820s, the French name had become "Small Fort River" in English, and the settlement was known as "Little Fort". The name "Waukegance" and then "Waukegan" (meaning "little fort"; cf. Potawatomi wakaigin "fort" or "fortress") was created by John H. Kinzie and Solomon Juneau, and the new name was adopted on March 31, 1849.[7][8]

Waukegan had an abolitionist community dating to these early days. In 1853, residents commemorated the anniversary of emancipation of slaves in the British Empire with a meeting.[9] Waukegan arguably has the distinction of being the only place where Abraham Lincoln failed to finish a speech. When he was campaigning in the town in 1860, he was interrupted by a ringing fire alarm.[10]

During the middle of the 19th century, Waukegan was becoming an important industrial hub. Industries included ship and wagon building, flour milling, sheep raising, pork packing, and dairying. William Besley's Waukegan Brewing Company was one of the most successful of these businesses, being able to sell beyond America.[11] The construction of the Chicago and Milwaukee Railway through Waukegan by 1855 stimulated the growth and rapid transformation and development of the city's industry, so much that nearly 1000 ships were visiting Waukegan harbor every year.[11] During the 1860s, a substantial German population began to grow inside the city.[11]

Waukegan's development began in many ways with the arrival of industries such as United States Sugar Refinery, which opened in 1890,[12] Washburn & Moen, a barbed-wire manufacturer that prompted both labor migration and land speculation beginning in 1891,[13] U.S. Starch Works, and Thomas Brass and Iron Works. Immigrants followed, mostly from southeastern Europe and Scandinavia, with especially large groups from Sweden, Finland, and Lithuania.[14][15] The town also became home to a considerable Armenian population.[16][17] One member of this community, Monoog Curezhin, even became embroiled in an aborted plot to assassinate Sultan Abdul Hamid II, reviled for his involvement in massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Curezhin lost two fingers on his right hand while testing explosives for this purpose in Waukegan in 1904.[18]

A map of Waukegan in 1920

20th century

By the 1920s and 1930s, African Americans began to migrate to the city, mostly from the South.[19] The town was afflicted with racial strife. In June 1920, an African-American boy allegedly hit the car of an off-duty sailor from nearby Great Lakes Naval Base with a rock, and hundreds of white sailors gathered at Sherman House, a hotel reserved for African Americans. Although newspaper reports and rumors suggested that the officer's wife was hit with glass from the broken windshield, subsequent reports revealed that the officer was not married.[20] The sailors called for lynchings, but were kept back by the intervention of the police.[21]

Marines and sailors renewed their attack on the hotel several days later. The Sherman House residents fled for their lives as the military members carried torches, gasoline, and the American flag.[22] The Waukegan police once again turned them away, but not before firing and wounding two members of the crowd.[23] The police were not always so willing to protect Waukegan's citizens. The chief of police and the state's attorney in the 1920s, for example, were avowed members of the Ku Klux Klan, facts that came to light when a wrongfully convicted African-American war veteran was released from prison on appeal after 25 years.[24][25] Labor unrest also occurred regularly. In 1919, a strike at the US Steel and Wire Company – which had acquired Washburn & Moen – led to a call for intervention from the state militia.[26][27]

Noted organized crime boss Johnny Torrio served time in Waukegan's Lake County jail in 1925. He installed bulletproof covers on the windows of his cell at his own expense for fear of assassination attempts.[28]

The Waukegan urban area developed independently of Chicago, before being officially incorporated into the Chicago metropolitan area during the 2000 census. This inclusion took place as a result of suburban sprawl, effectively dissolving the region's identity as self-standing. Despite this, Waukegan has retained a distinct industrial character in contrast to many of the residential suburbs along Chicago's North Shore.[15] The financial disparity created by the disappearance of manufacturing from the city in part contributed to the Waukegan riot of 1966. Central to this event and the remainder of Waukegan's 20th-century history was Robert Sabonjian, who served as mayor for 24 years, and earned the nickname the "Mayor Daley of Waukegan" for his personal and sometimes controversial style of politics.[29]


Waukegan is located at 42°22′13″N 87°52′16″W / 42.37028°N 87.87111°W / 42.37028; -87.87111 (42.3703140, −87.8711404).[2] Waukegan is on the shore of Lake Michigan, about 11 miles (18 km) south of the border with Wisconsin and 37 miles (60 km) north of downtown Chicago at an elevation around 650 feet (200 m) above sea level. Chicago has two major streets that venture north to Waukegan, one being Sheridan Road, which extends north from Diversey Parkway in Lincoln Park. The second street is Milwaukee Avenue, which starts at the intersection of Desplaines Street and Kinzie Street in downtown Chicago.

According to the 2010 census, Waukegan has a total area of 24.50 square miles (63.45 km2), of which 0.24 square miles (0.62 km2), or 0.99%, is covered by water.[30]

Major streets


Waukegan is located within the humid continental climate zone (Köppen: Dfa) with warm to hot (and often humid) summers, and cold and snowy winters. The record high temperature is 108 °F (42 °C), which was set in July 1934, while the record low is −27 °F (−33 °C), set in January 1985.[31] Waukegan's proximity to Lake Michigan helps cool the city throughout the year.

Climate data for Waukegan, IL (1981–2010 normals)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 64
Mean maximum °F (°C) 48
Mean daily maximum °F (°C) 29.9
Daily mean °F (°C) 22.5
Mean daily minimum °F (°C) 15.1
Mean minimum °F (°C) −9
Record low °F (°C) −27
Average precipitation inches (mm) 1.69
Average snowfall inches (cm) 10.8
Source: [32]

Superfund sites

Waukegan Harbor, with OMC (purple), WCP (red), and Johns-Manville (yellow) Superfund sites

Waukegan contains three Superfund sites of hazardous substances 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.[33] 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 1 mi (1.6 km) north[34] 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.[35][36]

The Yeoman Creek Landfill[37] is a Superfund site located 1.5 miles (2.4 km) 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.[38] The book Lake Effect by Nancy Nichols gives an account of the effects of PCBs on Waukegan residents. The Johns Manville site was cited due to its high concentration of PCBs and asbestos.[citation needed]


Historical population
U.S. Decennial Census[39] 2010[40] 2020[41]

2020 census

Waukegan city, Illinois – Racial and ethnic composition
Note: the US Census treats Hispanic/Latino as an ethnic category. This table excludes Latinos from the racial categories and assigns them to a separate category. Hispanics/Latinos may be of any race.
Race / Ethnicity (NH = Non-Hispanic) Pop 2000[42] Pop 2010[40] Pop 2020[41] % 2000 % 2010 % 2020
White alone (NH) 27,186 19,370 14,003 30.93% 21.74% 15.68%
Black or African American alone (NH) 16,354 16,240 14,647 18.61% 18.23% 16.40%
Native American or Alaska Native alone (NH) 168 173 129 0.19% 0.19% 0.14%
Asian alone (NH) 3,092 3,722 4,576 3.52% 4.18% 5.12%
Pacific Islander alone (NH) 37 26 35 0.04% 0.03% 0.04%
Some other race alone (NH) 398 577 817 0.45% 0.65% 0.91%
Mixed or Multiracial (NH) 1,270 1,358 2,011 1.44% 1.52% 2.25%
Hispanic or Latino (any race) 39,396 47,612 53,103 44.82% 53.45% 59.45%
Total 87,901 89,078 89,321 100.00% 100.00% 100.00%

2022 American Community Survey estimates

Racial Makeup of Waukegan (2022)[43]

  White alone (35.13%)
  Black alone (18.16%)
  Native American alone (1.18%)
  Asian alone (7.24%)
  Pacific Islander alone (0.03%)
  Some other race (20.70%)
  Two or more races (17.56%)

Racial Makeup of Waukegan treating Hispanics as a Racial Category (2022)[43]

  White NH (19.22%)
  Black NH (17.77%)
  Native American NH (0.20%)
  Asian NH (7.02%)
  Pacific Islander NH (0.00%)
  Other race NH (0.95%)
  Two or more races NH (2.21%)
  Hispanic Any Race (52.63%)

Racial Makeup of Hispanics in Waukegan (2022)[43]

  White alone (30.24%)
  Black alone (0.75%)
  Native American alone (1.85%)
  Asian alone (0.42%)
  Pacific Islander alone (0.05%)
  Other race alone (37.52%)
  Two or more races (29.17%)

As of the 2010 United States Census, 89,078 people were living in the city. The racial makeup of the town was 46.6% White (21.7% non-Hispanic White), 19.2% African-American, 4.3% Asian, 1.2% Native American, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 24.6% some other race, and 4.1% of two or more races. 53.4% were Hispanic or Latino (of any race). Majority of residents of Latin American descent in Waukegan are of Mexican descent, Waukegan also has one of the highest Honduran population in Illinois, as well as many Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Central American descendants. 5.3% of Waukegan's non-Hispanic white population were of German ancestry.[44]

As of the census[44] of 2000, 87,901 people, 27,787 households, and 19,450 families resided in the city. The population density was 1,475.0/km2 (3,762.8/mi2). The 29,243 housing units had an average density of 490.7/km2 (1,270.8/mi2). The racial makeup of the city was 30.92% 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. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 44.82% of the population.

Of the 27,787 households, 40.4% had children under 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 not families. About 24.2% of all households were made up of individuals, and 7.5% had someone living alone who was 65 or older. The average household size was 3.09, and the average family size was 3.68.

In the city, the age distribution was 30.2% under 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 or older. The median age was 29 years. For every 100 females, there were 103.1 males. For every 100 females 18 and over, there were 103.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $42,335, and 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 24% of families and 24.7% of the population were below the poverty line.


Over half (54.4%) of the population identified as members of a religious group. The largest group were Roman Catholics, who comprised 31.0% of city residents. Other Christian groups included Lutherans (3.2%), Baptists (1.9%), Presbyterians (1.6%), and Methodists (1.5%); about 11% adhered to other Christian denominations. Other faiths practiced include Judaism (2.7%) and Islam (1.4%).

Christ Episcopal Church on the corner of Grand Avenue and West Street is a historic church, one of the first ones in Waukegan.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago operates Catholic churches. On July 1, 2020, St. Anastasia Parish and St. Dismas Parish merged, with the former having the parish school and the latter having the parish church.[45]


Top employers

According to Waukegan's 2019 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report,[46] the top employers in the city were:

# Employer # of Employees
1 Lake County 1,718
2 Southwire Co. 1,500
3 Medline Industries Inc. 850
4 Vista Medical East Center 838
5 Lake Behavioral Hospital 800
6 Jewel-Osco 515
7 Waukegan Community Unit School District 60 500
8 Bel Resources 450
9 Kiley Developmental Center 423
10 Yaskawa America, Inc. 400


The city has plans for redevelopment of the lakefront.[47] 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, buildings have been renovated, and the City of Waukegan has made substantial investments in the pedestrian areas and other infrastructure.

The city has had an annual "Scoop the Loop" summer festival of cruising since 1998, which since 2010 has become a monthly event during the summer. The current incarnation is known as "Scoop Unplugged".[48]


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Popular events

ArtWauk is a popular event in Waukegan, Illinois.

Popular tourist destinations


The City of Waukegan is run on a mayor–council government. The city government consists of a single elected mayor and city clerk, with a city council composed of nine alderpersons, who are elected to represent the nine wards of the city. Any new membera are sworn on the first Monday in May of their respective election year, as it coincides with the first city council meeting of the month.

City council

The members of the city council[50] as of 2021 are:

Waukegan City Council
Ward Name Party affiliation
1st Ward Sylvia Sims Bolton Democratic
2nd Ward Jose A. Guzman Democratic
3rd Ward Juan A. Martinez Democratic
4th Ward Victor M. Felix Democratic
5th Ward Edith L. Newsome Republican
6th Ward Keith E. Turner Democratic
7th Ward Michael P. Donnenwirth Democratic
8th Ward Lynn M. Florian Democratic
9th Ward Thomas J. Hayes Independent

Members of the city council serve for four years, and are all elected on the same election year. The last election was in April 2023.


The mayor of Waukegan as of 2021 is Ann B. Taylor, the city's first female mayor. She was elected in April 2021, defeating incumbent Sam Cunningham, the city's first African American mayor.[51]

2021 Waukegan Mayoral Election
Party Candidate Votes %
Independent Ann B. Taylor 3,643 55.72
Democratic Sam Cunningham 2,895 44.28
Total votes 6,538 100.00

Since at least 1996, no mayor has been elected for more than a single term.[52]

Notable people

Main article: List of people from Waukegan, Illinois

Edward Hill Amet

Main article: Edward H. Amet

Jack Benny

Waukegan is the hometown of comedian Jack Benny (1894–1974), one of the 20th century's most notable and enduring entertainers, but although he claimed for decades on his radio and television shows to have been born there, he was actually born at Mercy Hospital in Chicago. Benny's affection for the town where he grew up can clearly be felt by this exchange with his co-star (and wife) Mary Livingstone during a conversation they had on The Jack Benny Program on Mother's Day of 1950 while they were discussing the itinerary for his summer tour that year:

Mary Livingstone: Aren't you going to bring your show to Waukegan?
Jack Benny: Mary, I was born in Waukegan — how can you follow that?!.

On a 1959 episode of the television game show What's My Line?, Benny quipped to host John Charles Daly

They say that I put Waukegan on the map. But it's not true. Waukegan really put me on the map. That's a fact.[53]

Nevertheless, Benny did put Waukegan on the map for millions of his listeners (and later viewers) over the years, and the community was proud of his success. A Waukegan middle school is named in his honor (which he said was the greatest thrill he had ever experienced[54]), and a statue of him, dedicated in 2002, stands in the downtown facing the Genesee Theater, which hosted the world premiere of his film Man about Town in 1939, with Jack, Mary, Dorothy Lamour, Phil Harris, Andy Devine, Don Wilson and Rochester (Eddie Anderson) appearing onstage.

Jack Benny's family lived in several buildings in Waukegan during the time he was growing up there, but the house at 518 Clayton Street is the only one of them still standing. It was designated a landmark by the city on April 17, 2006.[55]

Ray Bradbury

Science-fiction author and novelist Ray Bradbury (1920–2012) was born in Waukegan, and though he moved with his family to the West Coast while still a child, many of his stories explicitly build on Waukegan (often called Green Town in his stories, such as Dandelion Wine) and his formative years there.[56][57] Ray Bradbury Park, located at 99 N. Park Ave. in Waukegan, is named after him.

Otto Graham

Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham (1921–2003) was born and raised in Waukegan and attended nearby Northwestern University on a basketball scholarship, though football soon became his main sport. Graham played quarterback for the Cleveland Browns in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) and National Football League (NFL), taking his team to league championships every year between 1946 and 1955, winning seven of them. While most of Graham's statistical records have been surpassed in the modern era, he still holds the NFL record for career average yards gained per pass attempt, with 8.98. He also holds the record for the highest career winning percentage for an NFL starting quarterback, at 0.814. Graham is one of only two people (the other being Gene Conley) to win championships in two of the four major North American sports—1946 NBL (became NBA) and AAFC championship, plus three more AAFC and three NFL championships.


Waukegan is served by the Waukegan Public School District 60. It serves about 17,000 students in preschool through grade 12. Waukegan has three early childhood schools, 13 elementary schools, five middle schools, and three high schools. The multicampus Waukegan High School serves local high school students in two different campuses: Brookside and Washington. Brookside Campus serves as a 9th–10th grade learning center, while Washington Campus serves as an 11th–12th grade learning center.

A network of private schools exist within the city. Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep, is private Catholic high school, located within a former Kmart in Waukegan. Immanuel Lutheran School is a prekindergarten - grade 8 school of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod in Waukegan.[58][59]

Government services

Waukegan, 11:23:40 pm CDT in 2012 during Expedition 30 at the International Space Station
Waukegan, 11:23:40 pm CDT in 2012 during Expedition 30 at the International Space Station

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

Fire department

The Waukegan Fire Department provides fire protection and paramedic services for city, with five fire stations. Firefighters, lieutenants, and captains are represented by the International Association of Fire Fighters.


Pace provides bus service on numerous routes throughout the city with a hub in downtown Waukegan. Separated from downtown by the Amstutz Expressway, the Waukegan station provides Metra commuter rail service along the Union Pacific North Line. Trains travel south to Ogilvie Transportation Center in Chicago, and north to Kenosha, Wisconsin.[63]

Historical sites

See also: National Register of Historic Places listings in Lake County, Illinois

Artistic references

Sister cities

Waukegan has one sister city:[66]

Miyazaki, Japan

Although the city has no official sister city relationship, Waukegan is home to about 6,000 people from Tonatico, Mexico, according to a February 2017 article in The Washington Post. This has created ongoing ties between the two cities.[67]


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