The capital of Illinois is Springfield, which is located in the central part of the state. Although today Illinois's largest population center is in its northeast, the state's European population grew first in the west as the French settled lands near the Mississippi River, when the region was known as Illinois Country and was part of New France. Following the American Revolutionary War, American settlers began arriving from Kentucky in the 1780s via the Ohio River, and the population grew from south to north. In 1818, Illinois achieved statehood. Following increased commercial activity in the Great Lakes after the construction of the Erie Canal, Chicago was founded in the 1830s on the banks of the Chicago River at one of the few natural harbors on the southern section of Lake Michigan.John Deere's invention of the self-scouring steel plow turned Illinois's rich prairie into some of the world's most productive and valuable farmland, attracting immigrant farmers from Germany and Sweden. The Illinois and Michigan Canal (1848) made transportation between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River valley faster and cheaper, and new railroads carried immigrants to new homes in the country's west and shipped commodity crops to the nation's east. The state became a transportation hub for the nation.
American scholars previously thought the name "Illinois" meant "man" or "men" in the Miami-Illinois language, with the original iliniwek transformed via French into Illinois. This etymology is not supported by the Illinois language, as the word for "man" is ireniwa, and plural of "man" is ireniwaki. The name Illiniwek has also been said to mean "tribe of superior men", which is a false etymology. The name "Illinois" derives from the Miami-Illinois verb irenwe·wa - "he speaks the regular way". This was taken into the Ojibwe language, perhaps in the Ottawa dialect, and modified into ilinwe· (pluralized as ilinwe·k). The French borrowed these forms, changing the /we/ ending to spell it as -ois, a transliteration for its pronunciation in French of that time. The current spelling form, Illinois, began to appear in the early 1670s, when French colonists had settled in the western area. The Illinois's name for themselves, as attested in all three of the French missionary-period dictionaries of Illinois, was Inoka, of unknown meaning and unrelated to the other terms.