The University of Illinois at Chicago traces its origins to several private health colleges founded during the late 19th century, including the Chicago College of Pharmacy, which opened in 1859, the College of Physicians and Surgeons (1882), and the Columbian College of Dentistry (1893).
The University of Illinois was chartered in 1867 in Champaign-Urbana, as the state's land-grant university. In exchange for agreeing to the Champaign-Urbana location, Chicago-area legislators were promised that a "polytechnical" branch would open in Chicago. The Chicago-based health colleges affiliated with the University in 1896–97, becoming fully incorporated into the University of Illinois in 1913, as the Colleges of Medicine, Dentistry, and Pharmacy. Medical education and research expanded in the succeeding decades, leading to the development of several other health science colleges, which were brought together as the Chicago Professional Colleges. In 1935, the first act of newly elected state representative Richard J. Daley was to introduce a resolution calling for the establishment of an undergraduate Chicago campus of the University of Illinois.
As World War II was drawing to a close, Congress passed the G.I. Bill in 1944, which sought to reward veterans for their military service. Among other benefits, it provided educational funding, making college degrees far more attainable to the American public. In 1945, Daley, who was then a state senator, introduced four bills calling for a university in Chicago. In 1946, realizing that they would be "besieged with applications", University of Illinois officials opened what was to be a temporary branch campus called the Chicago Undergraduate Division (CUD) on Navy Pier. The campus was not a junior college, but rather had a curriculum based on Urbana's courses, and students who successfully completed the first two years' requirements could go on to Urbana and finish their degree.
Classes at the CUD campus began in October 1946, and approximately 4,000 students enrolled each semester. Nicknamed "Harvard on the rocks", three-quarters of its students were veterans on the G.I. Bill, many of whom were immigrants and most of whom worked other part-time jobs to support themselves. It also accommodated first-generation college students from working families who commuted from home. (Navy Pier makes an appearance in Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; its protagonist taught freshman English there.)
Demand for a public university education in Chicago remained high, the University made plans to create a permanent degree-granting campus in the Chicago area. Indeed, because it was a two-year school, students at the University of Illinois at Navy Pier needed to transfer to a higher-tuition private college in Chicago or go to the main campus in Champaign-Urbana, where there were fewer job opportunities.
1963 campus model and the circle interchange
Congress Circle campus
Daley succeeded in getting the state senate in 1951 to pass a bill calling for a Chicago campus. Daley then became mayor of Chicago in 1955 and pressed the University of Illinois to upgrade the Chicago Undergraduate Center to a full-fledged four-year institution. After a long and controversial site decision process, in 1961, Mayor Daley offered the Harrison and Halsted Streets site for the new campus. In December 1961, the final decision to establish a four-year university in Chicago was made. In that same year, the Chicago Professional Colleges became the University of Illinois at the Medical Center (UIMC).
In 1963, construction began on the University's new Chicago campus at Harrison and Halsted Streets at the ground of the former Greektown, Chicago. In February 1965, the new Chicago campus opened and was named the University of Illinois at Congress Circle (UICC) referencing the nearby Circle Interchange of I-290 and I-90/I-94). Shortly before opening, the Congress Expressway was renamed the Eisenhower Expressway and the campus was renamed to University of Illinois at Chicago Circle (UICC). UICC was designed in the brutalist style by Walter Netsch of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, a Chicago-based architectural firm responsible for many of today's tallest skyscrapers. Unlike the CUD campus, Circle was a degree-granting institution. Within five years of the campus' opening, in addition to undergraduate degrees, virtually every department offered graduate degrees.
In September 1982, the University of Illinois system consolidated UICC and UIMC to form the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). In 2000, UIC began developing the South Campus. The expansion of UIC south of Roosevelt Road increased on-campus living space and research facilities. In April 2019, workers at the school avoided a strike the day before professors walked out after a new contract agreement was met.