Of the total population in 1900 not less than 34.6% were foreign-born; the number of persons either born abroad, or born in the United States of foreign parentage (i.e. father or both parents foreign), was 77.4% of the population, and in the total number of males of voting age the foreign-born predominated (53.4%). Of the latter category 68.2% were already citizens by naturalization. 3.9% of the inhabitants of ten years of age or upward were illiterate (unable to write), while the percentage of foreign-born whites was 8.2% (93.9% of illiterate males of voting age). Germans, Irish, Poles, Swedes and Bohemians made up respectively 29.1, 12.6, 8.6, 8.3 and 6.2% of the foreign-born population. It was estimated in 1903 by a very competent authority that above 500,000 persons spoke German, 125,000 Polish, 100,000 Swedish, 90,000 Bohemian, 50,000 Norwegian, 50,000 Yiddish, 35,000 Dutch, 25,000 Italian, 20,000 Danish, 17,000 French and 12,000 Irish (Celtic), and that each of fourteen foreign languages was spoken by more than 10,000 people: “Newspapers appear regularly in 10 languages, and church-services may be heard in about 20 languages. Chicago is the second largest Bohemian city of the world, the third Swedish, the fourth Norwegian, the fifth Polish, the fifth German (New York being the fourth). In all there are some 40 languages spoken by ... over one million” persons.21 The death-rate of Chicago is the lowest of the great cities of the country. Births are but slightly in excess of deaths, so that the growth of the city is almost wholly from immigration. The death-rate is the lowest of the great cities of the country (16.2 in 1900; New York, 20.4; Boston, 20.1 etc.).
The growth of Chicago has been remarkable even for American cities. Any resident of four-score years living in 1900 had seen it grow from a settlement of fourteen houses, a frontier military post among the Indians, to a great metropolis, fifth in size among the cities of the world. In 1828 what is now the business center was fenced in as a pasture; in 1831 the Chicago mail was deposited in a dry-goods box; the tax-levy of 1834 was $48.90, and a well that constituted the city water-works was sunk at a cost of $95.50; in 1843 hogs were barred from the town streets. Such facts impress upon one, as nothing else can, the marvelously rapid growth of the city. In 1830 with a population of less than 100, in 1840 with 4479, the increase by percentages in succeeding decades was as follows: 507.3, 264.6, 173.6, 68.3, 118.6 and 54.4; an increase equivalent to 8.6% annually, compounded. Such a continuous “boom” no other American city has ever known.
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