About Cicero, Illinois

Cicero: An American Town

–by John S. Kociolko

The Town of Cicero is one of the oldest and largest municipalities in the State of Illinois and the only incorporated town in Cook County. It bears the name of the great Roman statesman of the First Century B.C., Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Cicero was one of the greatest statesmen of Rome and an advocate of constitutional government. He died in the political turmoil which followed the assassination of Julius Caesar, but his writings and beliefs survived. Centuries later, the principles Cicero espoused would flourish again in a young republic with a new constitution, capitol and senate, the United States of America.

Illinois, part of the old Northwest Territory which the United States had acquired from Great Britain in 1783, joined the Union as the 21st state in 1818. Most of the early Illinoisans were from the South, where counties were the basis of local government and so the new state was divided into counties. Cook County was established in 1831, comprising what is today Cook, DuPage, Iroquois, Lake, McHenry and Will Counties.

Later settlers from the Northeast preferred their traditional township government and a new state constitution in 1848 authorized the creation of townships. In the following year, Cook County voters approved the new jurisdictions.

Among the townships created by the County Board in 1849 was a 36 square mile tract bounded by what are today Western, North and Harlem Avenues and Pershing Road. On June 23, 1857, 14 electors met to organize a local government for the district, which they named “The Town of Cicero.” Railroads, immigration and the Civil War contributed to economic growth in the new township, which by 1867 numbered 3,000 residents. In that year the state legislature incorporated the Town of Cicero as a municipality with a special charter, which was revised in 1869. Township and municipal functions have subsequently been discharged by a single board of elected officials.

Cicero’s rapid development in these early years now collided with the expanding political power of its neighbor, the City of Chicago. By 1889, Chicago had annexed more than half of the original Town. An 1899 referendum ceded the Austin neighborhood to the city and in the following year land containing a race track was transferred to Stickney Township.

On July 21, 1899, Ernest Hemingway, winner of both the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes, was born within the Town of Cicero, in what is today the Village of Oak Park. In 1901, the three remaining components of the Town- today’s Oak Park, Berwyn and Cicero-voted to separate. The surviving Town of Cicero retained less than six of the 36 square miles carved out in 1849. Immigrants and their families swelled the Town’s population, however, and housing construction boomed within its diminished territory. 

In 1901, the three remaining components of the old township – today’s Oak Park, Berwyn and Cicero – voted to separate. The surviving Town of Cicero retained less than six of the 36 square miles carved out in 1849. Immigrants and their families swelled the Town’s population, however, and housing construction boomed within its diminished territory.

Served by the Burlington, Illinois Central, Belt Line, and other railroads, Cicero attracted many industries in the Twentieth Century and became the largest manufacturing center in the state after Chicago. It was also the site of an early airfield in 1911. W. Edwards Deming began his pioneering work on management techniques in the 1920’s at the Western Electric Hawthorne Works, an industrial colossus which employed more than 40,000 people during World War II and was the dominant business in Town for eight decades.

From the early townsmen who fought in the Union Army during the Civil War, Ciceronians have proudly served in the armed forces. Their bravery is exemplified by Boatswain’s Mate Joseph P. Steffan, who died abroad the USS Arizona in the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Capt. Edward C. Krzyzowski, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in Korea.

Cicero is composed of eight neighborhoods, with their own district names and characteristics. Two were named for businesses-Grant Works after an 1890 locomotive factory and Hawthorne for an 1850’s quarry, the first Cicero industry. Two bear the family names of local landowners, Warren Park and Drezel, while two more were christened by prominent residents, Clyde, recalling a river in Scotland and Morton Park honoring Julius Sterling Morton, a Nebraskan who served as Agriculture Secretary to President Cleveland. Morton also gave his name to the local high school and college, yet he never lived in the town. Boulevard Manor derives its name from Austin Boulevard. The origin of the title of Parkholme is unknown.

The Town of Cicero has a colorful history, which forms a part of the larger stories of the county, state and nation. Three Presidents-Eisenhower, Reagan, and Bush- visited Cicero on their roads to the White House. We can better understand the present and plan for the future, if we know the achievements of the past.