Library of Congress (LC-DIG-nclc-01345)

On May 15, 1903, Illinois established the nation’s first eight-hour workday … for children. The new law also established that children could not work more than 48 hours a week.

Before this, factories worked children 12 to 14 hours a day and used them to crawl into hazardous machinery because of their small size. Labor unions, progressive politicians, school officials, the press, even some business leaders tried to change the laws to protect children, but they were up against wealthy, powerful business leaders and politicians who profited off child labor.

The story of the Haymarket Riot of 1886 actually begins 20 years earlier. After the Civil War, Chicago’s labor unions had been pushing for an eight-hour workday instead of the usual 12 to 14. In response, Illinois passed an eight-hour law, but it had loopholes that allowed employers to ignore it. So on Saturday, May 1, 1867, unions called for a city-wide strike to protest the flawed law. Six thousand workers flooded into the streets, and the protest spread from there.

On April 28, 1941, Illinois Congressman Arthur Mitchell argued to the Supreme Court that African Americans were entitled to railroad accommodations equal to white passengers.

Flickr user Don Graham (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Almost everyone is familiar with the tragedy of the Donner Party, but few remember that their ill-fated journey began in Springfield, Illinois.

It was April 15, 1846, when brothers George and Jacob Donner, wealthy farmers who lived east of Springfield, departed that city with their families and other immigrants to seek a new life in California. George took his wife, Tamsen, their three daughters, and two daughters from a previous marriage. Jacob took his wife Elizabeth and their seven children.

The Twinkie, America’s model junk food, got its start in Illinois. Twinkies were invented on April 6, 1930 at the Continental Baking Company in River Forest. Manager James Dewar noticed that the equipment used to make the company’s small, baked strawberry shortcakes sat idle when strawberries were out of season. He came up with the idea to inject the spongy yellow cakes with a fluffy, white cream filling, and the Twinkie was born.

No Foolin’: on April 1, 2007, the Illinois General Assembly passed Senate Resolution 255, designating every April 1st in Illinois as "Cheap Trick Day."

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, NPG.2009.36

On March 25, 1931, Illinois, and the nation, mourned the loss of suffragist and civil rights icon Ida B. Wells. But before she became a crusader for women’s rights, Wells came to national attention as a crusader against lynchings of African Americans in the South.

National Archives and Records Administration, Public domain

March 17, 1937. Illinois’ Attorney General John E. Cassidy declared that all pinball machines were to be outlawed as gambling devices. He called them “pernicious and dangerous to the public welfare.” Law enforcement officers around the state pledged their support, ready to seize the pinball machines just as they would any slot machine.

DeKalb Protests Move To Courthouse In Sycamore

Jun 4, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco / WNIJ

Protesters continue to gather in DeKalb County to call for an end to racism and police brutality.

Wednesday was the fifth consecutive day of protests in DeKalb County as hundreds assembled in front of the courthouse in downtown Sycamore. 18-year old organizer, Tiana McAllister, is part of the team of two that planned out the march.

Winnebago County Announces 8 New Coronavirus Deaths

May 21, 2020

The Winnebago County Health Department announced 8 more coronavirus deaths.

County Chairman Frank Haney went into detail in a Thursday press conference.

“The dates of death range from May 17th through the 21st. The age range is age 50 through age 98. These deaths have all been confirmed as COVID-19 by the coroner today.”

This brings the total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Winnebago County to 52. 

An Illinois church is appealing a decision that upholds Governor J.B. Pritzker's stay-at-home order for religious gatherings.

Pastor Stephen Cassell with the Beloved Church of Lena sought a temporary restraining order so it could hold in-person services. Over the weekend, a judge ruled the governor’s order is constitutional in order to prevent mass infections and death. Senior Counsel Peter Breen is with the Thomas More Society, which is representing the church. He said the current limit on attendees in the coronavirus executive order violates religious freedom. 

Northern Illinois University

The Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University is taking a look at what lies ahead as lockdown restrictions loosen.

CGS has been at NIU for more than 50 years. Its researchers have conducted studies on issues related to the economy, politics, community, and the workforce.  Dr. Norman Walzer is a senior research scholar at CGS with a background in economics. He said current studies aren’t looking as much at the immediate consequences of COVID-19.


Illinois State Senator Dave Syverson said the lawsuits against Governor J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order reflect frustration with the lockdown.

Syverson admitted Pritzker and other State officials didn’t have as much information about COVID-19 when they first formulated the stay-at-home order.  The lawsuits, he said, are in response to a perception that State leaders aren’t listening to the concerns of constituents. Syverson said this particularly applies to small businesses. 

A nonprofit food provider is expanding its services to Rockford. 

Top Box Foods was founded by Chris Kennedy, a nephew of the late U.S. president. The organization buys foods from sources such as restaurant suppliers and sell preassembled boxes of groceries to residents. Kennedy said the decision to move to Rockford was strongly based on the economic situation there.

State of Illinois

Illinois U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos is calling the recent designation of the federal prison in Thomson as a quarantine location "irresponsible."

Bustos says as many as 280 new prisoners could enter the federal system through the facility located near the Mississippi River in northwestern Illinois. She’s troubled about understaffing and lack of PPE at the prison, along with insufficient testing capacity. She’s also worried about the lack of local health care options if someone does come down with the disease. 

Chase Cavanaugh / WNIJ

Chicago Rockford International Airport has received $18.6 million in grant money from the federal CARES Act. Much of the money will be put toward operational expenses during the pandemic. Zack Oakley is Deputy Director of Operations and Planning for the airport. He said, with reduced passenger service, the airport is facing financial stress. 

"It’s not just the landing fee, but the parking and concession fees, rental car fees. There’s a lot of revenue that’s created based off passengers. Off cargo, our biggest generation is just the landing fee of the aircraft." 

Drop In Gasoline Demand Means Cheaper Prices At The Pump

Apr 27, 2020
Carl Nelson/WNIJ

Gas prices in Illinois have dropped significantly due to the coronavirus outbreak. The state’s current average is $1.79 per gallon, according to AAA.  GasBuddy Head of Petroleum Analysis Patrick DeHaan said the trend is being seen nationally.  

“The national average for gasoline stands at its lowest level since 2016, and will likely later this week be at its lowest level since 2008 -- a sign of the tumultuous times we live in where gasoline demand has been slashed by nearly in half,” said DeHaan.

City of DeKalb Receives $3.6 Million Transport Grant

Apr 24, 2020

The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a $3.6 million grant to the City of DeKalb for public transit.

The money is part of CARES Act funding and will go toward ensuring the smooth operation of the city’s public transit services.  DeKalb Transit Manager Marcus Cox said the extra money is important, particularly in a time of reduced municipal revenue. 

“We are operating a $9 million a year operation that if other funds are impacted, than this will help, but it’s not the end-all, be-all answer.” 


Illinois Mayors are considering how their cities will eventually reopen as the State relaxes coronavirus restrictions. 

On Thursday, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced a modifed stay at home order for the month of May. Earlier this week, some communities were pressured to re-open small businesses. Mayor Greg Jury of Loves Park said any moves should depend on location.

What COVID-19 Has Changed On State Roads

Apr 22, 2020

COVID-19 isolation orders changed how state agencies ensure the safety of the roads, and who travels on them.  

On a state level, traffic is down throughout the board, but that doesn’t mean state agencies aren’t active. Paul Wappel is a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation. He said workers are still engaged in maintenance work.

“Transportation is deemed an essential service. We are maintaining the roads, and the bridges, making sure they’re still in good shape.”

Demand For Unemployment Benefits Strains State Capacity

Apr 20, 2020

Business shutdowns have led to mass unemployment across the nation. The jobless are filing for benefits in unprecedented numbers, including Illinoisans.  

Before the pandemic, about 200,000 people applied for unemployment insurance across the country in an average week. That all changed with mass furloughs and layoffs. Carl Campbell is Professor of Economics at Northern Illinois University. He says filings  increased greatly in the first three weeks since stay-at-home orders went into effect.

“It’s been 17 million, so about 30 times what it normally is,” he said. 

Remote Voting On Rise, But Progress Differs By State

Apr 15, 2020
Flickr user / kristin_a (Meringue Bake Shop) "Vote!" (CC BY 2.0)

States are working to expand remote voting to address the coronavirus pandemic, but what’s already in place can differ widely between them. 

Voters in Illinois currently have the option of requesting an absentee ballot, without the need for a specific reason.  Scot Schraufnagel is Chair of the Political Science Department at Northern Illinois University. He says other states currently have an easier voting process than the Land of Lincoln.

The Winnebago County Health Department reported eight new positive cases of COVID-19 in the area  Monday. This brings the total number of positive cases reported up to 113. 

Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell says the rate of positive cases among tests has been on the rise. But she says they’ve become easier to follow thanks to community interviews and contact. She says those contacted by the health department have been very cooperative.

Susan Stephens

A student emergency fund unveiled Monday at Northern Illinois University aims to help with hardships related to COVID-19.

It provides up to $500 per student to cover various needs caused by the pandemic and social distancing. These can include the cost of technology to take remote spring courses, childcare costs, and emergency medical expenses. Assistant Dean of Students Kelly Olson said there’s been significant interest.

City of Rockford

Rockford’s mayor says city services have remained relatively uninterrupted during the pandemic. 

Mayor Tom McNamara said a key measure early on was making sure staff could take care of themselves and loved ones.

“Where we provided all staff 14 days of paid sick leave to ensure that none of them were coming to work or doing work while they were sick, or while they had a family member who was sick with COVID-19, so that they could focus on what was most important to them, which should be their family.”

NIU Expanding Virtual Admissions Efforts

Apr 8, 2020

Northern Illinois University is expanding its admissions campaigns further into the virtual space in response to COVID-19.

The university had already offered photos, overhead campus drone tours, and mailing campaigns to prospective students. But another focus is on making up for the “day visits” that social distancing prevents families from taking part in. Vice President for Enrollment Management Sol Jensen explains.

Winnebago County Health Department

A northern Illinois health department is emphasizing the importance of social distancing as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Winnebago County Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell said it’s key to ensuring the county can “flatten the curve.” 

Steve Williams

A vintage machine built by a Rockford company is joining the permanent collection at the National Museum of Industrial History. 

Our story begins in Kalispell, Mont. with Steven Williams. He’s a woodworking enthusiast who owns a “shop” of sorts.

“People come to visit, they say you don’t have a woodworking shop, you have a museum," he said. "And so I buy old vintage machinery and I restore it to factory condition and I use it every day.” 

DeKalb County Health Department

Members of a northern Illinois health department held a web event Wednesday to answer questions about COVID-19. 

The event, part of Northern Illinois University’s STEM Café series, was an opportunity for the DeKalb County Health Department and the DeKalb County State’s Attorney to address resident concerns. Officials emphasized the importance of social distancing, and offered clarity on county testing, isolation, emergency response and the risk of exposure. The Department’s director of community health and prevention, Cindy Graves, explained: 

Susan Stephens

Northern Illinois University is adjusting student bills to reflect the social distancing measures implemented due to COVID-19. These measures include having students take remote classes and a reduction of services on campus due to less staff physically present.