The largest city on the Illinois River, Peoria, Illinois, is the county seat of Peoria County, is halfway between Chicago and St. Louis, and was a two-and-a-half hour drive from our last stop in Iowa.
First settled in 1680, it is the oldest European settlement in Illinois. It was officially named Peoria in 1825 after the Peoria tribe.
Population bloomed in Peoria. It became the fourth largest regional hub in the U.S. railway system serving 15 railroads and 70,000 miles of track. The Rock Island Depot was integral part of Peoria until it closed in 1978—now it is a thriving restaurant complex. The award-winning Peoria Park District boasts 9,000 acres of parks and Peoria’s Grand View Drive was dubbed the “World’s Most Beautiful Drive” by President Teddy Roosevelt.
In 1925, Caterpillar Tractor Co. was formed followed by what would eventually become the Komatsu America Corporation, making Peoria the world leader in earth moving and tractor equipment. Peoria remains Caterpillar’s world headquarters, employing more than 15,000 people.
In the past 80 years, Peoria has been honored with the “All-American City” award four times. Still seen as a microcosm of America, Peoria, with a current population of 116,513, still bears asking the old question: “Does it play in Peoria?” We set out to see if that was true when it comes to entrepreneurship as well, starting our visit at the Peoria Next Innovation Center, a $13 million technology incubator.