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History

Rockford was founded in 1834 by Germanicus Kent as the village of Midway—“midway” between Galena and Chicago. It officially was named Rock Ford in 1837 after its earliest settlement on the Rock River. Settlers came from New York and New England. Irish arrived in the early 1850s, followed by Swedes. Other early ethnic groups included Italians, Poles and Lithuanians, and more recently Laotians, Vietnamese and Hispanics.

In the early 20th century, Rockford was an important military center as home to Camp Grant, established in 1917 to train thousands of soldiers for World War I.

Rockford has a distinguished history as a furniture maker and toy maker. The Rockford Union Furniture Company in 1876 was the first of 25 area furniture factories. Until World War II, Rockford was the second-largest furniture manufacturing center in the U.S. behind Grand Rapids, MI. The red-heeled socks used for sock monkeys were originally manufactured in Rockford. Testors Company still makes model kits and paint and glue supplies.

The city remains a leader in manufacturing. Companies like Sundstrand Corporation (acquired by United Technologies in 1999) arose from a merger between Rockford Tool Company and the Rockford Milling Machine Company in the early 20th century. Many area companies have manufactured many important industrial, machine, aviation and aerospace products.

Well known personages from Rockford include: 1980 Presidential candidate John B. Anderson; rock band Cheap Trick; musical child prodigy Emily Bear; American Idol season 5 finalist Paris Bennett; actors Susan Saint James, Aidan Quinn and Anthony Tyler Quinn (Boy Meets World); astronaut Janice E. Voss and Destiny’s Child singer Michelle Williams.

The 1992 motion picture “A League of Their Own” made the Rockford Peaches a household name. The Peaches won the championship in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1945, 1948, 1949 and 1950.

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