Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet first explored the shore of what is now Peoria in 1673. Although other trappers, traders, and adventurers followed at intervals, it was not until 1691 that a permanent settlement was established when Henri Tonti and Francois de LaForest built a fort near the Illinois River at what later became the foot of Mary and Adams Streets. The village that grew up around this fort was the first European settlement in Illinois.
Over the years, the city variously became known for associations with riverboats, railroads, distilleries, vaudeville, gangsters, farm machinery, bicycles, and bulldozers. Peoria has also been home to personalities as disparate as: orator and agnostic Robert Ingersoll; Fulton Sheen, Catholic bishop currently under review for canonization to sainthood; feminist author Betty Friedan; big band composer Richard Whiting; heavy metal band Mudvayne; comedian Richard Pryor; and Charles Correll, star of Amos 'n Andy. Somewhere along the way, the town became a metaphor for whether something appeals to the American mainstream public, and Peoria is now often used as a test market for new products, services, and public policy polling.
The Peoria Historical Society traces its roots as far back as 1839 but was not formally incorporated until 1934. The Society currently operates two historic house museums and has maintained a library collection on deposit in the Cullom-Davis Library at Bradley University since 1982. In addition to books, manuscripts, maps, and ephemera, this collection contains a large number of images ranging from nitrate and glass plate negatives to 35mm slides, stereographs, prints, and postcards covering a period from the late 19th century to the first half of the twentieth.