It’s hard to impress kids these days. But we think this list of fun, interesting facts about Champaign-Urbana will excite even the toughest critics. What would you add to this list?
YouTube co-founders are University of Illinois alumni
You can’t get much cooler than YouTube. (Well, if you’re a kid that is.) The fact that YouTube co-founders Jawed Karim and Steve Chen are University of Illinois graduates has to earn C-U some serious cool points, right? Karim and Chen, who both earned bachelor’s degrees in computer science at the U of I, went on to start the video-sharing website in 2005.
Researchers at the University of Illinois were the first to develop the rapid, saliva-based COVID-19 test, covidSHIELD.
Ludacris is a Champaign native
Rapper and actor Ludacris (Christopher Brian Bridges) was born in Champaign in 1977. His movie credits include the Fast and the Furious series, which garnered the star a Screen Actor’s Guild Award and Critics Choice Award. Throughout his music career, he has sold millions of records worldwide.
Now that’s baller
MJ’s son a former Illini
Speaking of basketball, Jeffrey Jordan, son of basketball Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, played for the Fighting Illini from 2007-09. While at the UI, Jordan studied psychology. And, yes, his dad was known to show up at the then-Assembly Hall to watch his son, trying — unsuccessfully, usually — to blend into the crowd as just another parent.
Ice cream, you scream …
Burt Baskin, co-founder of Baskin-Robbins, graduated from the University of Illinois in 1935 and was a member of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity.
The Land of Lincoln
Champaign-Urbana’s ties to the 16th president are many as Champaign County was always on Abraham Lincoln’s circuit. According to Lincoln exhibit resources at the Museum of the Grand Prairie, Lincoln traveled from Decatur to Urbana to Danville often with a group of lawyers and a judge assisting in whatever civil and criminal cases were before the court. Lincoln unsuccessfully defended the first person accused of murder in Champaign, and he defended the interests of the Illinois Central Railroad at the Urbana courthouse.
Check out the Museum of the Grand Prairie in Mahomet to learn all about Abe and his connection to the C-U area!
Vice-President Kamala Harris is a former Champaign resident
While we’re on the subject of presidents, Vice-President Kamala Harris lived here as a young child while her father taught economics at the University of Illinois from 1966-67.
Home of the Supercomputer
Blue Waters, one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, can be found right here in Champaign. It can complete more than 1 quadrillion calculations per second on a sustained basis and more than 13 times that at peak speed. The peak speed is almost 3 million times faster than the average laptop. (I’m no tech wizard but I’m pretty sure that’s fast.) Blue Waters was the fastest supercomputer at a university anywhere in the world until TACC Frontera came online in 2019. To learn more go here.
What’s in a name?
Champaign was originally called “West Urbana.“ It was renamed “Champaign” when it acquired a city charter in 1860.
Whipped cream in a can was invented at UIUC. Mic. Drop. Charles Getz, a grad student in the chemistry department, invented spray whipped cream or “Instantwhip” during the depression.
It’s the cheesiest!
About half of the blue box Kraft macaroni and cheese made in the United States is made in the Champaign Kraft Heinz plant. (And my family consumes a large majority of those boxes.)
One for the record books
Champaign was briefly home to the world’s tallest glass Christmas tree, thanks to glassblower and artist Jason Mack. Standing 31 feet tall, the tree took 10 days to build in December 2020 at the corner of Neil and Washington Street (but only 5 hours to take down). Mack has since made hundreds of Christmas ornaments from the glass.
This sounds nuts but …
Due to a squirrel shortage in 1901, the university president and board of trustees voted to import squirrels to the UI campus to “add prestige” to the university. These days, the campus is flourishing with squirrels so there’s no need to panic.
Bonnie Blair, a speed skater and five-time gold medalist at the Olympics, was also a Champaign resident. She attended Jefferson Middle School and Centennial High School where she was a cheerleader and a member of the Student Council.