Explorers such as Father Jacques Marquette together with the Indians established a mission on the north side of the Illinois River near Starved Rock in 1675. Others such as LaSalle and Tonti established Fort St. Louis at Starved Rock in 1682-83. This area and its river system was a bastion of the early French empire in North America until the English took possession after the Treaty of Paris in 1763.
The first settlers in the Streator area were farmers and merchants who came in the 1820's possibly in response to Father Marquette's seventeenth century description of the prairies around Streator. "We have seen nothing like this river for the fertility of the land, its prairie, woods, wild cattle, stag, deer, wild cats, swans, ducks, parrots, and even beaver." These frontiersmen manufactured their own clothing and most of their farming implements.
In 1866 Colonel Ralph Plumb (sponsored by Dr. Worthy Streator) who would become the most influential person in Streator's development, arrived to purchase land and develop newly found coal deposits. He built the first railroad to link the coal fields to the main line of the Illinois Central Railroad. He plotted the city, and was its first mayor. He built a high school and donated it to the city. He also erected an "Opera House' and established the Streator National Bank. In 1884 he was elected to Congress and was re-elected in 1886.
In 1880 a window-glass manufacturing plant was established. When this enterprise demonstrated that glass could be produced profitably, a glass bottle company was organized in 1881. Streator's glass industry grew rapidly due to the abundant supply of coal and silica sand in the area with Streator becoming known as the "Glass Bottle Capital of the World."
The twentieth century saw the further development of manufacturing in Streator. Brick, clay tile, automobiles, numerous metal fabricators, and food service industries were next developed in Streator. Manufacturing and agriculture remain the backbone of Streator's economy.