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Rockford is a mid-sized city located on both banks of the Rock River in far northern Illinoismarker. Rockford is often referred to as "The Forest City" and is the county seat of Winnebago County, Illinoismarker, USAmarker. As reported in the 2000 U.S. census, the city was home to 150,115 people, while in the 2008 estimate, it was said to have a population of 157,272. The metropolitan area has 339,178 residents as of the 2000 census. During the latter part of the 20th century Rockford was the second largest city in Illinois. The current mayor is Lawrence J. Morrissey, an independent elected to a second four year term in April .


Rockford is located at (42.269770, -89.069754). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 56.7 square miles (146.9 km²), of which, 56.0 square miles (145.1 km²) of it is land and 0.7 square miles (1.8 km²) of it is water. Neighboring communities that border Rockford, and are considered an integral part of the Rockford metro area, are Loves Parkmarker, Machesney Parkmarker, Belvideremarker, and the villages of Winnebagomarker, Roscoemarker, Rocktonmarker, and Cherry Valleymarker. The Rock River is the traditional center of the Rockford area and is its most recognizable natural feature.


Due to its location in the midwest, Rockford's climate contains four clearly defined seasons. Summers are usually very warm with the high temperature in July, the hottest month, being 83 °F (28 °C). The winter months can bring bitterly cold air masses from Canadamarker. The average high temperature in January, the coldest month, is 27 °F (-3 °C). June is Rockford's wettest month while February is the driest. During a typical year, Rockford receives 36.3in (922 mm) of precipitation.

Rockford and surrounding areas are prone to violent thunderstorms during the months of March, April, May, and June. On April 21, 1967, the neighboring town of Belvideremarker was struck by a violent F4 tornado, in which twenty-four people were killed and hundreds more injured at Belvidere's High School. Other severe weather events, such as hail and strong winds are common in these storms. On July 5, 2003 at 04:03, microbursts caused major damage on both the east and west sides of Rockford. Approximately 70,000 people were without power, with many on the west side suffering in the heat without electricity for a week. It took months for the damage to be completely cleared, but because the storm struck so early in the morning there were no injuries or fatalities. However, these sometimes violent storms bring the majority of summer rainfall.

The city is also prone to severe snowstorms in winter, and blizzards are frequent winter occurrences. On January 13, 1979 over 9 inches (23 cm) of snow fell on Rockford in just a few hours during one of the strongest blizzards in the city's history. The city averages approximately 36 inches (92 cm) of snowfall in a normal winter, but greater amounts are common. The snowiest winter in the history of the city was the winter of 1978-1979, when 75 inches (1.91 m) of snow fell.


Over the past years Rockford has recorded some of its worst flooding to date. Five inches of rain were dumped onto Rockford on September 4, 2006, leading to the destruction of twenty homes while damaging hundreds more. Less than a year later on August 7, 2007, Rockford was again hit by rain when between 5-7 inches of rain fell. Many streets, including major thoroughfares like North Alpine Road and East State Street, were flooded, along with fears of the Alpine Dam breaking. The following day, Governor Rod Blagojevich declared both Rockford and Winnebago County a state disaster area. With this declaration, he dispatched both the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to assist the city. Debris removal, law enforcement, damage assessment, and other duties were offered by the governor.

Rockford's worst flooding though to date was on July 18, 1952, when a total of eleven inches (279 mm) of rain deluged the city. This caused the drowning death of two residents, and the destruction of $1 million in property. This would lead though to a multi-million-dollar drainage program.

Monthly Normal and Record High and Low Temperatures
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Rec High °F (°C) 63 (17.2) 70 (21.1) 85 (29.4) 91 (32.7) 95 (35.0) 101 (38.3) 103 (39.4) 104 (40.0) 102 (38.8) 90 (32.2) 76 (24.4) 67 (19.4)
Norm High °F (°C) 27.2 (-2.6) 33.0 (0.6) 45.5 (7.5) 59.1 (15.1) 71.2 (21.8) 79.9 (26.6) 83.1 (28.4) 80.9 (27.2) 73.9 (23.3) 61.8 (16.6) 45.5 (7.5) 32.0 (0.0)
Norm Low °F (°C) 10.8 (-11.8) 16.3 (-8.7) 26.7 (-2.9) 36.8 (2.7) 47.9 (8.8) 57.6 (14.2) 62.6 (17.0) 60.9 (16.0) 51.8 (11.0) 40.1 (4.5) 29.0 (-1.7) 16.9 (-8.4)
Rec Low °F (°C) -27 (-32.8) -24 (-31.1) -11 (-23.8) 5 (-15.0) 24 (-4.4) 37 (2.8) 43 (6.1) 41 (5.0) 27 (-2.8) 15 (-9.4) -10 (-23.3) -24 (-31.1)
Precip in (mm) 1.41 (35.8) 1.34 (34.0) 2.39 (60.7) 3.62 (91.9) 4.03 (102.4) 4.80 (121.9) 4.10 (104.1) 4.21 (106.9) 3.47 (88.1) 2.57 (65.3) 2.63 (66.8) 2.06 (52.3)
Source: [17179]


As of the census of 2000, there were 150,115 people, 59,158 households, and 37,328 families residing in the city. Because the city is the largest in the area, the surrounding towns are considered to be Rockford's metropolitan area, which has a combined population of approximately 339,178 persons. The population density of the city prime was 1,034.8/km² (2,680.4/sq mi). There were 63,570 housing units at an average density of 1,135.1/sq mi (438.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 72.81% White, 17.37% African American, 0.32% Native American, 2.20% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 4.80% from other races, and 2.46% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 10.18% of the population.

There are 59,158 households of which 31.5% include children under the age of 18, 43.8% were married couples living together, 14.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.9% were non-families. 30.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.46 and the average family size was 3.09.

In the city the population was spread out with 26.7% under the age of 18, 9.2% from 18 to 24, 29.7% from 25 to 44, 20.4% from 45 to 64, and 14.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females there were 93.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.9 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $55,667, and the median income for a family was $65,465. Males had a median income of $37,098 versus $25,421 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,781. 14.0% of the population and 10.5% of families were below the poverty line. 19.6% of those under the age of 18 and 8.0% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.

Rockford surpassed Peoria as Illinois' second largest city in the late 1950s, and held onto that position for nearly half a century before being dislodged by a special census being held in Aurora in 2003. Note that Rockford was not recounted at the same time so this is not necessarily an accurate ranking.

Today, Rockford is considered to have a population of 157,272, according to an estimate by the United States Census Bureau on July 1, 2008, making it the 146th largest city in the United States.

Law and government

Rockford City Hall

Rockford City Council

Rockford is divided into fourteen wards which elect one alderman each. The City Council as of April 2009 are [17180]:

  • 1st Ward
    • Joe Sosnowski (R)
  • 2nd Ward
    • Patrick Curran (R)
  • 3rd Ward
    • Doug Mark (R)
  • 4th Ward
    • Carl Wasco (D)
  • 5th Ward
    • Venita Hervey (D)
  • 6th Ward
    • Lenny Jacobson (D)
  • 7th Ward
    • Ann Thompson-Kelly (D)
  • 8th Ward
    • Nancy Johnson (D)
  • 9th Ward
    • Bill Timm (R)
  • 10th Ward
    • Frank Beach (R)
  • 11th Ward
    • Karen Elyea (D)
  • 12th Ward
    • John Beck (R)
  • 13th Ward
    • Linda McNeely (D)
  • 14th Ward
    • Bill Robertson (I), caucuses with Democrats.


Rockford was first settled in 1834-1835 by Germanicus Kentmarker, Thatcher Blakemarker, and Lewis Lemonmarker, who came from Galenamarker and established themselves on the west bank of Rock River, and Daniel Shaw Haight, who founded a settlement on the east bank. (Lemon, a slave, later bought his freedom, but stayed in the area as a truck farmer.) Before the Civil War, the area was dominated by settlers from New York and New England, while Southern Illinois was dominated by settlers from Kentucky and Tennessee, many of them former slave owners. Halfway between Chicago and Galenamarker, the community was briefly known as Midway, but quickly became known as Rockford, because of the excellent ford across the Rock River. A post office was established in 1837. The settlement was incorporated as a village in 1839, and chartered as a city in 1852.

The first weekly newspaper was published in 1840 and the first successful daily newspaper appeared in 1877. Between 1890 and 1930 the city had three daily newspapers. Rockford Female Seminary was chartered in 1847, became Rockford Collegemarker in 1892, and became fully coeducational in 1958. Its best known graduate is Jane Addams (RFS Class of 1881), the founder of Chicago's Hull Housemarker and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. Rockford Public Library, the second such institution in Illinois, first opened to the public in August 1872; the library's first dedicated building, a Carnegie library, was completed by 1902.

Winnebago County War Memorial
Although Rockford was a sleepy country village for about the first ten years, it thereafter began to expand rapidly in size and industry and became the seat of Winnebago Countymarker. In 1851, the Rockford Water Power Company was organized and in 1852 the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad reached the city. These two events, which brought inexpensive power and transportation to the area, changed Rockford forever. By 1860 Rockford had become a significant, growing industrial center, noted for production of the John H. Manny reaper and other agricultural machinery.

Started in 1876, the Rockford Union Furniture Company was the first of 25 area furniture factories that were formed as cooperatives. By the 1880s the furniture industry was using the talents of Swedish born craftsmen and capitalists, and by the first half of the 20th century Rockford was the second largest furniture manufacturing center in the United States (behind Grand Rapids, Michiganmarker). Many of the furniture companies were cooperatives, reflecting a different business approach from that of the old Yankee entrepreneur, with laborers and craftsmen holding significant power. The agricultural implement industry was already in decline by the First World War, and the furniture industry was severely damaged by the Great Depression and the Second World War. By the end of the 1960s both were extinct in the city.

Life Magazine described Rockford in 1949: "It is as nearly typical as any city can be". However, from 1950 to 1989, more than half of the earnings in Winnebago County came from manufacturing, far above the national average. Rockford's 20th century industry revolved around machine tools, heavy machinery, automotive, aerospace, fastener and cabinet hardware products, and packaging devices and concepts. The city's industrial background has produced many important and interesting inventions, among them the Nelson knitting machine, airbrush, electric brake, electric garage door opener, dollar bill changer, and electronic dartboard. Some Rockford concerns of historical interest are: Air Brush Manufacturing Company, Free Sewing Machine Company, Haddorff Piano Company, Hanson Clock Company, Hess & Hopkins Leather Company, Norse Pottery Company, Rockford Brewing Company, Rockford Silver Plate Company, The Barber Coleman Company, and Rockford Watch Company. Woodward Governor Company, an innovator in control systems for large machinery and aircraft propulsion, originated in Rockford.

Rockford has been known as a town that makes toys. The Testors Company still makes model kits and paint and glue supplies for these kits. The Nylint company produced heavy duty metal scale toys of construction equipment, such as dump trucks, from 1946 to about 2001, when they went out of business. Tootsie toys, headquartered in Chicago, had a satellite factory in Rockford, where small single piece die cast cars where made for many years. Although not toys themselves, the red-heeled socks which are used for sock monkeys were originally manufactured in Rockford. Industry in Rockford has been led by Sundstrand Corporation which was the merger of Rockford Tool Company and the Rockford Milling Machine Company in the early 20th century. Hamilton Sundstrand (acquired by United Technologies in 1999) has manufactured many industrial, aviation, and aerospace products.

In 1910, the oldest surviving Harley Davidson dealership was founded in Rockford, Illinois. Kegel Harley-Davidson is also the worlds oldest family owned dealership as it was started by Joe Kegel in 1910 and is still operated today by his great grandchildren, Karl and Mark Kegel.

The USS Rockford, a Tacoma class frigate named for the city, was commissioned in March 1944 and earned two service stars during World War II. Camp Grant, a training depot used during World Wars I and II, was torn down in 1947 and became the site of the Chicago Rockford International Airportmarker by late 1954, and of Seth B. Atwood Park in 1956. Machesney airport, located north of the city, originally a private airport starting in 1927, was later used by the army air corps during World War II, later was a municipal airport and is now no longer an airport but home to the Machesney Park Mall.

During the early to late 1940s the Rockford Peaches (of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League) were one of the first all-female baseball teams in the world. They played their home games at Beyer Stadium which was razed several years ago. A placard displays where the stadium once stood, along with additional historical information. Although the 1992 motion picture "A League of Their Own" features the Rockford Peaches, all of the characters playing on the team were fictional, and the team did not participate in the league championship series in 1943 as depicted in the film. The Peaches won the league championship in 1945, 1948, 1949, and 1950.

Coronado Theater
number of impressive movie palaces built in the 1920s and early 1930s speaks to the thriving economy Rockford had at the time. The Coronado Theatermarker was the largest and most expansive of all these movie theaters in Rockford, complete with an orchestra pit, double balcony, highly ornate design and full array of theatrical and stage equipment. Coronado Theatre, "Rockford's Wonder Theater", was listed during 1979 to the National Register of Historic Places .Other remarkable theaters in Rockford included the Midway, Times, and State theaters.

Rockford was well known for its elm trees, being the reason for its nickname, the Forest City. But in the mid 1950s an epidemic of Dutch Elm disease more or less wiped out the population of Elm trees. However, Rockford is still heavily lined with trees. Of note are the parks and boulevard street layouts in certain parts of the city. Neighborhood parks and wide common grassy/forested areas forming boulevards are found in the older parts of the city. Many of the parks were part of the street layout put down in the late 1890s, early 1900s when subdivisions of that era were created. These parks typically were an entire city block, or in some cases larger. They would typically have a bowery, and sometimes a cement-lined pool. The boulevards tend to be in slightly newer subdivisions built in the 1920s.

The 1960s saw expansion of the manufacturing segment in the area. Near the outskirts of Rockford in Belvideremarker, a Chrysler car factory was built in 1965 which initially assembled the Chrysler Newport and other large cars and now produces the Dodge Caliber and similar cars. Sundstrand, now Hamilton Sundstrand, a division of United Technologies also expanded during this time period making aircraft parts.

Starting as early as the 1990s Rockford has had the ignominious honor of being listed at times as one America's worst cities by the Rand McNally corporation and Money magazine, sometimes being ranked one of the top ten worst cities. This may have been due to the lack of jobs and high number of outdated or closed factories. Crime on the west side of town was endemic, with huge areas of old established neighborhoods in extreme blight. The homicide rate in these areas was quite high. Many houses were vacant with no one wishing to buy them. The city government has developed many programs to attempt to address these problems and has seen some success.

Looking into the future

The Rockford economy has suffered since the decline of the manufacturing industry in the late 1980s. Once a national leader in manufacturing and industry, the focus of the local economy has been forced to change. Many of the "family-owned" companies that once inhabited Rockford were bought out by larger companies, the larger companies then relocated the products being made to lower wage parts of the United States or sent them overseas altogether. The city's new focus relies on high-technology businesses, tourism generated by outstanding museums and a great park system, and the westward growth of the Chicago metropolitan areamarker.

As of 2006, new commercial and residential development is taking place in the downtown area. The city is also considering plans for a Convention Center, Casino, and Riverwalk. The Main Street Corridor (Illinois Route 2) is also expected to be redeveloped. Construction from the downtown area, south to US Highway 20 is expected to begin in 2007. Plans for 2007 also mark a major renovation of the MetroCentre in downtown Rockford.

On September 28, 2007, Rick Nielsen, lead guitarist of the rock band Cheap Trick, announced plans for a $25 Million restaurant and hotel on the city's far northeast side called "Rick's." The restaurant will have a music theme featuring thousands of guitars and memorabilia that Mr. Nielsen has collected. Groundbreaking is expected in late 2007 with a grand opening in the second half of 2008. As of 2009, this project has not yet materialized.

In early 2007 the city of Rockford city council voted to end the 90 year old vehicle sticker program. The vehicle sticker was a way of raising tax revenue and it required Rockford residents to display, every year, a new sticker/decal on the inside of registered vehicle windshields. The last sticker, required through the end of 2007, depicted artwork from Rockford's hometown celebrity rock group Cheap Trick, from their latest album called Rockford. Rockford is also the home of the Phantom Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps.

In February 2009, The Wall Street Journal published a series of stories on Rockford and its mayor focusing on various challenges faced by the city, including higher unemployment and lower education levels of workers compared to some cities.



Rockford is at the intersection of three major highways: I-90 (Jane Addams Memorial Tollway), US-20, and I-39. I-90 was completed in the early 1960s, linking the area to both Chicagomarker and Madison, Wisconsinmarker. I-90/I-39 joins I-43 just north of the state line, linking the city with Milwaukee, Wisconsinmarker. The US-20 bypass around Rockford was completed in 1965. The Woodruff Expressway was a proposed highway that would have linked downtown Rockford with US-20 and I-90. I-39, at the southern end of Rockford, was completed in 1992 as a link to central and southern Illinois. Public transportation is very limited in Rockford; city bus routes are not at the level of other major cities and run less often.


Rockford's airport is the Chicago Rockford International Airportmarker (formerly Greater Rockford Airport). Built on the former Camp Grant U.S. Army training camp, it is located in the southern end of the city. The airport is currently home to UPS's second largest air hub. It is presently ranked as the twenty-second largest cargo airport in the nation when measured by landed weight. Passenger service is currently offered by Allegiant Air along with several other charter operations. The airport markets itself as an alternative to Chicago airports for leisure travelers.


Passenger rail service is planned for expansion in Illinois and Rockford is marketing itself as a destination. In 2006 the Northern Illinois Commuter Transportation Initiative proposed extending Metra train service from the western Chicago suburbs to Rockford. Additional passenger service is being considered via Amtrak through the Blackhawk Area Rail Coalition. While service (via Amtrak's Black Hawk) was cut in 1981, trains could begin carrying passengers in and out of Rockford as soon as 2010.

Rockford is served by several different freight railroad lines, such as Union Pacific, Canadian National, and the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern. Rochellemarker, a community of 10,000, south of Rockford is home to Union Pacific Railroad’s Global III Intermodal Facility. The complex is one of the largest intermodal facilities in the world. Construction on the state-of-the-art facility was completed in 2003 in Rochelle due to the close proximity to interstate highways and rail routes.

Rockford school system


Rockford, Illinois is the site of Rockford Business College, Rockford Collegemarker, Rock Valley Collegemarker, and St. Anthony College of Nursing. In addition, it hosts several satellite branches of other schools, including Judson College , Northern Illinois University marker, Rasmussen College[17181], and the University of Illinois College of Medicine .

Rockford College is best known for graduating Jane Addams, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 for her efforts to promote international peace and justice. Laura Jane Addams (1860 - 1935) entered what was then Rockford Female Seminary in 1877 and became the first graduate to receive a B.A. degree from the newly accredited baccalaureate institution in 1882 (the school was renamed Rockford College in 1892).

Rock Valley College is a community college with several locations in the Rockford area. Rock Valley College campus is the site of the Bengt Sjostrom Theatremarker. The former out door areas now features a motorized retractable roof constructed during 2003.

Public School District 205

The Rockford Public School District covers about and serves over 27,000 students. It is the third largest school district in the state, with 40 elementary schools, seven middle schools, and four high schools (Jefferson, Guilford, Rockford East High School, and Auburn).The district has seen heavy criticism over the past 30 years, as aging schools have become an issue, and several legal issues have drained the district's resources.

Private Schools

Additionally, Rockford supports 27 sectarian and nonsectarian private schools ranging from elementary to secondary education.

Points of interest

  • Lake-Peterson Housemarker is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places
  • The Erlander Home Museum is the site of the Swedish Historical Society of Rockford. It is located in what was the home of Swedish immigrant John Erlander, former president of the Rockford Union Furniture Company. This is the cultural centerpiece of Rockford's Swedish ancestry community.
  • Rock Cut State Parkmarker is located within the county to the northeast.
  • Anderson Japanese Gardensmarker has been ranked the top Japanese garden in North America. The garden was designed by Hoichi Kurisuwith bronze angel sculptures by Carl Milles.
  • Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Gardenmarker is also a popular attraction. The facility contains of rare trees and shrubs.
  • Burpee Museum of Natural Historymarker, located just north of downtown, is home to Jane the Rockford T-Rex.
  • Discovery Center Museum contains a large and well-respected interactive children's science exhibit.
  • Rockford Art Museum completes the entire museum campus.
  • Coronado Theatremarker, an ornately decorated vaudeville movie theater located in downtown Rockford. The theater was completely restored in 1999.
  • Faust Hotel, the tallest building in Rockford, was built in 1929 and has many art deco features. It has a tower several stories above the rest of the building, topping off at 15 stories (186 ft) The Hotel Faust was the center of social life and visits by V.I.P.s for decades. The 'Faust' building is now used as apartments for the elderly.
  • Tinker Swiss Cottage Museummarker, a preserved "cottage" built in 1865, provides a glimpse into life in the 19th century. It combines exterior elements of a Swiss Chalet with elements from Victorian. A swing foot bridge, razed in 1976, ran from the cottage crossing the Kent creek bluffs and was a popular place to visit for many years. From October 2004 until June 2005, Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum worked to rebuild the bridge. Engineers Willett, Hofmann & Associates and Civil Constructors designed and built the new bridge.
  • Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center is the oldest continuous community music organization in the United States. It exists to provide quality music for all people of the northern Illinois region through live performances by local and world-renowned artists.
  • Midway Village and Museum Center is a picturesque turn-of-the-century Victorian village featuring twenty-six historic structures and heritage gardens. Its grounds include a . Museum Center that offers five exhibition galleries of Rockford's unique and ethnic history, a collection of antique and handcrafted doll houses in the Old Doll House and a working replica of a water powered machine shop at its Severin Lake entrance.
  • Keeling-Puri Peace Plaza is a park that celebrates the United Nations' International Day of Peace on September 21 .

The Rockford area is also known as an outdoor destination, especially in the non-winter months. Numerous forest preserves surround the Kishwaukee River valley, five miles (8 km) southeast of the downtown area. Both the Rockford Park District [17182]and Winnebago County Forest Preserve District own and operate numerous golf courses as well. In fact, Golf Magazine called Aldeen Golf Club one of 50 excellent national golf courses one can play for under $50. Aldeen was ranked #38 in the nation in 2004.

Sports teams




Sister cities

Notable natives and residents


See also


  1. IL sees flooding Retrieved on August 08, 2007
  2. Rockford's Flooding Same Story Again for Dozens of Victims Retrieved on August 08, 2007
  3. Downpours flood northern Illinois Retrieved on August 08, 2007
  4. Rockford Weather Records Retrieved on August 08, 2007
  5. Lundin, Jon W. "Rockford, An Illustrated History, Windsor Publications 1989 p.12
  6. Lundin, Jon W. "Rockford, An Illustrated History, Windsor Publications 1989 p.8
  7. Rockford Swedes: American Stories (by Niel M. Johnson and Lilly Setterdahl with introduction by Ulf Beijbom. American Friends of the Emigrant Institute of Sweden. 1993)
  8. Rockford, An Illustrated History, (by Jon W. Lundin, Windsor Publications. 1989)
  12. Rockford Register Star newspaper/Archives, from June 8, 2003 article entitled, "Sierra Club names best, worst developments," by Chris Green.
  13. Welcome to Rockford and the ‘very cool’ world of Rick Nielsen - Rockford, IL - Rockford Register Star
  16. Routes 1 thru 20
  17. Fly RFD, Chicago Rockford International Airport
  18. Swedish Historical Society of Rockford
  19. RiverHawks headed to Northern League
  20. Emily Bear's Homepage
  21. Richard Bulliet's Homepage
  22. MidWest Pipe Band Association. Retrieved 6/15/08.
  23. Lundin, Jon W. "Rockford An Illustrated History", Windsor Publications 1989 p. 84
  24. P. A. Peterson: Immigrant Industrialist (Anna E. Carlson Heritage School. Illinois History/December 1996) [1]
  25. Ed Viesturs biography at his website

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