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(4.6 Cubic feet: 6 rolls)

by: David A. Stevens & Robert S. Harding, August 1986


The first streetcars in Chicago were horse cars run by the Chicago City Railway Company and the North Chicago City Railway Company around 1858-1861. This method was slow and expensive, and the companies began substituting cable cars in the 1880s. Chicago City was the first in 1881, and with the addition of the Chicago Passenger Railway (1883) and the West Chicago Street Railroad Company (1887), Chicago had the largest cable railway system in the world.

It was also in the1880s that electric-powered "trolleys" first became practical. The Chicago companies hesitated at first to install these faster and more efficient systems because of their heavy investment in cable cars. But the smaller Illinois cities and the Calumet Electric Street Railway of the South Side built successful systems, causing the Chicago companies to feel themselves dropping behind. By the mid-1890s most of them had begun the conversion to electricity.

The 1890s saw the consolidation of many of the Chicago companies, and this reorganization continued into the next century. In 1905 the city voted that the surface railways should come under municipal ownership but not operation, provided that the companies rehabilitate their systems, and give the city the right to buy the property at a fixed value. In addition, new construction was to be approved by a new bureau, the Board of Traction Supervising Engineers.

The continuous reorganization was finally completed by the Unification Ordinance of 1913 which stipulated that all lines would come under the management of a single operating company called the Chicago Surface Lines (CSL). Four companies made up the DSL: the Chicago Railways Company, Chicago City Railway, Calumet and South Chicago Railway, and Southern Street Railway. At this time Chicago had the largest street railway system, the longest one-fare ride, the longest average ride, and the most liberal transfer privileges in the world.

The 1920s saw continued growth despite the increasing competition from the automobile, the Depression dealt a heavy blow to traffic. By 1948 the Chicago Transit Authority, which took over the Chicago Surface Lines in 1927, had abandoned all but four lines in favor of buses. By 1958 the remaining lines were "bustituted."

Scope & Content

The collection consists of blueprints and tracings of the Chicago surface railway system from 1886-1926.

The fifteen blueprints are from the Chicago City Railway Company, and the West Chicago Street Railroad Company (1891). The 192 tracings include plans of cars for the Chicago Railway (1904-1916), Lake Street Elevated Railroad (1895), and the Chicago City Railway (1908-09). Also included are plans of switches, track layouts, rails, power stations, grips, yokes, etc. for a number of companies, the bulk of them being for the West Chicago Street Railroad Company (1888-1892).


Gift of the Chicago Transit Authority. Transferred from the Division of Transportation, July 2, 1986.

Container List

Map Case/Drawer Folder



drawings, flat



drawings, flat



drawings, rolled

Companies Represented in Collection:

  • Chicago Board of Traction Supervising Engineers
  • Chicago City Railway Company
  • Chicago Consolidated Traction Company
  • Chicago Railways Company
  • Chicago Union Traction Company
  • D.T. Steelwork Company
  • Garden City Construction Company
  • Gilbert Car Manufacturing Company
  • Lake Street Elevated Railroad
  • North Chicago Street Railroad Company
  • Pennsylvania & West Virginia Railway
  • United States Construction Company
  • West Chicago Street Railroad Company


Revised: June 5, 2002