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1943: Opening Chicago’s First Subway
 

Chicago’s Initial System of Subways

Though mass transit struggled to compete with the automobile, it did remain a critical part of Chicago’s urban transportation system.

By the 1940s, Chicago’s demographics and economic realities were changing rapidly, and the city was facing a crisis. Chicago Mayor Edward J. Kelly outlined one solution to these problems in his 1943 Inaugural address, announcing that “In order that industry come to the city, new neighborhood communities be created, and in order that slum areas may be cleared and our blighted areas rehabilitated, it is absolutely necessary that Chicago have a truly great transportation system.”

Subway Station Dedication Plaque, 1943
Subway Station Dedication Plaque, 1943

One of the most substantial transportation projects completed in Chicago in the 1940s was the opening of the first subway line. Harold Ickes, at the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works, pushed through Federal appropriation to build Chicago’s long-planned subway—an important turn of events in U.S. urban transportation history. This was one of the earliest instances in the country of the federal government becoming involved in local urban transportation issues. Chicago’s first subway line opened in 1943.

Moving Stairs, Chicago’s Initial Subway, about 1943
Moving Stairs, Chicago’s Initial Subway, about 1943

The inscription on the back of this postcard reads: “Moving Stairs, Chicago’s Initial Subways. Reversible escalators are to operate between train platforms and mezzanine stations of Chicago’s 8-3/4 mile, two route, initial subways. Other equipment is to include streamlined all-metal cars, rubber-insulated tracks and fluorescent lighting.”

Mass transit no longer shaped the city, but it did still play an important role in moving people around the city.

Public transportation not only provided mobility for those with limited access to a car, but also offered an attractive alternative to the rapidly increasing traffic congestion that characterized cities in the post-World War II auto age.

These two postcards tout some of the conveniences of the new subway system—moving escalators and sound proof phone booths, where “you enjoy the same privacy as when telephoning from your home.”

Sound-Proof Telephone Booths/ Star Features of the Chicago Subway/ Ventilation, Illumination, Escalators, Safety, Comfort, about 1943
Sound-Proof Telephone Booths/ Star Features of the Chicago Subway/ Ventilation, Illumination, Escalators, Safety, Comfort, about 1943
The inscription on the back of this postcard reads: “Sound-Proof Telephone Booths give that touch of personal consideration so much appreciated. Without the use of doors all outside noises are so effectively minimized that privacy is assured. The roar of fast subway trains and noises from the outside are almost entirely eliminated. Here you enjoy the same privacy as when telephoning from your home. The Mezzanine floors are outstanding examples of modern architectural treatment. Concrete walls are covered with structural glass. Floors are red, non-slip concrete.”
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