Following up on our previous post about Chicago’s prewar PCC streetcars, here are some classic views of the 600 postwar PCCs delivered to Chicago Surface Lines and the Chicago Transit Authority between 1946 and 1948.
The design of these cars was derived from, and improved upon, those of the 83 prewar PCCs Chicago put into service in 1936-37. CSL experimented with various door arrangements on car 4051, which was tested in service on route 56 – Milwaukee Avenue in 1941.
The City of Chicago developed a transit modernization plan in the late 1930s, calling for the purchase of 1000 modern streetcars to replace CSL’s aging fleet. However, these plans would have to wait until the end of World War II to become a reality. Construction of new streetcars was put off “for the duration” as materials were needed for the war effort.
The Chicago Transit Authority was created by act of the Illinois legislature and approved by voters in Cook County in 1945. CTA took over both CSL and the Chicago Rapid Transit Company on October 1, 1947. However, the Chicago Transit Board, the CTA’s governing body, felt it had a mandate to make improvements even before the takeover.
CSL had a substantial fund set aside for equipment purchases that had been building up for years. The Surface Lines had been under the control of the courts for many years, as it was technically bankrupt. The fledgling CTA had no difficulty in persuading the CSL and the courts to order 600 new PCC streetcars for Chicago in 1945. Due to the size of this order, it was split between Pullman (310 cars) and St. Louis Car Company (290).
The September 12, 1946 Chicago Tribune reported:
First of 600 New Street Cars Arrives in City
The first of the city’s new green and cream colored 1946 streamlined streetcars, which will be in use by the end of the month on the Clark-Wentworth line, was inspected yesterday by management officers of the Chicago Surface lines.
The management group of four trustees and Federal Judge Michael L. Igoe, who has jurisdiction over the reorganization proceedings of the Surface lines company, were taken for a ride in the streamliner, the first of 600 cars on order.
Several new features captured the fancy of the inspectors. Coming in for the most praise were the crank operated windows. For tall persons, windows have been placed above the regular side windows.
Aisles are three inches wider. Another innovation is a no glare windshield which eliminates need for the curtain behind the motorman.
In addition to the Clark-Wentworth line, the cars will also be in use on Broadway-State, Western av. and 63d street lines.
Eventually, the postwar PCCs also ran on the Cottage Grove, Halsted, and Madison lines. Prior to being introduced on Clark-Wentworth, car 4062, the first one delivered, was run in “Pre-View” service in a downtown loop.
The September 16, 1946 Tribune reported:
NEWEST STREET CAR WILL BE IN SERVICE IN LOOP FOR 2 DAYS
Loop visitors will have an opportunity today and tomorrow to inspect Chicago’s first post-war street car which the Chicago Surface Lines has received out of 600 ordered. The new car will operate during the two days in an area bounded by Wabash av. and State, Lake, and Harrison sts.
The public has been invited by surface lines officials to make short trips free of charge to get firsthand information on the new car. It will operate from 9 a. m. to 9 p. m.
The new car, which will be placed on the Madison st. run soon, seats 58 persons and operation is all-electric. The heating system uses only the high temperatures generated by braking.
While the new PCCS were very popular with the public, a “sea change” in management philosophy was already in the offing, even before the Chicago Transit Authority took over the Surface Lines on October 1, 1947, as this Tribune editorial from November 20, 1946 shows:
THE STREET CAR IS DEAD
About all that has happened to the straphangers of this city in the last year is that the Chicago Motor Coach drivers went out on a strike nearly two months ago and are still out. The bus riders, who are a small minority of local transportation passengers, seem to be getting to and from work, tho not without greater inconvenience than they suffered on the buses. Instead of sardining themselves into buses, they sardine themselves into street cars or the “L.”
If the latter systems were offering anything like acceptable service to the public, the strike might prove fatal to the bus company. Its patrons would learn that they could get to work for 8 cents on the street car instead of a dime on the bus. As it is, they undoubtedly will be back on their old corners the first morning they read that the bus strike has been settled.
There isn’t a single form of local transportation in Chicago whose service today isn’t disgraceful. The street car service is the worst altho some elevated patrons might dispute this. The surface lines are, insofar as service to the public is concerned, leaderless. They remain in their second decade of federal court receivership. The court evidently thinks the management is running the company, and the management seems to think the court is. The physical properties are run down, and, still worse, are obsolete.
The street car is dead. With the exception of a few long haul, heavy traffic routes, street cars, which came in before paved streets, are obsolete. They should be replaced by buses. The surface lines themselves recognize this in their extensions of lines. They put in buses because property owners will no longer consent to have street cars run past their doors.
Street cars depreciate property values on every street on which they run. Buses improve them. That has been the almost universal experience in New York, where the street car has virtually disappeared from Manhattan. The deteriorating effect of the street car has been demonstrated in Chicago. The beneficial effect of buses has not been so well proved here for lack of substitution.
street cars, experts assert, can carry more people over a given route than can buses. Very well, then, keep the street cars on perhaps a half dozen heavily traveled routes. The new, high speed, relatively quiet cars that the company is now buying can serve those routes and the thousands of old rattletraps that it is using elsewhere can be junked and replaced with buses. Trolley buses can be justified if they are cheaper than gasoline buses. Their use on certain streets might be permitted, but they, too, are a detriment to adjoining property, altho not as great a one as the rail cars.
This is a good summation of the prevailing philosophy that both CSL and CTA had in 1946. Soon, however, the Chicago Transit Board hired Walter J. McCarter as the first CTA general manager, and even before the 1947 takeover, he had made public his anti-streetcar sentiments.
The last Chicago streetcar ran in the early hours of June 21, 1958. Today, the last surviving postwar Chicago streetcar, #4391, survives in operating condition at the Illinois Railway Museum.
As streetcars undergo a renaissance in many cities throughout the country, there is much more that can be said about Chicago’s PCCs. Please consider purchasing a copy of our new publication Chicago’s PCC Streetcars: The Rest of the Story from our Trolley Dodger Online Store.
This new electronic book will be released on June 21, 2015, the 57th anniversary of when the last Chicago streetcar ran.
8 thoughts on “Chicago’s Postwar PCCs”
Sad to say, both streetcars and trolley buses were hamstrung by their inflexibility. If Chicago had more streets like Stony Island Avenue, where the streetcar line was in the median, they could have lasted longer. Most other streets in the City were too narrow for that, sad to say.
This question, of whether Chicago’s streetcar system could have survived, and in what form, is covered in my new e-book.
I believe the first photo, depicting 4062 in “Pre-view” service is actually on Harrison Street, not Congress. As far as I know, Congress never had tracks, and the building behind the “L” would have been Louis Sullivan’s masterpiece, the Auditorium Building, not to mention the Congress & Wabash “L” station. Great photo selection, by the way.
Thanks for the correction. I will update the caption.
At times I have to wince on reading these negative editorials on why cities needed to divest themselves of streetcars. To the riding patron, the PCC streetcar on well maintained rail was and still is arguably the finest urban transit vehicle to have been developed to this day. To think that the lumbering, noisy and smelly GM diesel coaches of the day were somehow considered to be urban transportation progress was ludicrous.
The street car is dead. With the exception of a few long haul, heavy traffic routes, street cars, which came in before paved streets, are obsolete.
Just above the editor actually contradicts his own anti-streetcar thesis that there is no place for the streetcar.
They should be replaced by buses. The surface lines themselves recognize this in their extensions of lines. They put in buses because property owners will no longer consent to have street cars run past their doors.
Here our editor seems to be oblivious of cold, hard economics; that to extend an existing streetcar route into an area of lighter patronage is accomplished more economically with a trackless trolley or bus as the “extension” vehicle of preference. Although property owners could petition their city representatives, I’m sure in the end they had little say in what class of service passed their properties.
[…] can read the rest of this editorial in our post Chicago’s Postwar PCCs (June […]
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