Our New Book: Chicago Trolleys

On the Cover: Car 1747 was built between 1885 and 1893 by the Chicago City Railway, which operated lines on the South Side starting in April 1859. This is a single-truck (one set of wheels) open electric car; most likely a cable car, retrofitted with a trolley and traction motor. The man at right is conductor William Stevely Atchison (1861-1921), and this image came from his granddaughter. (Courtesy of Debbie Becker.)

On the Cover: Car 1747 was built between 1885 and 1893 by the Chicago City Railway, which operated lines on the South Side starting in April 1859. This is a single-truck (one set of wheels) open electric car; most likely a cable car, retrofitted with a trolley and traction motor. The man at right is conductor William Stevely Atchison (1861-1921), and this image came from his granddaughter. (Courtesy of Debbie Becker.)

We are pleased to report that our new book Chicago Trolleys will be released on September 25th by Arcadia Publishing. You can pre-order an autographed copy through us today (see below). Chicago Trolleys will also be available wherever Arcadia books are sold.


Chicago’s extensive transit system first started in 1859, when horsecars ran on rails in city streets. Cable cars and electric streetcars came next. Where new trolley car lines were built, people, businesses, and neighborhoods followed. Chicago quickly became a world-class city. At its peak, Chicago had over 3,000 streetcars and 1,000 miles of track—the largest such system in the world. By the 1930s, there were also streamlined trolleys and trolley buses on rubber tires. Some parts of Chicago’s famous “L” system also used trolley wire instead of a third rail. Trolley cars once took people from the Loop to such faraway places as Aurora, Elgin, Milwaukee, and South Bend. A few still run today.

The book features 221 classic black-and-white images, each with detailed captions, in 10 chapters:

1. Early Traction
2. Consolidation and Growth
3. Trolleys to the Suburbs
4. Trolleys on the “L”
5. Interurbans under Wire
6. The Streamlined Era
7. The War Years
8. Unification and Change
9. Trolley Buses
10. Preserving History

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781467126816
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing SC
Publication date: 09/25/2017
Series: Images of Rail
Pages: 128

Meet the Author

David Sadowski has been interested in streetcars ever since his father took him for a ride on one of the last remaining lines in 1958. He grew up riding trolley buses and “L” trains all over Chicago. He coauthored Chicago Streetcar Pictorial: The PCC Car Era, 1936–1958, and runs the online Trolley Dodger blog. Come along for the ride as we travel from one side of the city to the other and see how trolley cars and buses moved Chicago’s millions of hardworking, diverse people.

Images of Rail

The Images of Rail series celebrates the history of rail, trolley, streetcar, and subway transportation across the country. Using archival photographs, each title presents the people, places, and events that helped revolutionize transportation and commerce in 19th- and 20th-century America. Arcadia is proud to play a part in the preservation of local heritage, making history available to all.

How Chicago Trolleys Came To Be

Arcadia Publishing contacted us several months ago, after becoming aware of the work we do on this blog, and asked if we would be interested in authoring a book about Chicago streetcars. This being an exciting prospect, we responded very much in the affirmative.

This would be, by any stretch of the imagination, a very different book than our last project, the color Chicago PCC book. For one thing, with color photographs, you are largely limited to the era from 1940 on. A black-and-white book can cover a much larger time-frame. Great black-and-white photograph have a timeless appeal.

It is possible, although certainly not easy, to tell a cohesive and coherent story largely through pictures and their accompanying text. With Chicago Trolleys, we believe we have succeeded in this, and have created a book that will appeal both to railfans and the general public.

We decided to broaden the scope of our book to include more than simply Chicago streetcars. This gives the book greater variety, but also allows for a more thorough overview of the subject, in the context of local history and development.

Thus, it seemed natural to include the horsecars and cable cars that preceded trolleys, the important suburban streetcar lines, the interurbans that used overhead wire, and even those portions of the Chicago “L” that did the same.

Since the last Chicago streetcar ran in 1958, you would have to be “of a certain age” to remember them. But there are many more people who still fondly recall Chicago’s trolley buses, whose singing wire was an important part of everyday life until 1973. Trolley buses fit in our overall theme of Chicago trolleys, and we have therefore included them.

Our concluding chapter takes a look at ongoing efforts to preserve past transit history, for the benefit of future generations.

When we were putting this book together, our challenge was not what to include, but what to leave out. There are so many great Chicago-area photographs that the process of distilling them down to an acceptable number was quite difficult.

While there may be some subjects where finding enough photographs of good quality is difficult, the opposite is true for Chicago traction. There is an embarrassment of riches.

We had, as a starting point, our own extensive collections of images. We reviewed thousands of images for possible inclusion, creating detailed lists of potential candidates, which we pored over, debated and rearranged for months.

Gradually, all the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle began to fall into place. The narrative gradually found its own form, just as a river finds its own course.  This “winnowing-down” process helped distill our narrative into a potent brew.

We are especially proud of the chapter on how the various transit agencies did their patriotic duty, and supported the war effort during World War II.

We are indebted to other collectors and photographers for sharing their images with us. They say that “no man is an island,” and that is certainly true when putting together a book such as this.

The text for the introduction and captions went through several revisions, including a “peer review.” We are fortunate to have an excellent editor, whose assistance has greatly improved the book in various ways.

Not wanting to duplicate the work of previous publications, we went out of our way to avoid, if at all possible, using images that have already appeared in other books. The great majority of images in the book are appearing between covers for the first time.

In addition, a large number of pictures were sourced from original camera negative or slides in our possession. Many of these are larger than 35mm and hence of greater sharpness and clarity.

Chicago Trolleys represents an investment of several thousand dollars in original research. There is no guarantee, of course, that we can recoup this investment, but we hope to do so, if only for the sake of funding research for future books. We have an idea for our next book, but naturally much depends on the success of this one.

Chicago Trolleys is now available for pre-order. Other booksellers are already doing the same. Since we have a responsibility to help promote the book, we might as well join in.

Books will be shipped on or about September 25th. Each copy will be signed by the author, unless otherwise specified by the buyer at the time of purchase. We are offering free shipping on copies sent to US addresses. Books will be shipped in the order they are purchased, so why not reserve your copy today.

We hope that you will enjoy it.

-David Sadowski

Pre-Order Chicago Trolleys

The book costs just $21.99 plus shipping. Shipping within the US is included in the price. Shipping to Canada is just $5 additional, or $10 elsewhere.

Please note that Illinois residents must pay 10.00% sales tax on their purchases.

We appreciate your business!

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6 thoughts on “Our New Book: Chicago Trolleys

  1. Hopefully, it’ll be as good as the book on Chicago’s PCC’s, even if not as hefty as that book.

  2. I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of you new book. Thanks for all the hard work.

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