75 Years of Chicago’s Subways

Mayor Kelly celebrates the first ceremonial trips (using one track and only two of the stations) on the State Street Subway in April 1943, just prior to a mayoral election.

Mayor Kelly celebrates the first ceremonial trips (using one track and only two of the stations) on the State Street Subway in April 1943, just prior to a mayoral election.

Chicago’s first subway opened 75 years ago today, on October 17, 1943. To help commemorate this milestone in Chicago history, we wrote the book Building Chicago’s Subways, which is now available from us and wherever Arcadia Publishing books are sold. More information can be found at the end of this post, or via our Online Store.

Today, we are featuring over 100 images that were considered for use in our new book, but for various reasons did not make the cut. We hope you will enjoy them.

The story of Chicago’s subways is a long an convoluted one, beginning 150 years ago with the first transportation tunnels under the Chicago River, and continuing with the extensive system of freight tunnels built in the early 1900s downtown.

Wrangling over what type of subways to build, where to build them, and how to pay for them, continued for 40 years and divided Chicagoans. Then, in 1938, the City of Chicago and the FDR Administration agreed on plans to build the State Street and Dearborn-Milwaukee Subways, which opened in 1943 and 1951.

In turn, this was all part of a larger plan which included Chicago’s first true expressway in Congress Street (now the I-290 Eisenhower). Construction for the highway began in 1949 and ultimately relocated the entire Garfield Park “L” into the Congress rapid transit line, also known as the West Side Subway.

Construction of Chicago’s first subways began in 1938, and the Congress line was not 100% complete until 1960, so this was a huge construction project that lasted for more than 20 years and transformed the city forever.

The story of how this came to be is detailed in my new book.

David Sadowski

PS- I salute those Chicagoans old enough to remember the opening of the Chicago Subway. Those first-day riders included Raymond DeGroote Jr., the dean of Chicago railfans, and my two uncles Robert and Raymond Wakefield, all still going strong at age 88.

A Review of Building Chicago’s Subways by Kenneth Gear

Readers of the Trolley Dodger will certainly enjoy reading David’s new book BUILDING CHICAGO’S SUBWAYS.

I’ve visited Chicago about a dozen times in my railfanning pursuits and my interests were always confined to the yards, mainlines, and junctions of the freight railroads. I was only vaguely aware that Chicago even had a subway system. After reading this book, my next trip to the windy city will definitely include a ride on the subway.

As David has done with his previous book CHICAGO TROLLEYS, he has taken a very complex subject, spanning many decades and personalities, and whittled it down to the essential facts. He then presents these facts in a clear, understandable, and entertaining manner. The photographs are all of excellent quality, properly exposed and in razor sharp focus. David is apparently very particular and extremely selective when it comes to the photos in his books. The photographs don’t only showcase the transit equipment and property, but also include many photos of the people involved with the story of the subways. He has also included scenes of Chicago’s neighborhoods, buildings, and streets that were affected by the subways.

These are historical photos that will be of interest to any Chicagoans who have an eye for the past. The book tells the interesting story of the subway’s part in hastening the demise of the Chicago Aurora, and Elgin and the impact subways had on the famous “L”. Also much insight is given on the building of the Congress Expressway (now Eisenhower Expressway). I was also very interested in the chapter about the freight tunnels under the city. I recently watched the 1950 movie UNION STATION with William Holden and the climax of the film takes place in those tunnels.

The photographic efforts and concise writing go a long way to making David’s Arcadia books among the best the publisher has to offer.

How Chicago Kept its Subway Plan on Track

I wrote to Ron Grossman at the Chicago Tribune several months ago, suggesting they do an article for the 75th anniversary of the Chicago subway. Here is that article.

Cable cars in the LaSalle tunnel.

Cable cars in the LaSalle tunnel.

A river tunnel entrance during cable car days. This is either the Washington or LaSalle tunnel.

A river tunnel entrance during cable car days. This is either the Washington or LaSalle tunnel.

I believe this shows the Van Buren river tunnel during cable car days, prior to its lowering for use by streetcars.

I believe this shows the Van Buren river tunnel during cable car days, prior to its lowering for use by streetcars.

The Van Buren Street river tunnel in streetcar days.

The Van Buren Street river tunnel in streetcar days.

The Washington Street tunnel in 2017. (Roman Vovchak Photo)

The Washington Street tunnel in 2017. (Roman Vovchak Photo)

The Washington Street tunnel in 2017. (Roman Vovchak Photo)

The Washington Street tunnel in 2017. (Roman Vovchak Photo)

The steel tubes used to lower the LaSalle Street streetcar tunnel in 1911-1912. This same method was used in 1939 for the State Street Subway.

The steel tubes used to lower the LaSalle Street streetcar tunnel in 1911-1912. This same method was used in 1939 for the State Street Subway.

Chicago Tunnel Company trains hauling ashes away from the freight tunnels, probably for use as landfill.

Chicago Tunnel Company trains hauling ashes away from the freight tunnels, probably for use as landfill.

The freight tunnels were used to haul merchandise as well as coal and ashes beneath Chicago's downtown.

The freight tunnels were used to haul merchandise as well as coal and ashes beneath Chicago’s downtown.

The freight tunnels used electric locomotives and overhead power.

The freight tunnels used electric locomotives and overhead power.

A freight tunnel intersection.

A freight tunnel intersection.

Chicago's freight tunnels.

Chicago’s freight tunnels.

Chicago badly needed subways to help reduce congestion on the Loop "L", here shown in the early 1900s at Lake and Wells.

Chicago badly needed subways to help reduce congestion on the Loop “L”, here shown in the early 1900s at Lake and Wells.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, shown here in Chicago in 1943, approved federal funding for Chicago's first subways.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, shown here in Chicago in 1943, approved federal funding for Chicago’s first subways.

Indirect lighting was used in the newe Moscow Subway, shown here in 1936, and would also feature in Chicago's tube.

Indirect lighting was used in the newe Moscow Subway, shown here in 1936, and would also feature in Chicago’s tube.

A New York subway passage in 1937, showing the widespread use of subway tile. Chicago's subways were in turn influenced by New York's far more extensive system.

A New York subway passage in 1937, showing the widespread use of subway tile. Chicago’s subways were in turn influenced by New York’s far more extensive system.

The results of a fire that destroyed several wooden el cars on New York's system.. Wooden cars were banned from use in the Chicago subways for safety reasons.

The results of a fire that destroyed several wooden el cars on New York’s system.. Wooden cars were banned from use in the Chicago subways for safety reasons.

Wooden "L" cars were also less safe in crashes.

Wooden “L” cars were also less safe in crashes.

Subway plans from the late 1930s, showing new railcars similar to contemporary ones used in New York.

Subway plans from the late 1930s, showing new railcars similar to contemporary ones used in New York.

The BMT Bluebirds in New York.

The BMT Bluebirds in New York.

The Chicago Rapid Transit Company ordered four sets of articulated rapid transit trainsets, which were delivered in 1947-48 and largely patterned after the Bluebirds used by Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT).

The Chicago Rapid Transit Company ordered four sets of articulated rapid transit trainsets, which were delivered in 1947-48 and largely patterned after the Bluebirds used by Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT).

Chicago's subways were opened using 1920s-era steel rapid transit cars, where the conductors had to stand between cars to open and close the doors.

Chicago’s subways were opened using 1920s-era steel rapid transit cars, where the conductors had to stand between cars to open and close the doors.

The first subway construction site.

The first subway construction site.

The first subway construction site.

The first subway construction site.

An air lock used in subway construction.

An air lock used in subway construction.

Early subway construction.

Early subway construction.

An air lock used in subway construction.

An air lock used in subway construction.

Mining clay in the Chicago subway.

Mining clay in the Chicago subway.

A subway tunnel before the addition of concrete.

A subway tunnel before the addition of concrete.

Mining clay in the subway.

Mining clay in the subway.

Early "cut and cover" construction near a subway station.

Early “cut and cover” construction near a subway station.

The two steel tubes for the State Street Subway's crossing of the Chicago River, before they were sunk into place in 1939.

The two steel tubes for the State Street Subway’s crossing of the Chicago River, before they were sunk into place in 1939.

Subway construction.

Subway construction.

The old Masonic Temple, world's tallest building when it first opened in 1892, efll victim to subway construction in 1939 due to its foundation being in the way of construction. Here it is seen being torn down.

The old Masonic Temple, world’s tallest building when it first opened in 1892, efll victim to subway construction in 1939 due to its foundation being in the way of construction. Here it is seen being torn down.

In the Loop, building the subways involved a mining operation and used similar equipment.

In the Loop, building the subways involved a mining operation and used similar equipment.

Subway construction, circa 1939-40.

Subway construction, circa 1939-40.

Building subway kiosks on State Street in 1942.

Building subway kiosks on State Street in 1942.

A typical mezzanine station entrance in the Loop.

A typical mezzanine station entrance in the Loop.

The new State Street tube prior to opening.

The new State Street tube prior to opening.

An obviously posed photo prior to the opening of the State Street Subway in 1943.

An obviously posed photo prior to the opening of the State Street Subway in 1943.

The unfinished subway, circa 1941.

The unfinished subway, circa 1941.

The continuous platform in the State Street Subway, 1943.

The continuous platform in the State Street Subway, 1943.

The new subway featured automatic block signals. If a train went past a red signal, brakes were automatically applied. There were also timed signals on curves. Previously, most of the "L" used "on-sight" operation.

The new subway featured automatic block signals. If a train went past a red signal, brakes were automatically applied. There were also timed signals on curves. Previously, most of the “L” used “on-sight” operation.

CRT motorman Charles R. Blade activates a signal override in the State Street Subway, early in 1943.

CRT motorman Charles R. Blade activates a signal override in the State Street Subway, early in 1943.

The incline leading to the north end of the State Street Subway in early 1943.

The incline leading to the north end of the State Street Subway in early 1943.

A snowy scene at the north portal of the State Street Subway, early 1940s.

A snowy scene at the north portal of the State Street Subway, early 1940s.

A map of the completed State Street Subway in 1944.

A map of the completed State Street Subway in 1944.

The first ceremonial train in the State Street Subway, April 1943.

The first ceremonial train in the State Street Subway, April 1943.

Final touches on the State Street Subway in April 1943.

Final touches on the State Street Subway in April 1943.

An old-time Chicago political boss enters the State Street Subway.

An old-time Chicago political boss enters the State Street Subway.

Mayor Kelly on the ceremonial train, surrounded by reporters.

Mayor Kelly on the ceremonial train, surrounded by reporters.

A ticket taker at the April 1943 event.

A ticket taker at the April 1943 event.

The unfinished Dearborn tube in 1943. Work was halted due to materials shortages during WWII.

The unfinished Dearborn tube in 1943. Work was halted due to materials shortages during WWII.

The north State Street Subway portal in 1943.

The north State Street Subway portal in 1943.

A northbound train enters south portal of the State Street Subway in the 1940s.

A northbound train enters south portal of the State Street Subway in the 1940s.

No tracks here yet.

No tracks here yet.

Subway riders downtown could get a "walking transfer," good for 15 minutes, to change to "L" trains above.

Subway riders downtown could get a “walking transfer,” good for 15 minutes, to change to “L” trains above.

In 1950, the first of the CTA's new 6000-series rapid transit cars, on display in the North Water Street stub-end terminal.

In 1950, the first of the CTA’s new 6000-series rapid transit cars, on display in the North Water Street stub-end terminal.

When the Dearborn-Milwaukee subway opened in 1951, parts of the "L" were closed. Here. we see a Logan Suare-bound train on the Paulina portion of the Metropolitan "L", soon the be closed, probably in 1950.

When the Dearborn-Milwaukee subway opened in 1951, parts of the “L” were closed. Here. we see a Logan Suare-bound train on the Paulina portion of the Metropolitan “L”, soon the be closed, probably in 1950.

The north portal of the Dearborn-Milwaukee Subway at Evergreen Street.

The north portal of the Dearborn-Milwaukee Subway at Evergreen Street.

Construction of the Van Buren temporary trackage in 1951-52.

Construction of the Van Buren temporary trackage in 1951-52.

From 1951 to 1958, the Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway ended at a stub-end terminal at LaSalle and Congress. The station was then called Congress Terminal.

From 1951 to 1958, the Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway ended at a stub-end terminal at LaSalle and Congress. The station was then called Congress Terminal.

The Garfiled Park temporary tracks in the south half of Van Buren Street. The old Throop Street shops are at right.

The Garfiled Park temporary tracks in the south half of Van Buren Street. The old Throop Street shops are at right.

At right, the ramp going down from the existing Met main line at right to the an Buren temporary trackage at street level. On the left, the Congress median line looks like it is almost ready to be put into service.

At right, the ramp going down from the existing Met main line at right to the an Buren temporary trackage at street level. On the left, the Congress median line looks like it is almost ready to be put into service.

In 1958, work was being done to connect the Douglas Park "L" with the new Congress line.

In 1958, work was being done to connect the Douglas Park “L” with the new Congress line.

The old Met main line "L" crossed the footprint of the Northwest Expressway, then being built in 1958, and had to be shored up. Once the Congress line opened, this section of "L" was removed. The new highway opened in 1960.

The old Met main line “L” crossed the footprint of the Northwest Expressway, then being built in 1958, and had to be shored up. Once the Congress line opened, this section of “L” was removed. The new highway opened in 1960.

A crossover in the Congress median.

A crossover in the Congress median.

The Congress line opens in June 1958 with three branches (Congress, Douglas, and Milwaukee).

The Congress line opens in June 1958 with three branches (Congress, Douglas, and Milwaukee).

In the late 1950s, the CTA envisioned a sort of "bus rapid transit" line in the median of the planned Southwest (now Stevenson) Expressway. Three buses are coupled together and are running along a guide rail, and presumably would uncouple and go their separate ways at the end of the journey,

In the late 1950s, the CTA envisioned a sort of “bus rapid transit” line in the median of the planned Southwest (now Stevenson) Expressway. Three buses are coupled together and are running along a guide rail, and presumably would uncouple and go their separate ways at the end of the journey,

The DesPlaines Avenue CTA terminal, after its 1959 renovation. You can just barely see where the CA&E tracks were rebuilt at right. Unfortunately, no trains ran on them.

The DesPlaines Avenue CTA terminal, after its 1959 renovation. You can just barely see where the CA&E tracks were rebuilt at right. Unfortunately, no trains ran on them.

The new Congress rapid transit line, aka the "West Side Subway" as it is below grade.

The new Congress rapid transit line, aka the “West Side Subway” as it is below grade.

Garfield Park trains crossing DesPalines Avenue at grade in Forest Park. Tracks in the foreground were once used by West Towns Railways streetcars.

Garfield Park trains crossing DesPalines Avenue at grade in Forest Park. Tracks in the foreground were once used by West Towns Railways streetcars.

The CTA issued these button in 1969-70 when two new expressway median lines were opened. The Kennedy line also included a new one-mile subway along Kimball and Milwaukee.

The CTA issued these button in 1969-70 when two new expressway median lines were opened. The Kennedy line also included a new one-mile subway along Kimball and Milwaukee.

Order Our New Book Building Chicago’s Subways

There are three subway anniversaries this year in Chicago:
60 years since the West Side Subway opened (June 22, 1958)
75 years since the State Street Subway opened (October 17, 1943)
80 years since subway construction started (December 17, 1938)

To commemorate these anniversaries, we have written a new book, Building Chicago’s Subways.

While the elevated Chicago Loop is justly famous as a symbol of the city, the fascinating history of its subways is less well known. The City of Chicago broke ground on what would become the “Initial System of Subways” during the Great Depression and finished 20 years later. This gigantic construction project, a part of the New Deal, would overcome many obstacles while tunneling through Chicago’s soft blue clay, under congested downtown streets, and even beneath the mighty Chicago River. Chicago’s first rapid transit subway opened in 1943 after decades of wrangling over routes, financing, and logistics. It grew to encompass the State Street, Dearborn-Milwaukee, and West Side Subways, with the latter modernizing the old Garfield Park “L” into the median of Chicago’s first expressway. Take a trip underground and see how Chicago’s “I Will” spirit overcame challenges and persevered to help with the successful building of the subways that move millions. Building Chicago’s subways was national news and a matter of considerable civic pride–making it a “Second City” no more!

Bibliographic information:

Title Building Chicago’s Subways
Images of America
Author David Sadowski
Edition illustrated
Publisher Arcadia Publishing (SC), 2018
ISBN 1467129380, 9781467129381
Length 128 pages

Chapter Titles:
01. The River Tunnels
02. The Freight Tunnels
03. Make No Little Plans
04. The State Street Subway
05. The Dearborn-Milwaukee Subway
06. Displaced
07. Death of an Interurban
08. The Last Street Railway
09. Subways and Superhighways
10. Subways Since 1960

Building Chicago’s Subways is in stock and now available for immediate shipment. Order your copy today! All copies purchased through The Trolley Dodger will be signed by the author.

The price of $23.99 includes shipping within the United States.

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Redone tile at the Monroe and Dearborn CTA Blue Line subway station, showing how an original sign was incorporated into a newer design, May 25, 2018. (David Sadowski Photo)

Redone tile at the Monroe and Dearborn CTA Blue Line subway station, showing how an original sign was incorporated into a newer design, May 25, 2018. (David Sadowski Photo)

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