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.
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.
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!
Title Building Chicago’s Subways
Images of America
Author David Sadowski
Publisher Arcadia Publishing (SC), 2018
ISBN 1467129380, 9781467129381
Length 128 pages
01. The River Tunnels
02. The Freight Tunnels
03. Make No Little Plans
04. The State Street Subway
05. The Dearborn-Milwaukee Subway
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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11 thoughts on “75 Years of Chicago’s Subways”
Great photos! You really did a great job on this publication. Congratulations are in order! I found the current photos of the Washington Tunnel fascinating. The streetcar tracks are still in situ in the tunnel.
Great site, photos and individual articles always stirring many warm memories !
Thank you… glad you like it!
The 6000 train you say is on the Paulina section is in fact SB at Damen. You can make out the never-used new Damen tower over the canopy, and the triangular building at Milwaukee and North.
Thanks for the correction.
Thank you for the fascinating collection of pictures. I have never seen present day pictures of the old Washington Street streetcar tunnel. Years ago I almost got a tour of the freight tunnels, through I believe CERA, but unfortunately the City of Chicago canceled it days earlier claiming “security” reasons.
Scan 001-001 claiming that the West Side Subway was “America’s First Combination Rapid Transit Railway and Automobile Expressway” is incorrect which I have also seen stated in other places. The Pacific Electric Railway previously operated in the median of the Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles from 1940 until 1952 before the line was foolishly thrown away.
Picture text030 showing the DesPlaines Avenue terminal in 1959 has some intriguing features where the permanent loop and yard are in place but the platform is under construction so a temporary track is in use. There appears to be two separate platforms with the first one being in the middle of the yard after a bridge across the driveway to the parking lot which was later removed and the second just to the south of the permanent platform. Finally, it looks like they have opened the new DesPlaines Avenue bridge across the soon to be constructed expressway but the buses are still using the old roadway which has not yet been removed.
The CTA’s claim about the West Side Subway depends on whether you consider the Pacific Electric to have been “rapid transit,” rather than an interurban. But I am sure that few Chicagoans knew about the PE line in the median of the Hollywood Freeway (which had already been abandoned in 1952) when this pamphlet was issued. There is a picture of the PE median line in my new book Building Chicago’s Subways.
This is probably a trivial question, but I was wondering if it was ever determined if CNS&M and/or CA&E steel rolling stock could operate in the new subways?
I don’t see why not. After all, 4000s with poles can operate there, and there aren’t any tight turns.
Also, it’s my understanding that had the CA&E continued to operate passenger service when the Congress line opened in 1958, there were plans to run CA&E trains through the Dearborn – Milwaukee subway and turn back or park the trains either just west of the Lake Street station (at the flyover junction) or just beyond the Damen station on the remnants of the Humboldt Park line.