The Chicago Surface Lines (CSL) was operator of the street railway system of Chicago, from the years 1913 to 1947. The firm is a predecessor of today’s publicly owned operator, the Chicago Transit Authority.
FROM HORSE CAR AND CABLE CAR TO MODERN
STREET CAR AND TRACKLESS TROLLEY
Coming Decade to Witness Vast Expansion Program
BY GUY A. RICHARDSON
President, Chicago Surface Lines
IT was not until well into the twentieth century that the horse car faded from the Chicago scene. Its last survivor was an owl car which went tinkling along Wells street, carrying night workers home.
Nor does one have to look far back into Chicago’s yesterdays to see the clanking cable car, oil lighted and stove heated, the “gripman” bundled in a fur coat against the icy blasts of winter, a few hardy passengers occupying the open wooden seats of the “grip” car, preferring the fresh if frosty air to the questionable comforts of the trailer.
Back in 1856, in the days of the omnibus, Chicago had a population of 86,000 scattered over eighteen square miles within the city limits, and a few thousand more living in the suburbs. The town was still only a few feet above the lake level, and the roads, with the exception of a few blocks of cobblestone or plank, were unpaved and often muddy. In that year a franchise was granted to Charles B. Philips and Roswel B. Mason for the construction and operation of a horse car line.
Chicago Surface Lines Ticket
January 20, 1923
Financial depression delayed the project, and in 1858 another franchise was issued to Frank Parmelee, Liberty Bigelow, and Henry Fuller who were to operate a car line, provided that work were commenced by November 1 of that year, and tracks laid on the three projected lines by January 6, 1859. The first spadeful of earth was turned on the former date by Lieut. Gov. William Bross at State and Randolph streets.
The line, however, met with public opposition. In order to retain their franchise, the concessionaires laid tracks in State street between Randolph and Madison, imported two old cars from Troy, N. Y., and ran them back and forth over the two-block right of way.
Chicago’s first one-horse drawn streetcar ran along State Street from Randolph Street to 12th Street. The car was called a “Bobtail”, having no rear platform.
The Chicago City Railway Company was incorporated in February, 1859, and the first unit of the system was built on the South Side. The “bob-tail” cars were mounted on a single truck. The crew consisted only of the driver. The passenger entered from the rear platform and deposited his fare in an inclined slot, which conveyed the coin into a glass-covered box where, falling in, it rang a bell. For the sake of warmth, the floors were strewn with straw. The North Chicago City Railway Company was incorporated in the same year.
In 1861, another company, the Chicago West Division Railway, was chartered to serve the West Side. It began operating two years later, running cars in Madison and Randolph streets from State street to Union Park.
With the North, South, and West sides connected with the business district by rail, steam dummies were used to convey passengers from the south limits at 39th street to 55th street, and on the North Side, from Diversey to Graceland Cemetery along Evanston avenue (Broadway)
Chicago Surface Lines Map
During the early ’60’s, the street railways, without intending to, developed into banks of issue. Small coins were scarce, and passengers began paying their fares in postage stamps. But as this medium of exchange proved unsatisfactory, the operating company issued commutation tickets for ten rides, to be punched by the conductor. Chicagoans eagerly siezed upon these to take the place of currency in other transactions. The tickets, punched or unpunched, found their way into the contribution box at church, or were tendered in liquidation of small debts. Such was their popularity that they were even counterfeited.
The cable car came in the ’80’s. It had been invented by a San Francisco engineer faced with the problem of getting horse cars up the steep inclines. The cable car speeded up transportation to a maximum of fourteen miles an hour, but it was not until the advent of the trolley that Chicago had anything like an adequate street railway system. Traction history of this period is closely identified with the colorful career of Charles T. Yerkes, Chicago’s first real “traction magnate.”
Chicago Surface Lines Maps
1920, 1930, 1934
Today Chicago street cars transport about 79 per cent of the passengers carried by the three main local transportation systems. The Chicago Surface Lines, one of the largest and best equipped systems in America, comprises 1,107 miles of track and 56 miles of bus routes, and operates 3,864 cars and buses. It has the largest installation of trolley buses in the world.
While the lines are owned by four separate companies, they have been operated as a unit since the “unification” ordinance of 1914 went into effect. The lines carry more than 700,000,000 revenue passengers a year, representing, with transfers , nearly 1,300,000,000 rides. Some 16,000 employees are carried on a pay-roll amounting to $30,000,000 annually.
The average ride for each fare paid is in excess of four miles, and, owing to a liberal transfer system, it is possible to ride 37 miles for a single fare.
In 1930, taking advantage of legislation enacted by the General Assembly, the city council adopted an ordinance providing for the consolidation of the surface and rapid transit systems under one operating company.
Chicago Surface Lines Maps
1928, 1930, 1940
The ordinance provides also for the construction of subways in the central business district by the city and their use by the new operating corporation. Provision is made further for extensions and improvements amounting within ten years to approximately $200,000,000.
Together with the $100,000,000 which will be spent by the city for subway construction, this will result in the investment of more money for transportation improvement in the coming decade than has been spent heretofore on all local transportation properties
Chicago Surface Lines Employee Magazine
New Chicago streetcars,
November 14, 1936.