Skip to main content Smithsonian Institution

Online Media

Catalog Data

Chicago City Railway Company.  Search this
West Chicago Street Railroad Company.  Search this
Pennsylvania & West Virginia Railway.  Search this
Chicago Transit Authority.  Search this
Chicago Surface Lines.  Search this
Chicago Board of Traction Supervising Engineers.  Search this
Chicago Consolidated Traction Company.  Search this
Chicago Railways Company.  Search this
Chicago Union Traction Company.  Search this
D.T. Steelwork Company.  Search this
Garden City Construction Company.  Search this
Gilbert Car Manufacturing Company.  Search this
Lake Street Elevated Railroad (Chicago, Ill.).  Search this
North Chicago Street Railroad Company.  Search this
United States Construction Company.  Search this
Former owner:
National Museum of American History (U.S.). Division of Transportation  Search this
4.6 Cubic feet (13 oversized folders)
Collection descriptions
Archival materials
Chicago (Ill.)
Scope and Contents:
The collection consists of blueprints, working drawings, line drawings, tracings, and plans of the Chicago Surface Railway system from 1896-1926; 1948. The majority of the drawings are on linen and are 24" x 36" or larger. Some of the drawings are annotated. The drawing number, title of drawing and the date are provided for each sheet.
The collection is divided into seven series: Series 1: West Chicago Street Railroad Company Series 2: Chicago Board of Traction Supervising Engineers/Chicago Railway Company Series 3: Chicago Traction System (Car Drawings) Series 4: Chicago Cable Blueprints Series 5: Chicago Union Traction Company Series 6: Pennsylvania & West Virginia Railway Series 7: Miscellaneous
Biographical / Historical:
The first street cars in Chicago were horse cars run by the Chicago City railway Company and the North Chicago City railway Company around 1858-1861. This method, however, was slow and expensive, and the companies began substituting cable cars in the 1880s. Chicago City was the first railway company in 1881, with the addition of the Chicago Passenger Railway in 1883, and the West Chicago Street Railroad Company in 1887. Chicago had the largest cable railway system in the world. In the 1880s, electric powered trolleys first became practical. The Chicago companies hesitated at first to install these faster and more efficient systems because of their heavy investment in cable cars. Smaller Illinois cities and the Calumet Electric Street Railway of the South Side of the city built successful systems, causing the Chicago companies to feel themselves dropping behind. By the mid 1890s most companies began the conversion to electricity. The 1890s saw the consolidation of many of the Chicago companies and through this reorganization continued into the next century. In 1905 the city voted that the surface railways should come under municipal ownership but not operation, provided the companies rehabilitate their systems, and give the city the right to buy the property at a fixed value. In addition, new construction was to be approved by a new bureau, the Board of Traction Supervising Engineers. The continuous reorganization was finally completed by the Unification Ordinance of 1913 which stipulated that all lines would come under the management of a single operating company called the Chicago Surface Lines (CSL). Four companies made up the CSL-the Chicago Railways Company, Chicago City Railway, Calumet and South Chicago Railway, and Southern Street Railway. At this time Chicago had the largest street railway system, the longest one-fare ride, the longest average ride, and the most liberal transfer privileges in the world. The 1920s saw continued growth despite the increasing competition from the automobile, but the Depression dealt a heavy blow to traffic. By 1948 the Chicago Transit Authority, which took over the Chicago Surface Lines in 1927, had abandoned all but four lines in favor of buses. By 1958 the remaining lines were "bustituted."
Related Materials:
Materials at Other Organizations The Chicago Historical Society Holds approximately 13 cubic feet of materials documenting the Chicago Surface Lines, 1857-1951. The materials include minute books, corporate records, account books, agreements, correspondence, contracts, ordinances, patents, memoranda, stock certificates, bank statements, and blueprints.
Gift of the Chicago Transit Authority.
Collection is open for research.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Railroads -- Equipment and facilities  Search this
Railroads -- Rolling-stock  Search this
Railroad engineers  Search this
Civil engineers  Search this
Civil engineering  Search this
Railroads  Search this
Railroads -- Buildings and structures  Search this
Engineering and technology  Search this
Cable railroads  Search this
Chicago Surface Lines Drawings, 1880-1948, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
See more items in:
Chicago Surface Lines Drawings
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History