Friday, November 9, 2018

Chicago's first streetcar #fbf

I know I did an earlier throwback post on Monday. In this case it was a throwback post regarding 63rd & Stony Island. Today we look at Chicago's first electric streetcar.

In October 2017, J.R. Schmidt did a post at Chicago History Today about the date of the first electric streetcar in Chicago. More than that it was the day "modern" mas transit came to Chicago. An electric street car line ran on Chicago's south side - well more specifically the line ran between Stony Island and South Chicago along 93rd Street on October 2, 1890.

Just think about this, this was about two years (June 6, 1892) before the first L line from Congress to Pershing Rd (39th Street) between State & Wabash entered service.

Here's a 1940 photo provided by Schmidt that shows a street car at 93rd & Jeffrey - so you get to see a 78-year-old view of what the Pill Hill community once looked like.
This is what Schmidt wrote:
The later 19th Century was the age of electricity. Cities were beginning to string overhead wire for street lights and telephones. Naturally there was talk of running street railway cars using electric power. After a few false starts, a successful electric line was launched in Richmond in 1888.

A live electric wire was strung over each set of tracks. A pole on top of the car connected to the wire, gathering power to run the car’s electric motor. The pole was called a “trolley,” so the new vehicles were often known as trolley cars.

Like most big cities, Chicago had many competing local transit companies in 1890. The city’s initial electric line ran on 93rd Street, between Stony Island and South Chicago Avenues. Rival railways tried to sabotage the effort, spreading dark rumors about passengers being accidentally electrocuted while riding the “death cars.”

But the trolley cars were triumphant. They were cleaner, faster, and cheaper to run. By 1906 both horse cars and cable cars were gone from the city’s streets.

The various local street railway companies were eventually unified. During the 1920s Chicago operated a fleet of over 3,000 cars on 172 routes over 1,060 miles of track. With 3.6 million fares each day, it was the largest city transit system on earth.
Basically we know how this story ended. 60 years ago streetcar service ended in Chicago. Streetcars after the second world war were phased out in favor of buses. So far the city hasn't shown a lot of interest in bringing back streetcars although with future development on Goose Island there is some interest in looking into a plan for light rail - which is today's version of streetcars.

At least there is footage of Chicago's last streetcar run which finished near 79th & Wentworth on the south side back in 1958.

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