Three Chicago ward maps

January 24, 2012

Remember when gerrymander was a dirty word? The new Chicago ward map is a mess. But it seems to satisy legal requirements and political realities, so the City Council adopted it by a lopsided vote.

Let's take a look back at some ward maps from simpler times, courtesy of the annual Chicago Daily News Almanac.

The first map is from 1911. Chicago was slightly smaller in size and in population then. The city was divided into 35 wards, with two aldermen each. The Republicans had a strong presence in the council, and the city often elected Republican mayors.

Notice that most of the ward boundaries are geometrically regular and compact. The south end of the 1st Ward does have some wandering borders. I suspect they were drawn that way to accommodate some scheme of the two aldermen, Bathhouse John Coughlin and Hinky-Dink Kenna.

The next map is from 1921. Chicago has grown larger in land area, and the 2.7 million population is comparable to today. We now have the familiar 50 wards, with one alderman each. Chicago has a Republican mayor in 1921, though the council elections have become officially non-partisan.

The ward boundaries are again relatively compact.

The third map is dated 1931. Except for O'Hare and a few scattered parcels, Chicago has reached its current city limits. The population is nearly 3.4 million. And the city's last Republican mayor has just left office. 

That was in 1931. This 1931 map was actually printed in the 1946 Almanac. The city council evidently saw no reason to change ward boundaries for at least 15 years. Maybe they were satisfied because their map was orderly and neat.

Remember when gerrymander was a dirty word?