The world's biggest high school

September 17, 2012

On September 17, 1934 Chicago posted another superlative. The new Lane Tech was dedicated and the city now had the largest high school in the world.

Named after a pioneer Chicago educator, the first Albert G. Lane Manual Training School opened at Division and Sedgwick in 1908. The school offered vocational education in fields such as carpentry, foundry, printing and electrical work. All the students were male.

Other courses were added over the years, and the school became Lane Technical High School. By 1930 enrollment had grown to 7,000, with students going to class in shifts. The search began for a new site for a bigger Lane.

Over at Addison and Western, the Mid City Golf Club was having financial problems. The economy was getting sluggish — this was the beginning of the Great Depression — so the course sold off part of its land to the Board of Education. In the summer of 1930 ground was broken for the new school.

Four years and $6.5 million later, it was finished. At 10 in the morning on dedication day, 6,000 Lane students assembled at Wrigley Field. They were handed small American flags, then began walking down the middle of Addison Street toward the school, two miles away.

They laughed and shouted and waved at the people watching from the sidewalk. Along with them, in marching order, came squads of ROTC cadets and bands from seven other high schools. They passed the reviewing stand at Western Avenue and moved into the school stadium. About 10,000 additional spectators were on hand.

At the formal dedication, various educators gave uplifting orations on the value of learning. The Lane students saved the most applause for Mayor Edward J. Kelly. "You fellows have to swim upstream from now on," Kelly told them. "But I'm looking at you and seeing real men. If any of you gets in trouble and you come to me — and you're on the square — I'll help you."

The ceremonies ended and the students dispersed. The mayor and the other dignitaries adjourned to the school cafeteria for a luncheon of macaroni and cheese.

The original Lane became Cooley High School, and was eventually torn down. Though it is no longer the world's largest high school — and no longer all male — the 1934-vintage Lane still operates at Addison and Western.