WBEZ | Calumet Heights http://www.wbez.org/tags/calumet-heights Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Chicago's first streetcars http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-09/chicagos-first-streetcars-102615 <p><p>&ldquo;Modern&rdquo; mass transit came to Chicago on October 2, 1890. On this day 122 years ago, an electric streetcar line began operating on the South Side.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/10-02--103rd-Parnell%20view%20east.jpg" title="One of the first electric streetcars, 103rd Street at Parnell (author's collection)" /></div><p>Back in 1859, the city had gotten its first street railway. Rails were sunk in the middle of State Street, between Randolph and 12th Street (Roosevelt Road), and horses pulled iron-wheel carriages along the track at three miles-per-hour. It wasn&rsquo;t any faster than walking, but why walk when you could ride?</p><p>The State Street horsecars proved popular, and the line was soon extended. Service was also added on other major streets.</p><p>Cable cars came to Chicago in 1882. First developed in San Francisco, the idea involved having a continuously-moving cable sunk in a slot between the tracks, pulling the car along with it. Within a few years, Chicago had the largest cable car system in the country.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/10-02--Cable%20Cars-State%26Madison%20%28CTA-c1900%29.jpg" title="Cable cars at State and Madison, 1900 (CTA photo)" /></div><p>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 car line was launched in Richmond in 1888.</p><p>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&rsquo;s electric motor. The pole was known as a &ldquo;trolley,&rdquo; so the new vehicles were often called trolley cars.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/10-02--Wabash%20%40%20Cermak%20%28CTA-1893%29.jpg" title="On route to the World's Columbian Exposition, 1893 (CTA photo)" /></div><p>Chicago had many privately-owned transit carriers in 1890. The bigger companies seemed satisfied with horses and cables. It took a scrappy little outfit called the Calumet Electric Street Railway to bring in the new technology.</p><p>The city&rsquo;s first electric streetcar line ran on 93<sup>rd</sup> Street between Stony Island and South Chicago avenues, in the Calumet Heights neighborhood. In 1890 this was a sparsely-settled district that had been part of Chicago for only a year. There was hesitation about bringing the new trolley cars into the denser parts of the city.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/10-02--cable-streetcar%20loop%2C%20Halsted-22nd%20Place.jpg" title="Transfer point between cable and electric cars, Halsted-22nd Place (author's collection)" /></div><p>Safety was the concern. What if the overhead wires started a fire? Rival railways spread dark rumor about passengers being accidentally electrocuted while riding the &ldquo;death cars.&rdquo;</p><p>But the trolley cars were triumphant. They were cleaner, faster, and cheaper to run. In 1893 the larger companies began converting to electric power.</p><p>The transition took some time. Until overhead trolley wire was allowed in the Loop, the electric cars had to towed through downtown by horses. Finally, in 1906, Chicago&rsquo;s last horse and cable railways were converted to electric power.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/10-02--open%20car%20Roosevelt%20%40%20Western.jpg" title="Early open streetcar on 12th Street near Western (author's collection)" /></div></p> Tue, 02 Oct 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-09/chicagos-first-streetcars-102615