Maps Accompanying Report of Bion J. Arnold to the Local Transportation Committee of the Chicago City Council

Updating Chicago’s transit system in the early 20th century.

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This fascinating collection of 14 plans of Chicago was designed and compiled by city transportation engineer Bion J. Arnold for a 1902 report to the Chicago City Council. By the late 19th century, the city’s network of transportation systems was a confusing hodgepodge of independently operated elevated lines, horse and electric-powered streetcars, and steam railroads. In 1897, Charles Tyson Yerkes opened the Union Loop to connect the 4 elevated lines serving the downtown area, helping to alleviate some of the headaches of navigating the congested region that now shares its name.

However, significant problems remained with the system of independent operators, and Arnold uses these maps to persuasively argue for consolidation among companies, the construction of additional subway lines, and other significant improvements. Map Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 11, 13, and 14 each show the existing and proposed updates for track arrangement, subway plans, and terminal loops across downtown Chicago. Dozens of important buildings are shaded and labeled, offering a detailed snapshot of the area’s economic makeup at the beginning of the 20th century. Iconic landmarks like Marshall Field & Company, the Board of Trade, the Coliseum, and the Palmer House Hotel can be seen. New landfill in Lake Michigan is expanding the shoreline beyond the Art Institute, the Chicago River is cluttered with industry and warehouses, and railroads dominate the primary means of transportation.

Map Nos. 4, 6, & 8, 9, shows the entire network of surface railroads, highlighting various features like electric conversion, car distribution, and track operations. Sheet Number 7 is a vibrant composition highlighting the distribution of population along local transportation lines, while Number 12 is a profile plan and map of the newly proposed downtown subways.

Collectively, the maps present some ideal changes to unify Chicago’s disparate transit systems, and while although most of Arnold’s recommendations were ignored by the City Council, private enterprise was not dissuaded. In 1913, Samuel Insull formed the Chicago Elevated Railways Collateral Trust, a ‘voluntary’ organization of the 4 elevated railway companies that served the Loop. Subsequent mergers and acquisitions would eventually lead to the development of the Chicago Rapid Transit Company and the Chicago Surface Lines – the two primary predecessors to the modern Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).

Sources: Scientific American; Chicago Tribune; Chicago Rail Fan; The Street Railway Question in Chicago;

Map Details

Publication Date: 1902

Author: Bion J. Arnold

Sheet Width (in): 32.75

Sheet Height (in): 18.5

Condition: A

Condition Description: Complete collection of 14 folding maps disbound from original paper wraps. Front cover is chipped and brittle, but present. Soft creasing and faint toning along originally issued fold lines, but the collection is in very good to near fine condition overall. Small spots of separation at fold intersections. Rubberstamps (withdrawn) from the Nebraska State Historical Society on the verso.

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