today in 1882

on january 28, 1882, chicago’s first cable car was opened.

according to the gondola project:

January 28th, 1882 is one of (if not the) most important dates in Cable Transit history. On that blustery winter day, C.B. Holmes opened the first cable car in Chicago.

It was the first time cable was shown to be economical in such a snowy, icy, windy environment. It was also the first known instance of cable cars installed in an absolutely flat city.

The Chicago City Railway cable cars operated at 23 km/hr and within 5 years were carrying 27 million passengers per year. Remember: This was 1887! They were also among the most profitable and extensive in all of North America.

– steven dale (CUP)

the state street cable car made its final trip on july 22, 1906. it’s since been replaced by the ‘el’, chicago’s [mostly] elevated heavy rail transit system.

but ALSO in 1906, the chicago tunnel company started running trains through a system of expansive freight tunnels they had dug under most of the downtown, starting in 1899 in the basement of a bar near the intersection of Lasalle and madison. the ground was mostly clay and it’s believed that most of the clay removed ended up at the bottom of lake michigan.

initially the tunnels were intended for telephone lines and the tracks were laid in secret. at some point though, the phone lines were removed and the tunnels were only used for freight.

after initial “testing” little trains were run through the 6 ft wide, 7.5 ft tall (opposed to CTA subway tunnels that are 10 to 15 ft in diameter) hand dug tunnels. these trains moved packages, goods, mail, food, coal, cinders, and occasionally people between offices, stores, the post office, factories, etc. the system continued to expand and at its height, consisted of 60 miles of underground tunnels. (map)

sadly, the last train ran through the tunnels in 1959.

some of the tunnels were destroyed when the subways were built, some were flooded, some were taken over by the power company (com ed), and some simply remain abandoned.

more chicago tunnel info here and here.