A Milestone for Transit Services in Chicago

Photo Credit: Library of Congress

April 25, 1859

The first streetcars in Chicago made their debut. These horse-drawn vehicles began their service on a single rail track on State Street between Randolph and 12th Streets. Chicago’s inaugural streetcars – also known as horsecars – measured 12 feet (3.7 meters) in length and traveled three miles (4.8 kilometers) per hour. Each of these horsecars could carry up to 18 passengers at a time.

Earlier in the decade, horse-drawn omnibuses had started operating in Chicago to transport travelers between railroad stations and hotels. These omnibuses were expensive to ride, though, and there was clearly an ever-growing need for less costly public transportation in the city.

John Charles Haines, who was mayor of Chicago when the city’s horsecars were introduced, highlighted both the affordability and accessibility that this transit service would provide for many residents. Haines said, “Horse railroads . . . give the poor man a home in the outskirts of the city, at the same time that they bring him near to the place in which he earns the means to support his family.”

The new horsecar system proved to be very popular and, over the next several years, several more routes were added within the city. Starting in the early 1880s, however, these horsecars were gradually phased out as faster and more modern means of transit – initially cable cars and then electric-powered trolleys – went into service throughout the Windy City.  Horsecars made their final regularly scheduled runs in Chicago in 1906.

For more information on Chicago’s horsecars, please check out https://www.chipublib.org/blogs/post/technology-that-changed-chicago-horse-drawn-street-railways/

Additional information on the history of transit services in Chicago is available at https://www.chicagobus.org/history and http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1207.html. 

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