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For several decades travelers to and from Chicago and intermediate points could ride the sleek diesel-powered streamliner, The City of San Francisco, that whisked passengers over the rails of the Chicago & North Western, Union Pacific and Southern Pacific. This publicity photograph dates from the late 1930s.


H. Roger Grant
Historical Research and Narrative

The earliest residents of Chicago surely realized that geography blessed their community; it was arguably "nature's metropolis." After all, Lake Michigan had long

facilitated growth of shoreline settlements, and access to the navigable Illinois River—part of the massive Mississippi River drainage system—further enhanced water options. In the late 1840s when the Illinois & Michigan Canal opened, the value of Chicago as a commercial, distributing, and manufacturing center as well as a transfer point increased markedly. Then came the railroad. Unlike counterparts in St. Louis, members of the business elite in Chicago had the good sense to understand that the Railway Age was the wave of the future. Chicagoans devoted much of their energy to developing their city's trade by extending rail lines, especially to the northwest and west. Businessmen of St. Louis, however, were more inclined to reply upon river trade, although some of its leaders began to comment that "railroads have diverted trade from natural and frequented channels, and will continue to do so." There is no question that Chicago embraced the iron horse as a principal weapon in its ongoing campaign of urban economic imperialism.


Red Cap ushers or porters line up in front of the Madison Steet Terminal of the Chicago & North Western Railway, ca. 1920.

While St. Louis by the 1870s had become an important node in the regional and national rail network, Chicago was well on its way to becoming the railroad hub of America. This unfolding of events surprised some. Indeed, visitors early in the railroad era thought that Chicago-based companies were too optimistic about the importance of their small, albeit growing urban center. When the Illinois Central Railroad (IC) opened its first station in 1856, there were outsiders who considered the structure to be too large for current and future needs. The president of the Erie Railway, which had yet to build into the Old Northwest from New York State, asked an IC official: "What under heaven were you westerners thinking about when you put such a monstrous depot out here in Chicago?" And he added, "You'll never use half the room you have made in this building." It was not too long, however, before that station became crowded, and finally in 1892 the IC replaced what had become a woefully inadequate facility with a large, modern structure. By the outbreak of the Civil War, the framework of Chicago's railroad system had been created and was wholly visible to all. Eleven roads served the "Windy City," more than in St. Louis or any other would-be regional competitor.

A red-letter day came for Chicago with completion in May 1869 of the first transcontinental railroad, the so-called "wedding of the rails" of the Union Pacific (UP) and Central Pacific at Promontory, Utah Territory. With the hometown Chicago & North Western Railway (C&NW) linking the Windy City with Milepost 0 on the UP at Council Bluffs, Iowa, the "Great Overland Route" had at last been forged. Soon thereafter two other Chicago carriers—Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (Burlington) and Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific—stretched from the city to this eastern terminus of the UP. Then by the early years of the twentieth century, there would be three more: the Chicago Great Western; the IC, and the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul, making for the busiest long-distance rail corridor in America.

The phenomenal growth of Chicago as a railroad Mecca did pose challenges for new or expanding companies. Fortunately the ground on which the city emerged placed no serious limitations on the routes that railroads could take into its urban core, although marshy areas had to be drained or filled. As early as 1860, lines approached the center city from nearly all directions. While there were no extremely expensive topographical constraints, high-intensity land use with the accompanying soaring


Typical passenger car.

real-estate prices formed barriers to the construction of passenger depots, freight stations, and related rail facilities. Partially for that reason, Chicago never had a true union station that St. Louis, for one, would enjoy after 1894. By the time of greatest long-distance passenger usage in the 1920s, Chicago sported several grand monuments to the Railway Age: the Chicago & North Western Passenger Terminal, Dearborn Station, Grand Central Station, Illinois Central Station, La Salle Street Station, and Union Station. These separate facilities forced travelers who had connecting trains to make transfers. Fortunately, Frank Parmelee's Omnibus Company, later the Parmelee Transfer Company, facilitated the movement of passengers and their baggage between these downtown stations. For penny-pinchers, either streetcars or later the "L" could be utilized, or "ankle wagons" (walking), might be employed.

Whether transferring between stations or not, the image of Chicago for countless travelers was molded by its passenger stations. These massive facilities conveyed the importance of the nation's second largest metropolis, and they created public space that was mostly positive. At the mammoth C&NW terminal, which opened in 1911, immigrants, for example, received special treatment. These "strangers in our gates" commonly traveled in family or even larger groups, often with children and infants and laden with personal possessions. Those who hailed from non-English-speaking countries frequently found their adopted homeland bewildering. If ignored by the C&NW, these individuals could burden station and train personnel. There was also a sense of justice. "But is the immigrant, once admitted," asked a company pamphlet, "to drift at the mercy of every wind of change when transplanted to American soil where language and conditions are entirely foreign to his experience?" The C&NW reached this conclusion: "The first need of the immigrant, at the very moment of his arrival in the large cities, which are centers of distribution, is to have safeguards thrown around him until he can get in communication with his relatives or friends or reach his ultimate destination." The station had an assigned "Immigrant Waiting Room," staffed by company employees, that featured a men's restroom, bathroom for women and children, laundry room, and lunch counter.

The emergence of Chicago as America's foremost railroad hub and inland metropolis meant more than a place with teaming passenger terminals, crowded freight yards, and busy maintenance facilities. The city spawned an array of support businesses, including law firms that specialized in railroad legal matters, timetable and ticket printers, and equipment
suppliers. The most famous non-operating railroad business was the Pullman Palace Car Company that in the early 1880s launched the model community of Pullman. Located southwest of the city (and later annexed), this town of several thousands residents was the scene of one of the most violent labor strikes of the nineteenth century, the famed Pullman Strike of 1894. For decades the firm boasted of being the leading manufacturer of equipment. Although the company's founder, George Mortimer Pullman, did not invent the dining car, parlor car, or sleeping car, his business refined and popularized these pieces of rolling stock. Pullman became a synonym for quality and luxury in the public's mind, both in the United States and also in other countries.

As the center of the national railroad industry, it was appropriate for Chicago to be the site of two of the most important fairs in American history—the Columbian Exposition of 1893-1894 and the Century of Progress Fair of 1933-1934. Railroads brought in tens of thousands of visitors, and in the process often improved their overall image with the traveling public. Surely the passenger train that received the greatest recognition in Chicago or elsewhere in the twentieth century was the Zephyr. On the evening of May 26, 1934, a brilliantly and beautifully designed "streamlined" train built by the Budd Company of Philadelphia and operated by the Burlington rolled onto the central stage at the fair, having made the longest and swiftest run in history. The glistening silver train sped nonstop along


the 1,015 miles between Denver and the Windy City at an average speed of 77 miles per hour, with bursts that reached 112. For all practical purposes the Zephyr ushered in the era of high-speed, high-tech streamliners, and by the beginning of World War II a dozen or so of these trains served Chicago.

Arguably, the most popular railroad-trade fair also took place in Chicago. The Chicago Railroad Fair of 1948 was a smashing postwar public relations triumph for the industry. There were exhibits, the "Wheels A' Rolling" pageant,
The Illinois Central passenger train, The Creole, with a double-header of steam locomotives, speeds past 51st Street in Chicago on a cold day in March 1946.
and other entertainment for the thousands who attended. Because of strong public demand the industry decided to hold the fair again in 1949.

Although the Chicago Railroad Fair reflected a positive outlook on Chicago and industry leaders at the time, the decade of the 1950s caused some railroad personnel to become much less hopeful about the future. A number of factors diminished profits: the appearance of more automobiles and trucks on an ever-expanding network of improved roads, especially the interstate highways that developed after passage in 1956 of the National Defense Highways Act; continued heavy federal, and state regulation; excessive "featherbedding" (requiring unneeded crew members on trains under labor contracts); and a severe recession in 1958-1959. While dieselization, the most important technology replacement of the century, helped the corporate bottom line, industry officials contemplated company mergers to maintain profitability.

Railroads in Chicago felt the sting of a declining railroad industry. Fewer and fewer long-distance passenger trains served the city's terminals. The 1971 creation of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), which was designed to "save" intercity-passenger service, resulted in consolidation of all long-distance trains in a single depot-Union Station—and the abandonment or redevelopment of the remaining six structures. Still, a lively commuter operation continued, utilizing remnants of historic stations as well as a reconditioned Union Station. But Metra, a public transit authority, rather than private freight railroads, provided this much-used service.

Unlike Amtrak operations, freight traffic held up reasonably well. Although the city's meatpacking and grain terminals largely disappeared, allowing for the removal of miles of industrial sidings, hundreds of freight trains still came and went, partially because of geography and the existing physical plant. The other principal east-west gateways, namely Memphis and St. Louis, offered no greater advantages.

In the recent past the freight scene in Chicago has changed noticeably. What has happened is not so much a drop in volume, but how traffic is handled. As a result of the triumph of intermodal—highway, rail, water-commerce, freight shipments either terminate


or pass through the city in truck trailers, "piggybacks," or in containers, "boxes." The once ubiquitous box car is becoming a thing of the past (except for heavy paper loadings), as have the livestock car and caboose.

Far less visible than changes in the nature of passenger and freight operations has been the loss of Chicago as a railroad corporate center. Once such companies as the Burlington, C&NW, IC, and Santa Fe had their own downtown office buildings and employed armies of workers, including draftsmen, rate clerks, and traffic representatives. After 1960 mergers and "mega-mergers" created fewer and fewer "Class 1" carriers, and so one company after another vanished. When the UP bought the C&NW in 1995, for example, the Chicago operations were greatly reduced, being mostly transferred to corporate headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. Similarly, there has been a retrenchment in the railroad supply industry, but several firms continue to operate in the Windy City. Chicago remains as America's railroad Mecca and is likely to retain that honor.

Thomas Best


Main Ideas
As was the case for highways in the twentieth century and more recently the Internet, a community's access to a railroad was once considered vital to its demographic and economic progress. No American city better exemplifies the importance of the railroad to nineteenth- and twentieth- century urban and commercial growth than Chicago. As Carl Sandburg wrote about Chicago in 1914, this city was the nation's most significant "Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler." As illustrated in the narrative section, the emergence of Chicago as America's premier railroad hub in middle-America meant that this urban center shone as a beacon for countless entrepreneurs who took advantage of Chicago's geographic location and its burgeoning population of laborers. While connections to Lake Michigan and the Illinois and Michigan Canal helped the birth of this bustling city, the railroad did much to transform Chicago into a haven for modern capitalists. Indeed, the coming of the railroad catapulted Chicago into the status of the fastest-growing city in America from the 1850s to the 1870s. This lesson will, therefore, engage students in an a variety of activities designed to assist them in recognizing, analyzing, and applying what they can learn from the history of Chicago and its railroad connections.

Connection with the Curriculum
Either a secondary level unit pertaining to the history of the United States or Illinois would benefit from the narrative and activities that make up this lesson. A high-school course in economics or urban studies would be find valuable links within this study. These activities could also enhance student critical thinking and creative writing skills. This lesson may be appropriate for the following Illinois Learning Standards: 15.A; 16.A; 16.C; 16.D, 17.C, and 17.D.


Teaching Level
The readings, activities, and handouts would be suitable to students in grades 7-12. However, as the complexity of the lessons increases with each new activity, the middle-school to junior-high level teacher may find that they have to spend additional time with their students in order to read and define the concepts and directions to the activities.

Materials for Each Student
    • A copy of the narrative portion of this article
    • A copy of the activity handouts
    • U. S. history textbook
    • Access to library, Internet, or local archives for local primary source and dictionaries
    • Drawing paper and drawing equipment for creation of the promotional poster

Objectives for Each Student
    • Describe the importance of the railroad to the growth of Chicago as a transportation hub for Illinois, the Midwest, and the nation as a whole.
    • Using a time line, chronologically arrange information about the rise and growth of the railroad, Chicago, and the United States throughout the nineteenth
      and twentieth centuries.
    • Analyze primary source selections of personal accounts describing geographic, demographic, social, and economic features of Chicago as they relate to
      the establishment and rise of Chicago as a railroad hub.


    • Create and explain the elements of a nineteenth-century promotional poster for a railroad company that encourages travel, relocation of workers,
      and the establishment of new businesses in Chicago.
    • Research a community's linkage to railroad connections and compare and contrast this site's experiences to the impact of the coming of the railroad to Chicago.



Opening the Lesson

Prior to completing these activities, students should first read or review what narrative background, graphics, and illustrations are offered by their textbook for the history of the development of the railroad during the nineteenth and twentieth century. For example, there may be a map that helps to locate some of the principle railroads that provided service to Chicago: Illinois Central; Chicago & North Western; Chicago, Burlington & Quincy; Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific; Chicago Great Western; Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific; and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe. This will provide an overview for more specific connections than the narrative portion of this article provides for the history of Chicago and its role as a railroad hub.

Read the narrative portion of this article to gain an insight into key concepts, a chronology for railroads and Chicago, and ideas for later applications within this lesson. Here are some concepts that may require definitions and examples: metropolis, railroad hub, and terminus. Furthermore, middle school students in particular could benefit from first categorizing and then explaining the impact of specific advances and examples of the evolution of the railroad according to such factors as social changes, economic impact, and connections to regional and national events of historical importance.

The teacher may also want to inspire local interest in the topic (and suggest later extensions to this lesson) by providing examples of primary source narratives from newspapers, letters, or diaries that offer similar descriptions of their or nearby communities or cities that benefited from the arrival of the railroad. If your community lacks such a history, you will find below an example from the arrival of the Peoria & Oquawka Railroad (later to become part of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy) in Monmouth, Illinois. This was printed in the May 1, 1855, issue of the Monmouth Atlas:

The railroad is putting new life and activity into everybody. Business is going ahead rapidly. Pork buyers and pork sellers are on the alert—wheat and other kinds of grain are coming in from the country, and as rapidly going out—hogs are taken off alive, by the hundred to Chicago, where they are butchered and packed for the French soldiers in the Crimea; lumber and goods are arriving from abroad; strangers are on the lookout for new homes; and there seems to be a good time generally among businessmen of all classes. All kinds of produce can now be turned into cash at high prices, and, if farmers do not get rich it will certainly be their own fault. With frugality and industry they can now make comfortable homes, educate their children, ride upon the railroad, and enjoy some of the comforts in anticipation of which they have looked forward with anxious and yearning hearts. The 'good time' which has been so long on its way, may with truth be said to have come. Let those who can do so enjoy it, as best they may.

Developing the Lesson

Handout #1: Creating a time line: Students will use the previous article and supplemental information and statistics in Handout #1 to create a time line of key events related to the history of Chicago and railroads. To further increase the creative challenges in this stage, the teacher may request students to provide graphic illustrations of their information placed on the time line.

Handout #2: Using the primary source descriptions of Chicago and the impact of the railroad. With this handout, students will use primary source selections to place the narratives in chronological order and analyze the documents for ideas that detail the impact of the railroad upon the history of Chicago.

Handout #3: Creating a Nineteenth-Century Promotion Poster for Railroads. The final portion of this lesson calls for students to create a promotional poster in the era of the nineteenth century with the intention of urging local citizens to invest in the building of railroads, start


In the 1940s and early 1950s streamliners were in abundance in the Chicago servicing facility of the Chicago & North Western Railway.

or relocation businesses to Chicago, and to call upon immigrants and other workers to come to Chicago to obtain one of the thousands of new jobs that were spin-offs of the railroad boom. All of this would appeal to the idea of the beneficial consequences of railroad building. As the Chicago Times of this era declared upon seeing new income generated by the favorable impact of the railroad, wealth "will so overflow our coffers with gold that our paupers will be millionaires, and our rich men the possessors of pocket money which will put to shame the fortunes of Croesus" (an ancient king noted for his wealth). (See "Croesus": Therefore, this activity will challenge students to consider what positive language, persuasive reasoning, statistics, visual images, and the like could be employed by civic boosters and financiers to encourage local investors to "subscribe," or purchase shares of stock in potential railroads. This opportunity was first made possible in 1849 when the state's railroad incorporation act was amended to allow citizens to vote for approval of their country governments to sell shares in the capital stock of such corporations up to an amount of $100,000.

Concluding the Lesson
Following the creation of the posters, teachers may begin with a display of the samples in the classroom and school. Discussions could follow that address the question of which posters contain the major components of the posters: positive language, persuasive reasoning, statistics, and visual images. What similarities and differences are found between the strategies and substantive information that various students used to advertise their railroads? Likewise, comparisons could be made to actual railroad posters of that era and advertising for Amtrak and railroad freight haulers today. Next, representatives of advertising companies, travel agencies, and firms that do business with railroad lines would be invited in to examine the posters and offer their evaluation of the effectiveness of the students' posters to convince them to invest or spend money in that real or imaginary railroad. For example, these experts could be asked to evaluate the posters in terms of such elements as the potential cost of printing and displaying posters and what potential demographic groups would be most or least influenced by the text, graphics, or logic included on the posters.


Extending the Lesson
One obvious extension of this lesson would be to have the teacher and students to compare the experience of Chicago and the impact of the railroad with their own community or nearby urban area. As other emerging cities observed Chicago's rise, community boosters in such papers as the Quincy Whig demanded: "We want all the railroads we can get!" Thus, how were the experiences of Chicago and their own community similar or different in such factors as population growth? Check local census records to illustrate this demographic element. Examining the changes in a specific township that was directly touched by the railroad might make for a smaller but more revealing sample. The teacher may also want to return to the example provided in the opening of this lesson to illustrate how local observers described their optimism in the coming of the railroad to their community. Local newspapers were frequently boosters of such economic development and did much to inspire hope in their residents. Another source for analysis of the impact of the railroad are city directories. Considering that such books were printed on a regular basis, students could compare the number of businesses between printing (e.g., how many hotels were present before and after the arrival of the railroad). Finally, maps that can reveal the demographic and economic growth of one's community are the Sanborn Insurance Maps.


Excitement is building in Chicago in preparation for the smashingly successful Railroad Fair of 1948. The Chicago & North Western is about to deliver the historic Pioneer locomotive to the public-viewing site where the locomotive will star in the Pageant of Transportation.

Found on microfilm through the Illinois State Library, these maps (originally intended to be used for establishing characteristics of properties for insurance purposes) will reveal similar development from one map series to the next. Comparison of common blocks near railroad depots and factory links would be excellent sites to evaluate. Web sites can be reached for the Illinois State Library through the Secretary of State at the cybersite Illinois site: The Map and Geography Library at the University of Illinois is http://www.library.uiuc.ed/max/sanbornholdings.shtml.

The city of Galesburg, Illinois, is actively working to gather funds and materials for the establishment of the National Railroad Hall of Fame. See <> for plans for this museum, current inductees, and design of the museum site. Imagine that your community has been asked to contribute their history of the impact of the railroad. What people and events were considered vital persons and factors to the attraction and development of the railroad in their town, county, or region?

Invite a representative of a nearby railroad company to come to your classroom and explain the role of railroad transport in this modern era. What contributions does this company and its employees make to the local economy in terms of payroll, employment opportunities, economic growth, and the like?

Watch the PBS DVD or VHS tape of the "American Experience" program "Chicago: City of the Century." This excellent film is the history of the growth of Chicago from its earliest days as a trading post along Lake Michigan to a modern urban center. Central to the story of Chicago's rise is the history of the railroad. Featuring documentary photographs, film, and newspapers, the first episode, "Mudhole to Metropolis," provides the initial overview of the importance of the railroad to Chicago's history. There is an Internet link to this feature at <>

Find railroad maps of the United States and identify how many of these lines had, at one time or another, a link to the city of Chicago. Bill Yenne's book, Atlas of North American Railroads (St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Publishing, 2005) has many historical maps and considerable background information regarding such railroad lines. Another approach would be to identify how many of these lines connect not only Chicago but to the students' towns or counties.


Assessing the Lesson
The time line activity can be assessed in the following manner: Students can receive points for 1) matching the appropriate date to the sequence of dates on the time line; 2) for additional credit, create and attach appropriate graphics, pictures, and clip-art images to the timeline that assist in illustrating the meaning and significance of the item linked to this date on the time line. Those teachers who wish to have their students select and then justify five events to be included on a timeline can assess their answers based on three elements of historical accuracy, reasoning, and communication of ideas.

The sequence for the letters and diaries is in this pattern: #1st-1833, selection #2; 2nd-1847, selection #4; 3rd-1857, selection #1; 4th-1872, selection #5; and 5th-1896, selection #3. Students could be scored based upon the accuracy of the matching of the dates with the events and finding appropriate facts, dates, statistics, and the like that assist in connecting the appropriate historical dates and events.

The creation of the promotional poster will serve as the final form of assessment for this lesson. The four elements of the poster (1) language, 2) reasoning, 3) statistical evidence, and 4) graphics, paintings, photographs, etc.) could each be considered as 25% of the overall score of the project.

An excellent rubric to serve as an assessment tool for such posters is in Lawrence W. McBride, Frederick D. Drake, and Marcel Lewinski, Alternative Assessment in the Social Sciences (Springfield, III.: Illinois State Board of Education, 1996), 1-4. This assessment utilizes three standard criteria of knowledge, reasoning, and communication to evaluate student work.



In this stage of the lesson, students will use the narrative portion of this article and the following supplemental information and statistics to create a time line. The time line will trace the rise of Chicago as a national hub for railroad, demographic (population), and economic growth.

Students will first use information from the article to create their timelines. For example, Grant states in the narrative that "when the Illinois Central Railroad (IC) opened its first station in 1856, there were outsiders who considered the structure to be too large for current and future needs." This statement could be summarized as such to be used in the time line: "Illinois Central RR opens first station" with accompanying link to 1856 on the time line. A quick scan of the narrative portion of this article will reveal at least seventeen statements connected to the rise and later downturn of Chicago's railroad history. The timeline itself can be tailored to fit the teacher's curricular needs (e.g., the time line at most could stretch from the 1830s to the dawn of the twenty-first century). For example, the teacher could assign students to select and then justify in writing five events that were to be considered the most influential in Chicago's development.


For those who wish an additional creative challenge, students could create graphics or attachments (e.g., clip art) to illustrate visually the written portions of the time line. For example, a drawing of a nineteenth-century railroad locomotive or a clip-art photograph of a Chicago landmark could be placed next to the relevant section on the time line.

The following supplemental information could also be used to offer greater understanding and context to the time line. This information provides historical connections to Chicago and national history.

1830—First commercially successful steam locomotive in the U.S., The Best Friend of Charleston, pulls a passenger train six miles. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, chartered in 1827, opens up its first line and features a race between the steam locomotive, The Tom Thumb and a horse. Only 23 miles of railroad track exist within the U.S. The B & O will eventually reach Chicago.
1832—Chicago has 200 residents. The population will climb to 350 by next year.
1836—The state's first northern railroad, The Galena and Chicago Union, is chartered. The Panic of 1837 shuts down work on it for much of the next decade.
1837—Chicago incorporated as a city. There are 4,170 residents.
1839—The state's first railroad, a 12-mile long track, is opened in Morgan County.
1840—There will be 2,818 miles of railroad track across the eastern United States. Chicago has 4,470 residents.
1848—The Galena and Chicago Union line is completed to the Des Plains River and brings a load of wheat into Chicago. Chicago has 20,023 residents.
1850—At the beginning of this decade, Illinois will have about 100 miles of railroad track. Congress will pass legislation for granting public lands in Illinois for a central railroad. This will provide the financial backing to start the Illinois Central Railroad. Nationally, there will be 9,021 miles of railroad track. There will be 23 million Americans, of which 5.4 million now live in the Midwest (a six-fold increase since 1820). Chicago has 29,963 residents, of which one-half are foreign born.
1855—The Galena and Chicago Union line reaches the Mississippi River. The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad is formed out of several smaller lines servicing these cities. Chicago has 80,028 residents. About 425,000 new immigrants enter the United States.
1856—The Chicago main line of the Illinois Central Railroad is finished. Now 700 miles long, the IC is the longest railroad in the United States and the world. In this era of the 1850s, over 10,000 workers, many Irish, are recruited to work on the IC. The Chicago and Rock Island Railroad builds the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River.
1857—Chicago is now the terminus for eleven railroad lines. In this same year, 48 projects are either completed or under construction for new railroad lines in Illinois. Chicago has 93,000 residents.
1860—Illinois now has 2,790 miles of railroad track and 1.7 million people (10 times the population just 30 years earlier). By the beginning of this decade, Chicago will have 104 trains a day coming into the city. There will be 30,635 miles of track across the United States. Chicago now has 109,260 residents.



1870—There are now 52,914 miles of railroad track across the United States. Within this decade there will be ten railroad bridges crossing the Mississippi River and 73% of the land in Illinois will be within five miles of a railroad line. Chicago has 298,977 residents.
1871—Great Chicago Fire devastates the city.
1880—By the beginning of this decade, Illinois will have 7,851 miles of railroad track, the most of any state in the nation. By the end of the 1880s, Illinois will possess 10,214 additional miles of new track. The United States will now have 93,296 miles of railroad track. Chicago has 503,185 residents.
1900—There are 193,346 miles of track across the United States.
1916—The United States hits a historical peak of 254,000 miles of railroad track. The United States is also poised to exceed 100 million residents.
1929—Illinois has approx 12,000 miles of railroad track with only one county (Calhoun) without a railroad line connection. There are 220,915 miles of track across the United States.
1955—There are 211,459 miles of track across the United States.
1970—There are 196,479 miles of track across the United States.
1980—There are 164,822 miles of track across the United States.
1990—Thee are 119,758 miles of track across the United States. During the 1990s such railroads as the Santa Fe and the Burlington Northern will merge to form the BNSF, continuing the link of Chicago to much of the western United States across 33,000 miles of track.
2003—There are 99,126 miles of track across the United States.




Using the primary source descriptions of
Chicago and the Impact of the Railroad.

With this handout, students will use primary source selections to place the narratives in chronological order and to analyze the narrative portion for descriptions of the impact of the railroad. First, read each of the entries and look for historical clues in the passages that indicate the year and sequence of the entries. You may also use the previous article and supplemental information for the time line activity for clues. Second, after sequencing the entries, answer the questions at the end of the selections.

Dates applied to the following entries: 1833, 1847, 1857, 1872,1896


#1: Gustaf Unionius, immigrant of parents from Sweden and Finland:

"Twelve years ago... I remained two weeks in Chicago, the Garden City... but at that time anything but a garden. Horses and wagons sometimes sank down in the clayer mud and had to be pulled out with great labor and difficulty. Twelve years have passed, and what a change in its appearance as well as in its population, which is now 120,000! The formerly low swampy streets have been raised several feet and paved with planks or stone... The older buildings... have either been burnt to ashes in the fires... or have been torn down to make way for new buildings of brick, stone, iron, and even marble... In a single summer... 2,700 new houses were built... churches, railroad stations, and other public buildings, were said to have entailed expenditures of more than four million dollars... However, the web of railroads which Chicago has spun around itself during the last ten years is the thing that more than anything else has contributed to its wealth and progress.... Now Chicago is the terminus of more than a dozen trunk lines from which almost twice as many branch lines extend in every direction. Thereby the city has communication with the rich copper districts and other mining regions around Lake Superior, with Canada, with the Atlantic States, with the rich grain-producing lands beyond the Mississippi, and with the cotton states around the Gulf of Mexico. While a few years ago it took eight to ten days to travel from New York to Chicago, the traveler may now make his choice among three different railroads and cover that distance in thirty to thirty-six hours. More than one hundred twenty trains, some of them consisting of up to forty fully loaded freight cars, arrive and depart each day... Some of these [railroad] stations are uncomfortable and primitive... on the other hand, many compare very well in size and, architecture, furnishings, and beauty with the best in other countries."

[Angle, Paul M., ed. Prairie State: Impressions of Illinois, 1673-1967 By Travelers and Other Observers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968, pp. 284-98—Chicago in 1857

#2: Colbee C. Benton, a New Hampshire merchant:

"I have had a good opportunity to view the town and country about, and I find Chicago a very pleasant place. It is laid out in lots on each side of the river... On the north side of the river the lots commence on the shore of the lake and extend up the branch (north), but on the side the United States Fort and the other buildings connected with it are on the shore of the lake, and the land belonging to the Government extends about one hundred rods up the river.... The lots, many of them improved with temporary buildings, some not more than ten foot square, and they are scattered about like cattle on the prairie.... The Government have appropriated thirty thousand dollars for the purpose of making a safe and convenient harbour.... The trade of Chicago seems to be with the inhabitants of the Wabash River... They come with large covered wagons drawn by three or four yoke of oxen, generally loaded with wheat which they exchange for salt."

[Angle, Paul M., ed. Prairie State: Impressions of Illinois, 1673-1967 By Travelers and Other Observers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968, pp. 109-15-description of Chicago in 1833.]



#3: George W. Steevens, an English journalist with the London Daily Mail:

"Chicago! Chicago, queen and guttersnipe of cities, cynosure and cesspool of the world! Not if I had a hundred
tongues... could I do justice to her utter chaos. The most beautiful and the most squalid, girdled with a twofold zone of parks and slums... the great port of a thousand miles from the sea; the great mart with gathers up with one hand the corn and cattle of the West and deals out with the other the merchandise of the East; widely and generously planned with streets of twenty miles, where it is not safe to walk at night; where women ride straddle-wise, and millionaires dine at mid-day on the Sabbath,...the cut-throat of commerce and munificent patronage of art; the most American of American cities, and yet the most mongrel; the second American city of the globe, the fifth German city, the third Swedish city, the second Polish... all of which twenty-five years ago... was a heap of smoking ashes... All about you they rise, the mountains of buildings... thick together... broader and more massive than the tall buildings of New York... Then go out on the cable car or the elevated railroad... to the parks and the boulevards. Along Lake Shore Drive you will find the homes of the great merchants, the makers of Chicago... Chicago has the Art Building, which is now the one remaining relic of the World's Fair... Chicago has a university... to spread the light among the twenty-five million souls that live within a morning's journey of Chicago... Chicago is conscious of that there is something in the world, some sense of form, of elegance, of refinement, that with all her corn and railways, her hogs and by-products and dollars, she lacks. She does not quite know what it is, but she is determined to have it, cost what it may... [with] her fifteen hundred million dollars of trade, her seventeen thousand vessels, and her network of ninety thousand miles of rail"

[Angle, Paul M, ed. Prairie State: Impressions of Illinois, 1673-1967 By Travelers and Other Observers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968, 421-27-description of Chicago in 1896]

#:4 J.H. Buckingham, son of the publisher of the Boston Courier:

"Chicago is destined, some day hence,... to be one of the largest cities in the Union... Twelve years ago, one hundred and fifty inhabitants was a large estimate for the census of Chicago, and today the residents are estimated at twenty thousand!... The more I see of Chicago, the more I am impressed with the value of its increasing trade with Boston... This is a great place for the pork trade, in which article it is destined to rival Cincinnati and its beef is said to be the finest in the world. Our steamer is now taking on board, as freight, two hundred casks-hogsheads of ham-which are to go through the lakes and the Erie Canal to Troy, and perhaps to Boston. Hundreds of barrels of beef and pork are also going on board, all bound East— This a great place for the lumber trade. The boards, &c, are brought from the Sault St. Marie and Lake Superior... and stored in lumber yards, to be transported by wagons into the country. A canal is about being built which will soon afford great facilities for internal transportation..."

[Angle, Paul M., ed. Prairie State: Impressions of Illinois, 1673-1967 By Travelers and Other Observers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968, 237-53-description of Chicaqo in 1847]




#5: John Watson, a visitor from Scotland:

"While on the way from Detroit, I found the sleeping car very comfortable... Boots are brushed, soap and towels are provided for washing and dressing... in fact, a man may obtain a good night's rest during a long journey, and be ready to transact business immediately on the arrival of the train... On my arrival in Chicago I drove in an omnibus to the Sherman House.... Afterwards, whilst driving about, I was much struck by the prominent evidences of the devastation caused by the
great fire in October last year... New and handsome buildings are being rapidly erected... so far covering the old ground with better, larger, and more substantial buildings is concerned... being built of stone and brick... We visited a grain elevator, one of the largest in Chicago, situated between the Chicago River and the railway... I should fancy that there are nearly twenty of these (elevators) of grain or granaries in Chicago... their storage capacity was equal to 11,000,000 bushels of grain. As many as 17,000,000 bushels of wheat reach this busy city in a year... We [also] drove about six miles from the centre of the city to the Union Stock Yards, a large field containing upwards of 200 acres of land, all divided into pens for horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs; the field being intersected by railways at convenient distances to, to facilitate the loading and unloading of the various classes of animals... On inquiry we learned that... 145,00 pigs and from 20,000 to 30,000 cattle are received at the Union Stock Yards every week..."

[Angle, Paul M., ed. Prairie State: Impressions of Illinois, 1673-1967 By Travelers and Other Observers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968, 379-89—description of Chicago in 1872.]

Further Questions for Analysis of the Primary Source Selections:

1. How do the authors of these letters and diaries suggest that the railroad added to either the growth or various problems that Chicago experienced in the nineteenth century? What phrases or sentences support such conclusions?

2. Taken as a complete sequential whole, how do these sources illustrate the evolutionary path of Chicago from a frontier village to a metropolitan center of population, commerce, and transportation?



Creating a Nineteenth-Century
Promotion Poster for Railroads.

Students will create and explain their chosen elements as part of a promotional poster for a real or imaginary railroad company based in Chicago. In the era of the nineteenth century such promotional posters urged local citizens to invest in the building of railroads, advised entrepreneurs to create or relocate their businesses to Chicago given their excellent connections to the railroad, and called out to immigrants and other workers to come to Chicago to obtain one of the thousands of new jobs that were spin-offs of the railroad boom. Therefore, this poster could make use of:

1. Positive language (e.g., a "fast and efficient" railroad will provide for "improved" transportation of people and goods; "We're the handy line to your markets;" "Lower your transportation costs;" "We'll put more cash in your pocket;" "Join the road that pays you back," "Ride rested and ready," etc). If students are going to create imaginary lines, they might want to use a slogan or nickname for the railroad line. This was common; for example, the Chicago Great Western was "The Corn Belt Route," the New York, Chicago, & St. Louis was "The Nickel Plate Road," and the Illinois Central (or IC) was known as "The Main Line of Mid-America." Sometimes, railroad advertising used "jingles" or short poems to catch a reader's attention; e.g., the "Delaware, Lackawana, & Western Railroad" had one with the picture of porter helping a woman into her passenger car with this poem: "The man in blue, Now helps her through, And tells her when Her train is due. He's so polite. They do things right, Upon the Road of Anthracite.")

2. Persuasive Reasoning (e.g., "Consider what benefits will emerge from such investments?" "This railroad will be filled not only with new passengers and freight but with increased profits for your business." "Your clients will arrive rested and ready to do business!" "Why get left behind, get on these roads to financial success!" Good Road Bed; New Engine Cars; and Beautiful Scenery will be yours!") You can also consider what other cities and attractions this railroad can reach (e.g., "Our Chicago Big Shoulders (a reference to Carl Sandburg's poem) have got you covered from the Big Apple (New York) to the Big Easy (New Orleans);" "Only a relaxing trip away from Gulf shores!" "Your link to bringing the Ringling Bros, and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus Shows to your City"). These ideas could be included within text or graphics that illustrate the success that Chicago is observing, etc.).

3. Statistical evidence (e.g., how many miles of railroad are already serving Chicago and the nation; what is the population of Chicago in the era of your poster, how many of the comfortable Pullman Sleeping Cars have been purchased and are in use by the railroad line, a time schedule showing how quickly both near and far cities can be reached, etc.).

4. Graphics, paintings, photographs, etc. (e.g., students may create their own illustrations that emphasize the benefits of the railroad—"We offer miles of railroad, new factories, new stations to service passengers" or "Unsurpassed dining" and then pictures of the type of meals available to passengers). A student can also think of symbols that characterized the railroad; e.g., the locomotive as the "iron horse." Existing or imaginary logos that represent the name and image of the railroad company could be employed; e.g., Missouri Pacific had a picture of large steer with the phrase "Steer for the Iron Mountain Route;" an imaginary railroad called the Chicago Center, nicknamed the "CC," has could have two C's linked with a section of railroad track, with the "C's standing for "Consumer Confidence."




The main criteria for students to consider for inclusion of information and visual elements should be: Would these elements, written or visual, appear to be suitably positive when used by civic and financial boosters to encourage people to invest in the railroad and make use of the railroad's services? For further inspiration and illustrations, students might consider looking at contemporary newspapers, magazines, Websites, etc. where they are examples of financial organizations and companies using their own marketing strategies to encourage people to invest in new technologies, promote faster and efficient transportation methods, excite people into joining new businesses ventures, and the like.

Students should also provide an accompanying written description of the justification for the elements chosen to be placed on the poster. Their explanation could include such factors as the location of their source material for "positive language," their chosen logic behind "persuasive reasoning," and what advertising strategies they view as currently effective were instrumental in creating this poster. A few samples of these types of poster and promotional advertising for railroad companies can be found at the American Memory Page for the Library of Congress. The collection "Emergence of Advertising in America" has seven samples of such railroad advertising from the period 1850-1920. See Library of Congress:


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