The Chicago Surface Lines actually consisted of four separate operating companies, all functioning together as one system.

Chicago City Railway Co. - served Chicago's south side.

Chicago Railways Co. - served Chicago's north and west sides.

Calumet & South Chicago Railway Co. - served Chicago's far south side.

Southern Street Railway Co. - small company operating primarily on Cermak Road.


In 1881, Charles Tyson Yerkes, then 44 years old, moved from Philadelphia to Chicago. In Philadelphia, Yerkes had earned a fortune in banking and with the street railways there. In 1886, Yerkes formed the North Chicago Street Railroad Co., which acquired the North Chicago City Railway Co. And in 1887, Yerkes formed the West Chicago Street Railroad Co., which acquired the Chicago West Division Railway Co. Yerkes thus gained control of all of the street railways on Chicago's north and west sides.

Yerkes later formed several additional streetcar companies in the outlying areas on Chicago's north and west sides, feeding into his existing systems. In 1899, those companies were combined into the Chicago Consolidated Traction Co. And in 1899, the North Chicago Street Railroad Co. and the West Chicago Street Railroad Co. were merged into the Chicago Union Traction Co. By 1910, those companies had all been consolidated into the Chicago Railways Co.

In 1893, Yerkes moved into the elevated railroad field as the principal backer in the incorporation of the Northwestern Elevated Railroad Co. Service began in 1900. In 1894, he acquired control of the Lake Street Elevated Railroad Co., and also formed the Union Elevated Railroad, which built the "Loop" which opened in 1897.

In 1897, Yerkes acquired the Suburban Railroad Co., whose streetcars had served the western suburbs and connected with the competing Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad Co. After gaining control, the Suburban Railroad Co. routes were changed to connect instead with his Lake Street Elevated Railroad.

In 1901, Yerkes sold nearly all of his transit holdings in Chicago and moved to London, where he worked on expanding that city's subway system. He did not sell the Suburban Railroad Co., which remained in his estate until 1913 when it went to the Chicago and West Towns Railway Co. Yerkes died in 1905. His name lived on with the Yerkes Observatory, located in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, and affiliated with the University of Chicago. After more than 100 years, Yerkes Observatory eventually outlived its usefulness for modern astronomy, but will remain preserved as an important monument to scientific history.


Two additional streetcar companies were incorporated in the 1890's, and existed for a short period.

Northern Electric Railway Co. - 1894 to 1902. Operated near Cicero Ave. from Lake St. to North Ave., and via North Ave., Central Ave., and west on Grand Ave. to Austin Ave. The line was interrupted at the Milwaukee Road tracks south of Grand Ave. and Central Ave., with passengers required to walk across the tracks and change cars.

General Electric Railway Co. - 1896 to 1901.

Some information for these pages is from the Poor's investment manuals from past years, and from the book "Chicago Surface Lines, an Illustrated History", by Alan R. Lind.

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