CHICAGO SURFACE LINES - HISTORY
Chicago's first surface transportation was provided by the horse drawn omnibus. The first omnibus service was provided by Franklin Parmalee, beginning in 1853. But after the development of the street railways, Parmalee's omnibuses primarily were limited to serving railroad stations and hotels. The Parmalee company continued to operate through the 1960's, transferring intercity railroad passengers between the six major downtown railroad stations.
The Chicago City Railway Company began operating Chicago's first street railway in 1859. The original horse car route operated south from downtown to 31st St. and Cottage Grove Ave., and the Chicago City Railway eventually expanded to cover much of Chicago's south side. Horse car service on Chicago's north side was originally provided by the North Chicago City Railway, which also began operating in 1859. And the Chicago West Division Railway began operating in 1861, serving Chicago's west side.
Map shows the street railway system as of 1871, the year of the great Chicago fire.
1893 was the year of the Columbian Exhibition World's Fair, and was the peak of the horse car system, and what had evolved into the world's largest cable car system. And electric streetcars had just been developed, and were being introduced to routes in outlying areas.
Cable cars are usually associated with San Francisco, where they have been preserved and are a major tourist attraction. But Chicago actually once had the world's largest cable car system.
In the 1890's, electric streetcars became the new transit vehicles in Chicago. Various additional new companies were formed to build street railways, and the conversion of horse cars to electric power began.
In 1906, the conversion to electric streetcars in Chicago was completed, replacing all cable cars. And in 1914, all streetcar companies began operating as a unified system known as the Chicago Surface Lines, despite remaining as separate companies. By then, mergers had reduced the number of actual streetcar companies in Chicago to four. The Chicago Surface Lines lasted until the CTA took over on October 1, 1947.
Chicago celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1933 by hosting the "Century of Progress" World's Fair. In 1930, Chicago Surface Lines adopted trolleybuses for its new route extensions, and was on the way to using gasoline buses for further route extensions. Meanwhile in 1917, the Chicago Motor Bus Company started operating, and in 1923 the name was changed to the Chicago Motor Coach Company. That company was noted for its double decker buses, and was allowed to operate over the city's boulevards through a franchise arrangement with the Chicago Park District, legally a separate government unit.
Newer Chicago Surface Lines transit routes were using buses, and Chicago Surface Lines had already converted a few streetcar routes to buses.
Originally introduced in 1930 to replace three ex-Chicago Motor Coach routes, and extensions of existing streetcar routes, trolleybuses were eventually used on many of the main routes on Chicago's north and west sides.
On October 1, 1952 the Chicago Motor Coach Company was acquired by the CTA. All but the major streetcar routes had been converted to buses, with trolleybuses operating on many major routes on Chicago's north and west sides.
The CTA was operating a bus network quite similar to the streetcar network inherited from CSL, and was operating much of the former Chicago Motor Coach system. That year marked the elimination of the last trolleybuses in Chicago, along with the CTA's first route cutbacks due to funding uncertainties.
Some information for this page is from the book "Chicago Surface Lines, an Illustrated History", by Alan R. Lind.