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June 2, 1883: The 'L' Comes to Chicago ... Indoors

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June 2, 1883: The 'L' Comes to Chicago ... Indoors
1883: The world's first elevated electric railway in the world makes a trial run. It's in Chicago, of course. It's indoors, and it won't last, but the idea will.
New York City began elevated railway service in the early 1870s, running in Manhattan on Ninth Avenue and Greenwich Street. It was America's first elevated railroad, but it was steam-powered. Steam locomotives put out prodigious amounts of smoke and soot -- hardly what you'd want to be adding to the already-dirty air of a teeming metropolis. And they were plenty noisy, too.
German inventor and industrialist Werner Siemens built a short, small-scale electric railway at the 1879 Berlin Industrial Exhibition. Using the new invention of a third rail to feed power to an electric locomotive, it carried up to 30 passengers at a time at about 4 mph along a line merely 600 yards long.
Elevated railways were a reality. Electric railways were a reality. Who would combine the two technologies?
Perhaps you've heard of Thomas Edison.
Edison and Stephen D. Field incorporated the Electric Railway Company in the spring of 1883 with a capital of $2 million (about $42 million in today's money). They aimed to dazzle the crowds at the Chicago Railway Exposition, and they did.They built a narrow-gauge 3-foot-wide track in the gallery around the edge of the main exhibition building, with tight curves at each end of the 1,552-foot track -- less than one-third of a mile long.
The locomotive weighed 3 tons and was 12 feet long by 5 feet wide. It drew current by rubbing a wire brush on each side of an electrified, central third rail. The 15-horsepower locomotive pulled a passenger car at a stately 9 mph. Between June 5 and the exhibition's conclusion June 23, Chicago's protoype 'L' had carried 26,805 passengers.
Edison and Field also took their electric railroad to an exposition at Louisville, Kentucky, that year. It enjoyed similar success there.
The demonstration was proof of concept, and both Chicago and New York City debated, discussed and promoted various ideas and systems over the next decade. Chicago won the race.
The world's first permanent elevated electric railway, the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railway, opened in 1895. It began at Franklin Street in Chicago and headed west, splitting into three branches. It was connected to Chicago's other elevated lines in the famous Loop by 1897, and the others were converting to electric power by century's end.
The technology had literally gained traction.
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