Diagram of the City and Surrounding Country, Showing Railroad Circuits (1909)

A master map summarizes the Plan of Chicago’s scheme for the movement of freight by rail within the city of Chicago and its inner suburbs. Most of the rail lines shown on the map already existed as parts of Chicago’s belt railways or mainlines. The key innovation outlined by the map and accompanying text lay in the conception of the entire network as a cooperatively operated series of circuits that would move freight between the various mainline railroads and the redeveloped harbors, and which would promote industrial and commercial growth along the corridors, each according to their position. The logographic diagram at upper right summarizes the scheme as follows: an inner circuit around the central business district (A), and three further belts (B, C, and D) that are all tangent with each other on their eastern side. It was expected over time that heavier industries would gradually focus on Circuit C. The southwestern portion of this circuit, where it intersects the Illinois and Michigan Canal and the new Sanitary and Ship Canal, would be the location of a massive modern freight terminal and transfer facility. In many respects, this schema reflected development that had been underway for three decades. Such development included the improvement of the Calumet Harbor and the construction of Chicago’s belt railways. The scheme was perhaps too ambitious in its expectation of the cooperation and assent of what were, after all, privately owned and operated transportation companies and industrial operations. The generality of the scheme as outlined here underscores its lack of legal force in the implementation of details that, as Burnham and Bennett note, “will take time and cannot be put into effect abruptly.” The Plan was nevertheless prescient in its forecast of the gradual movement of industry outward from the lake and city center to the mostly open land beyond. In general, these developments were encouraged by generations of city and metropolitan officials who were directly or indirectly influenced by the Plan’s arguments.



Mayer, Harold M. The Railway Pattern of Metropolitan Chicago. Chicago: The University of Chicago’s Department of Geography, 1943.

“Chicago. Diagram of the City and Surrounding Country, Showing Railroad Circuits B, C, D and E,” from Plan of Chicago (Chicago: The Commercial Club, 1909), pl. LXXIII. Chicago History Museum, ICHi-67348