Map of the Chicago and Western Indiana Railroad and the Belt Railway of Chicago (1884)

One particular problem for freight handling in Chicago was the geography of the city’s railroads. Most of the major regional and national railroads that served the city, whether from the East, West, or South, terminated in central Chicago, but did not directly communicate with each other. These railroads were constructed to bring passenger and freight traffic to and from Chicago— more specifically the center of the city—but not through it. Railroad entrepreneurs, of course, understood this problem and did not wait for the conception of a grand plan. In the late 1870s three short-line railways were created near what was then the edge of the city to shuttle freight traffic between the mainline railways. These were consolidated as the Chicago and Western Indiana Railroad in 1882, commonly (and later officially) known as the Belt Railway. This advertising map of 1884, prepared by the ubiquitous Poole Brothers, boasts that “the Belt Railway connects with all railroads, side-tracks and elevators in Chicago.” As with many promotional railroad maps of its era, Poole Brothers began with a generic map of Chicago’s streets and railroads and overprinted it with customized colored lines (red, yellow, and green) to highlight the features the client wished to emphasize. In this map the lines of the two sponsoring belt routes and their connections with Chicago’s many mainline railroads were given particular attention. Burnham and Bennett’s work largely adapted and incorporated the Belt Railway’s functions into their plans for freight hauling and processing.



Belt Railway Company of Chicago. Prospectus of the Chicago Belt Line Railroad Co. Chicago: Poole Brothers, 1881.

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

Musich, Gerald. "Mapping a Transcontinental Nation: Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century American Rail Travel Cartography." In Cartographies of Travel and Navigation, ed. James R. Akerman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.


Hurd, Ray. “The Belt Railway Company of Chicago.” Speaking before the Clearing-Cicero Traffic Conference. (April 17, 1952).

Map of the Chicago and Western Indiana Railroad and the Belt Railway of Chicago (Chicago: Poole Bros., 1884). The Newberry Library, Illinois Central map6F G4104.C6P3 1884 P6