State Street Subway System – Chicago IL


The State Street subway line was one of two initial subway lines to open in the city of Chicago, IL. Running from north to south, the project began in conjunction with the construction of the Milwaukee-Dearborn subway line and was made possible by both the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The subway line has undergone major expansions and alterations since the 1930’s, but it still exists today as a portion of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Red Line subway system.

State Street property owners were the first to call for the State Street Subway, but despite that fact, they were also the first to oppose the original plans. Many of them were up in arms because the initial plans called for them to pay for over half the cost of construction (Hewitt). The plans were revised and eventually approved by Harold Ickes, the director of the PWA, in 1938 (“Chicago’s Initial System of Subways.”). The city of Chicago then applied for one loan and one grant through the WPA and was approved for both (Graham). The first ground for the project was broken on December 17, 1938 and construction continued without major delays (“Digging Starts Today on First Unit of Subway.”). The tunnel for the train was buried deep under the city so that a tunnel boring machine could be used throughout the process, which both expedited and simplified the construction process. Only small portions of the tunnel were dug using the “cut and cover” method. In the fall of 1939, cofferdams were built into the banks of the river with subway tunnels inside. Once this project was completed, a 200-foot long steel and concrete tube was constructed at a South Chicago shipyard, floated up to downtown, lowered into a trench in the riverbed, and then connected to the subway tunnels inside the cofferdams so that the trains could make the journey under the river. The construction of the State Street subway system took nearly 5 years to complete (Graham). By the time it was finished, the tracks ran for five miles and cost $34 million to complete (“Chicago Begins Riding Subway at 12 Tonight”).

On October 16, 1943, celebrations were held throughout Chicago to commemorate the opening of the new State Street subway. On the actual tracks themselves, ten special trains ran along the line unloading passengers between 10:25 am and 10:45 am. Then, at 10:47 am, Chicago Mayor Edward Kelley, cut the ceremonial ribbon (Graham). The trains, however, did not officially open for revenue until October 17, 1943 with the first trains running at 12 am (“Chicago Begins Riding Subway at 12 Tonight”).

The State Street subway line ran independently for several decades, but on February 21, 1993, the CTA officially connected the State Subway Line to the Dan Ryan Branch, forming what is known today as the Red Line (Graham). The State Street Subway line still remains as a part of the Red Line subway system; it consists of nine stops between North/Clybourn and Roosevelt. The State Street Subway originally included an additional stop called Washington, however in 2006 the stop was closed due to the Block 37 Project (Graham). The project, which was highly controversial, built a new shopping mall on block 37 of State Street (Hilkevitch). However, by this time the Lake stop had become independent of the Washington stop, and so most commuters were not grievously affected (Graham).

Source notes

"Chicago Begins Riding Subway at 12 Tonight." Chicago Tribune 16 Oct. 1943: 3. PQ Archiver. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

"Chicago’s Initial System of Subways." CERA Members Blog. N.p., 5 July 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

"Digging Starts Today on First Unit of Subway." Chicago Tribune 17 Dec. 1938: 13. PQ Archiver. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

Graham, Garfield. "Red Line: State Street Subway." Chicago ''L''.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

Graham, Garfield. “Red Line: Washington.” Chicago “L”.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2013

Hewitt, Oscar. "State Street Owners to Halt Subway." Chicago Tribune 18 Dec. 1930: 1-2. PQ Archiver. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.

Hilkevitch, Jon. "CTA May Give Quarter on Block 37 Fees." Chicago Tribune 15 Feb. 2010, News sec.: 8. PQ Archiver. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.

Project originally submitted by Isaac Carlson on December 17, 2013.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

State Street
Chicago, IL

Coordinates: 41.756439, -87.62472100000002

Leave a Reply

Before leaving a comment, please note:

  • Comments allow viewers to share information with others or alert us to errors or changes in a New Deal site.
  • We are not involved in the management of New Deal sites and have no information about visits, hours or rentals.
  • This page shows all the information we have for this site; if you have new information or photos to share, click below.


We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.