Technology that changed Chicago: Wooden Barrels

Men loading barrels on truck

Wooden barrels have been used since ancient times. Barrels have been part of American life since the beginning of European immigration. Our first barrel maker came over on the Mayflower. Barrels were fairly cheap, reusable, strong, crushproof, weatherproof, watertight, somewhat tamperproof and could be stamped or branded with the content information.  They could be rolled […]

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Technology that changed Chicago: Calling 911. 1970-2014

School house shaped fire alarm box.

Previous: 1900-1970 By the 1960s, most of the country had switched to direct dial telephones.  Telephone operators were on their way out. In areas such as Chicago’s suburbs, there are hundreds of police departments and fire districts. The service boundaries are rarely clear. You needed to find a telephone book, hope your dog hadn’t eaten […]

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Technology that changed Chicago: Calling 911. 1900-1970

Police car with really big radio

Previous: 1877-1900 After the breakneck pace of innovation from 1864 to 1890, communications technology changed more slowly. In the early 20th Century, citizens acquired telephones at a rapid pace. Since direct dial was still in the future, you simply picked up the phone and told the operator the nature of the emergency. Direct dial for […]

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Technology that changed Chicago: Calling 911. 1877-1900

Police officer standing at police box. Police wagon running.

Previous: 1860-1877 Although the fire telegraph system reached a state of near perfection in 1877, the police alarm system had a number of problems that became apparent in the large labor riots of that year. Communication from the street to stations depended largely upon runners and telegrams from the large businesses with telegraph operators. Communication […]

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Technology that changed Chicago: Calling 911. 1860-1877

Previous: 1835-1860 Work began on a fire telegraph system in the early 1860s. Initially the system just connected the fire and police stations to each other. 1864 saw emergency communications take a leap into the modern era. The Fire Telegraph System began with 116 locked boxes. Each firefighter, police officer and certain responsible citizens had […]

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Technology that changed Chicago: Calling 911. 1835-1860

Large Building with tower

Today in Chicago, you can call 911 and get rapid emergency assistance. Things were very different in 1835. The telephone hadn't been invented and dealing with emergencies was largely a self-help affair. Professional police and fire forces were a thing of the future. This was true worldwide. Even Scotland Yard was only six years old. […]

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Technology that Changed Chicago: Ice, continued

Iceman carrying ice in front of children

Previous: Ice part one Industrial ice harvesting arrived in Chicago in 1847 when Frisbie and Burroughs put up a 2,000 ton ice house on the North Branch of the Chicago River. The 1880 Census Special Reports: Ice Trade, available in the Government Documents Department gives a nice snapshot of the Chicago ice trade in the […]

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Technology that Changed Chicago: Ice

Men and Horses cutting ice

For thousands of years, people around the world have been storing winter ice and snow to use in hot summers. As Harvest of the Cold Months explains, ice storage was difficult, expensive and almost always a local effort.  In the tropics, where ice was needed the most, it was never available. Two Bostonians changed that. In […]

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Technology that Changed Chicago: Piggly Wiggly

Picture of a food store

Perhaps when you go to the supermarket, you run from aisle to aisle with preplanned precision, picking up only those items you need and finish shopping in the 10 minutes you have allocated. Perhaps you are a more typical shopper. You let your eyes roam from brightly colored box to brightly colored box. Childlike, you […]

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Technology that didn’t Change Chicago much: Airships

Picture of a blimp

Today heavier-than-air vessels, i.e. airplanes and helicopters, rule the skies. Lighter-than-air vessels, i.e. powered airships and balloons, are limited to niche roles such as advertising blimps and hot air balloon rides. Kites and gliders form a third category of manned flight. Hang gliding was popular in the late 20th century, but now is for serious […]

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