Late 19th- and Early 20th-Century Urban Rail Transit Maps

fragment of 1885 London map


Late 19th- and Early 20th-Century Urban Rail Transit Maps

Click on the links below to access scans of some of the late 19th- and early 20th-century urban rail transit maps that are held at the University of Chicago Library's Map Collection.

The maps roughly illustrate the history of urban rail transit between the 1860s and the 1920s.

These years were the heyday of urban rail transit. Virtually every city in the Western world and in its colonial offshoots had street railroads during much or all of this period. Streetcars were drawn by horses in the early years. The invention of the grip cable in 1870s and of electric traction in the late 1880s greatly increased their speed and reliability. By the end of the 19th century, everyday urban life was completely dependent on this mode of transport.

A few cities, however, were so large and congested that street railroads were insufficient. Steam railroad lines served the suburbs but were unwelcome in the center of the city. London, the largest city in the Western world, acquired what is generally considered the first more or less modern subway system when, beginning in 1863, its Metropolitan steam railroad line was extended in shallow tunnels along the edges of the central city. (Frequent openings allowed some of the smoke to escape.) New York, whose population was growing even faster than London’s, employed a different solution. Four steam-powered elevated railroads were built along most of the length of Manhattan. The first line opened in 1868. Although Istanbul acquired a short underground steam-powered funicular line (the "Tünel") in 1875 and Vienna opened a partly underground steam-powered rail line as late as 1898, the environmental drawbacks of steam power in the city discouraged other places from following suit.

The availability of cleaner electric traction in the 1890s reduced the "negative externalities" of grade-separated urban rail transit. London and New York began to electrify their older lines; London started building its deep-bored "Tube" lines; and new lines opened in Chicago, Budapest, Boston, and Glasgow. They were very different. Chicago acquired a (briefly steam powered) elevated railway. In Budapest and Boston streetcar subways were built. Glasgow’s circular subway was run by cable. A few other large cities (including Paris and Berlin) followed in the next decades, opting in most cases for a subway system with a few above-ground sections. But, even at the end of the 1920s, fewer than twenty cities in the world had grade-separated urban rail transit systems. Building such lines has always been enormously expensive and time-consuming. (This is one of the reasons that several of the lines shown on the maps below were never built, or at least not built in the form shown on the map.) The street railroad remained the backbone of urban rail transit in all but a few places.

Most of the transit maps linked on this page are commercial maps. Some emphasize certain lines at the expense of others. Some are essentially advertisements for a particular enterprise. Most are quite different from the kind of neutral, inclusive transit map that is now the norm in the Western world as a result of the shift to public ownership of urban rail lines.

This page provides access only to a small proportion of the urban rail maps that are held at the University of Chicago Map Collection. Additional maps are listed in the Library's on-line catalog under subject headings like "Local transit--[jurisdiction]--[city name]--Maps," "Subways--[jurisdiction]--[city name]--Maps," "Railroads, Elevated--[jurisdiction]--[city name]--Maps," "Street-railroads--[jurisdiction]--[city name]--Maps," and "Railroads--[jurisdiction]--[city name]--Maps." This approach works for finding English-language records on WorldCat too.

Urban rail transit maps are very common on the Web. For contemporary urban rail transit maps (and an enormous number of links to other sites), go to Urbanrail.net. The companion Web pages, Chicago in the 1890s, Chicago, 1900-1914, Government maps of Chicago in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, and Social scientists map Chicago, provide access to several additional transit maps of Chicago.

The maps were scanned on a Contex Crystal XL42 scanner at 400 dpi using NextImage software. The files were saved as tiff files and converted to run on the Web under a program called Zoomify. You need Flash to take advantage of this software. To zoom in and out, use the scale bar to the left of the Zoomify screen or click on the map to zoom in. To move around, hold the left mouse button down and drag either the location rectangle or the map itself. To see a larger image, click on the "Click here for full screen" button on the top left of each page. You may need to be somewhat patient in using this software. In particular, wait until the image comes into focus before attempting a new command.

Joel Thomas of the Map Collection did essentially all the scanning, most of the record manipulation, and a modest amount of Photoshop editing. He also did some last-minute preservation work on two of the sheets. Dale Mertes of Networking Services and Information Technologies' Academic Technologies unit continued to provide good advice about scanning. John Jung and Charles Blair of the University of Chicago Library's Digital Library Development Center did the necessary server tweaking.

The links below are listed in chronological order.

Comments are welcome.

--CW



ImageTitle InformationSubject HeadingsDescription
Mid-London Railway : reasons for opposing the bill. Railroads--England--London--Maps. Scale [ca. 1:15,500]. [London? : s.n., 1866?]. 1 map : col. ; 28 x 53 cm., on sheet 33 x 57 cm. Includes text.
Nouveau plan de Lyon illustré avec tramways : avec toutes les modifications et changements les plus récents / gravé sur pierre par A. Goudey, Lyon. Street-railroads--France--Lyon--Maps.
Lyon (France)--Maps.
Scale [ca. 1:20,000]. [Lyon] : Ph. Sapin, 1880. 1 map : col. ; 47 x 58 cm.
The improved "District Railway" map of London. Subways--England--London--Maps.
Railroads--England--London--Maps.
Local transit--England--London--Maps.
Scale [ca. 1:16,800]. [London : W.J. Adams & Sons, 1885]. 1 map : col. ; 67 x 106 cm.
Map of the New York City and Northern Railway Co. and the Yonkers Rapid Transit Branch to Getty Square, Yonkers, showing their connection with the Manhattan Elevated Railway of New York City at 155th Street and New York and New England R.R. at Brewsters. New York and Northern Railway Company--Maps.
Railroads--New York (State)--New York--Maps.
Railroads--Hudson River Valley (N.Y. and N.J.)--Maps.
Scale [ca. 1:120,000]. [New York? : New York and Northern Railway Co.?, between 1887 and 1894?]. 1 map : col. ; 29 x 87 cm.
Plan général de la ligne métropolitaine centrale : avec ses extensions differées et ses raccordements avec les grandes compagnies / présenté par la Compagnie des établissements Eiffel. Subways--France--Paris--Maps.
Subways--France--Paris--Planning--Maps.
Local transit--France--Paris--Maps.
Scale 1:25,000. [Paris] : Compagnie des établissements Eiffel, 1890. 1 map : col. ; 40 x 49 cm., on sheet 49 x 63 cm.

New map of Chicago showing street car lines in colors and street numbers in even hundreds / Rufus Blanchard. Local transit--Illinois--Chicago--Maps.
Railroads, Elevated--Illinois--Chicago--Maps.
Local transit--Illinois--Chicago Metropolitan Area--Maps.
Scale [ca. 1:21,000]. Chicago : Rufus Blanchard, 1897. 1 map : col. ; 216 x 118 cm.

Map of Cincinnati : showing Camp Sherman, suburbs, resorts, railroads, street car lines, hotels, etc. Cincinnati (Ohio)--Maps.
Local transit--Ohio--Cincinnati--Maps.
Grand Army of the Republic. National Encampment (32d : 1898 : Cincinnati)--Maps.
Scale [ca. 1:23,000]. [Cincinnati?] : Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern Railway, [1898] 1 map : col. ; 44 x 66 cm., on sheet 48 x 79 cm. Text, ill., timetable, and map of the Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern Railway on verso.
Map of New York, showing points of interest and the location of Wanamaker Stores directly on the great main avenue of travel, "Broadway," and showing the location of Interborough subway station directly in the store. Manhattan (New York, N.Y.)--Maps.
Local transit--New York (State)--New York--Maps.
Scale [ca. 1:18,000]. [New York, N.Y.. : Wanamaker's?, 1906?]. 1 map : col. ; 50 x 31 cm.
Map of Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Hudson tunnel system : double track throughout, under construction, January 1908. Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Company--Maps.
Railroads--New York (State)--New York--Maps.
Railroads--New Jersey--Maps.
Subways--New York (State)--New York--Maps.
Subways--New Jersey--Maps.
Scale [ca. 1:17,500]. New York : Engraved by American Bank Note Company, [1908]. 1 map : col. ; 40 x 56 cm.

Map showing harbor and river ferries, also connecting tramways of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1908 / compiled, drawn and printed at the Department of Lands. Transportation--Australia--Sydney (N.S.W.)--Maps. Scale [ca. 1:63,360]. Sydney : New South Wales Government Tourist Bureau, 1908. 1 map : col. ; 24 x 49 cm. "Map of city of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia," oriented with north at bottom, on verso.

Official railway map of London and its environs / prepared and published at the Railway Clearing House, London ; drawn and engraved by J. & W. Emslie, London. Railroads--England--London--Maps. Scale [ca. 1:33,000]. London : Railway Clearing House, 1910. 1 map : col. ; 102 x 107 cm.
Route map, Calcutta & Howrah. Street-railroads--India--Calcutta--Maps. Scale [1:21,120]. [Calcutta] : Calcutta Tramways Co., [between 1910 and 1929]. 1 map : col. ; 69 x 44 cm.
Pharus-Plan Wien / Urheber d. Pharus Pläne Corn. Loewe. Vienna (Austria)--Maps.
Local transit--Austria--Vienna--Maps.
Scale 1:17,000. Berlin : Pharus-Verlag, [191-?]. 1 map : col. ; 76 x 97 cm.

Map of New York, Lehigh Valley Railroad, terminals, freight, and ticket offices. Railroads--New York (State)--New York--Maps.
Lehigh Valley Railroad Company--Maps.
Scale [ca. 1:28,000]. N[ew] Y[ork] : Rand McNally & Co., c1914. 1 map : col. ; 79 x 25 cm. Text and directories on verso.
New map of Boston giving all points of interest : with every railway & steamboat terminus, prominent hotels, theatres, & public buildings. Boston (Mass.)--Maps, Tourist.
Local transit--Massachusetts--Boston--Maps.
Scale [ca. 1:15,000]. Boston : Walker Lith. & Pub. Co., [between 1918 and 1923]. 1 map : col. ; 47 x 44 cm., on sheet 51 x 45 cm.
Manhattan : from Rand McNally metropolitan map of New York City / Rand McNally & Co. Manhattan (New York, N.Y.)--Maps.
Subways--New York (State)--New York--Maps.
Railroads, Elevated--New York (State)--New York--Maps.
Scale [ca. 1:31,000]. [New York] : Rand McNally & Co., [192-?]. 1 map : col. ; 80 x 23 cm.
Relief map of territory served by lines of Pacific Electric Railway in southern California, largest electric railway system in the world. Street-railroads--California--Los Angeles--Maps.
Street-railroads--California--Los Angeles Metropolitan Area--Maps.
Los Angeles (Calif.)--Maps, Physical.
Pacific Electric Railway Company--Maps.
Scale [ca. 1:160,000]. [California] : O.A. Smith, c1920. 1 map : col. ; 51 x 106 cm.

London's Underground / MacDonald Gill. Subways--England--London--Maps. Scale [ca. 1:75,000]. Westminster, S.W. : Electric Railway House, [1922?] 1 map : col. ; 25 x 33 cm.
Map Collection homepage