08:00 AM - 09:00 AM
21 October 2023

Chicago Subway System and Ralph B. Peck

History & Heritage

My presentation would describe the transportation conditions that drove the city’s business and political leaders to consider constructing a subway under State Street to relieve streetcar congestion in the city’s prime retail area. The initial planning efforts began in 1911 and went nowhere due to a lack of funding and the fact that the streetcar company was privately owned.

During the Great Depression, Edward J. Kelly became Mayor of Chicago and cultivating a friendship with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and using raw political power obtained funding from the Public Works Administration (PWA) to design and construct a subway system in Chicago, only the third subway system built in the United States. Concerns about tunneling through soft clay adjacent to prime retail buildings such as Marshall Field’s led the city to retain Karl Terzaghi as an adviser on the project. When Terzaghi informed the city, he could not be on site every day during the project he proposed that an assistant would be his field person on the contract and report to him every day. That person was Ralph B. Peck who would be awarded ASCE’s Norman Medal for his paper “Earth Pressure Measurements in Open Cuts, Chicago Subway” in 1944 and go on to a distinguished career as a consultant and educator.