Chicago Sun-Times

When the L was private

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Check out today's Chicago Reader for a fascinating article by Robert Loerzel about the push for the government to take over the private city rail lines.

If you thought the Illinois legislature was uncivil now, you should have been there on April 23, 1903, when the Democrats and Republicans were fighting over competing bills amending state law to give Chicago authority to take over the city traction companies. According to Loerzel's piece, without taking a roll call, the Republican speaker, John Henry Miller, banged his gavel and declared the Republican bill had passed. Miller was called "a liar," legislators smashed chairs, someone threw an inkstand, and a legislator rushed Miller, and was "flung to the floor" by a guard. "Pale and trembling, the speaker excited the chamber." The Democratic version of the bill then passed.

There is lots of other good stuff about the "robber baron" rail owner Charles Tyson Yerkes, and the terrible conditions on the old streetcars.

The article is a reminder that before we privatize any public asset -- we need to remember history, and see what the arguments have been for and against private ownership. There were reasons why water and transit were made public.

(And yes, this original post said 1093, rather than 1903, when there was a different civilization in Springfield. Thanks to readers for pointing out my error, and yes, there are copyeditors at the newspaper, but they don't edit this blog. Aren't you glad there are newspapers, instead of just blogs?)

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I caught that Reader article last week. A spectacular piece of neglected Chicago history.

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