Wednesday, August 12, 2020

August 12, 1942 -- Blackout in Chicago As City Holds First Drill of the War

Chicago Tribune Photo

August 12, 1942 – A spokesman for Commonwealth Edison Company discloses that consumption of electricity drops 54 percent below normal during the evening as Chicagoans participate in a “black-out drill,” conducted between 10:00 p.m. and 10:35 p.m., during which lights are extinguished and windows are covered with screens and curtains.  On a normal evening, the spokesman says, at 10:00 p.m. the company would see a flow of 1,300,000 kilowatts.  During this evening that figure drops to 600,000.  Usage begins to increase when the “all clear” signal is sounded, and by 10:35 p.m. the flow is up to 935,000 again.  By 11:00 p.m. meters register at 1,100,000 kilowatts.   During the five minute black-out armed guards are doubled at generating stations and switching centers of Commonwealth Edison as an extra precaution against sabotage.  This is the city’s first black-out simulation with volunteers standing watch over the city’s neighborhoods, looking for any residents who leave their windows uncovered.  The Chicago Daily Tribune reports that in Albany Park on the Northwest Side there are a dozen air raid wardens and four messengers with another 28 wardens in training.  In the above photo air raid warden Genevieve Hennings perches on a ladder during a simulated drill in the 5000 block of West Newport Avenue.

August 12, 1999 – A power failure leaves the city’s Greek Town neighborhood and 30 square blocks of the Loop from the center of downtown southward in the dark, sends workers tumbling from high rise office buildings and busses packed with people trying to get home moving slowly through intersections where the traffic lights are not working.  Mayor Richard M. Daley says, “I firmly believe this company better get down to ground zero.  Someone should tell [utility executives] about that infrastructure.  Infrastructure is the key.  They’ve neglected it for too long and it’s come home to roost.”  [, August 13, 1999] The Board of Trade stops trading because of the service disruption.  Banks in the heart of the city lose power, and the downtown police headquarters operates on emergency generators.  Weather is not involved in the blackout.  Three of four transformers at a downtown substation go offline.  One had been undergoing repairs in the preceding week, and another two shut down while, at the same time, two high voltage cables also fail.  This problem comes less than two weeks after a power failure on July 30 that left 100,000 people in the city without power on the hottest day of the year as temperatures climbed to 104 degrees.  Commonwealth Edison spokesman Keith Bromery engages in an epic feat of understatement when he says, “Basically, we know that we have a reliability problem.” [Los Angeles Times, August 26, 1999] The substation at 868 South Jefferson, shown above, is the area in the south Loop at which three out of four transformers failed.

August 12, 1952 – Ground is broken for the 35-million dollar Prudential building on Randolph Street, east of Michigan Avenue.  Mayor Martin Kennelly and Valentine Howell, the executive vice-president of the Prudential Insurance Company of America scoop up the first shovels of earth for one of the 260 caissons that will support the 41-story building as Holman D. Pettibone, president of the Chicago Title and Trust Company, officiates at the ceremonies.  For an in-depth look at the origins of the Prudential building and what it took to get the thing built, you can turn to this blog entry from 2012.  The above photo shows the area east of Michigan Avenue before Prudential was begun.  It would stand just about where the Pabst Blue Ribbon sign is located.

August 12, 1900 – A few carriages are seen making the entire circuit of Chicago’s boulevard system after the bridge on Diversey Boulevard is completed and the boulevard project is finished.  There are only two breaks in the 30-mile “ring of parks” that runs around the city on three sides – one between Humboldt Boulevard and Humboldt Park and the other south of Douglas Park leading to the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.  The latter is particularly notable … “a drive of more than a mile over rough cedar pavements, car tracks, through unpaved streets filled with mudholes and through a big ditch near the drainage channel would almost dispel the favorable impressions gained.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, August 13, 1900] Lake Shore Drive in Lincoln Park is the least impressive part of the completed system, a route on which “A carriage lurches along through holes that are half a foot deep, wheelmen dodge in and out to avoid them.  Water from sprinkling collects in the holes and splashes carriages and riders.”  There are only ten railroad crossings in the entire 30-mile system.  Although there are rough patches along the way, the Tribune concludes, “A trip over the system now that it is made possible serves to show most of all at what a comparatively slight expenditure the whole thing might be put in shape … When it is finished Chicago will have the longest boulevard drive in the world.”
August 12, 1863 – Two years before the Union Stock Yard and Transit Company opens the Union Stockyards on 375 acres of marshland in an area bounded by Halsted Street on the east, South Racine Avenue on the west, Thirty-Ninth Street on the north and Forty-Seventh Street on the south, the Chicago Tribune is already editorializing about the conditions in the area around what is today Bridgeport.  The paper observes, “It is said that the stench that is now complained of as arising from Bridgeport, or in that direction, is from several slaughterhouses which continue to spread their putrescent matter broadcast, inflicting the nauseating and unhealthy atmosphere upon the inhabitants.”  [Chicago Tribune, August 12, 1863].  The piece concludes, “No man should be considered a good citizen who will thus outrage the feelings and endanger the health of others.”  For good measure the editorial states in full the law governing businesses such as the ones creating the nuisance:  No person shall hereafter, throw, place or conduct, or suffer his or her servant, child or family to throw, place or conduct into any street, alley or lot, any putrid or unsound beef, pork, fish, hides or skins, of any kind, or any filth, offal, dung, dead animal, vegetables, oyster shells, or other unsound or offensive matter whatever or anything like to become offensive.  Nor shall any person allow such filth, offal, dung, or other offensive matter as aforesaid, to be or remain upon any premises, or in any out-house, stable, privy or other place owned or occupied by them, or in any alley or street in front of such premises, in such manner as to be offensive to the neighborhood.  And every person who shall violate any of the provisions of this section, shall be fined in a sum not exceeding twenty-five dollars.”  The conditions against which the writers protest would get much, much worse as the Union Stock Yards would eventually hold 2,300 separate livestock pens with enough room, at a single time, to hold 75,000 hogs, 21,000 cattle, and 22,000 sheep.

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