Raising Chicago by 10 feet

Most cities have an incline that leads sewage and rainwater to rivers and seas. However, Chicago was absolutely flat and non porous. So, in the 1850s, the biggest contributors to cleanliness were pigs. Thus, regular epidemics were the norm. But, waste and disease were not connected in the minds of regulators and would not become conventional wisdom until another decade.

Finally, in 1855, the Chicago board of sewerage was created and Ellis Chesbrough was selected to be the chief engineer. After a visit to Europe to study sewers, he came up with a grand plan to raise Chicago by 10 feet. So, Chesbrough and team used jack screws (image below) to raise Chicago’s buildings by 10 feet (!) without interrupting people people’s daily lives. They moved buildings and houses as necessary and created a sewer system below – an incredible feat of engineering. Many cities followed this.

In time, this led to cities having a world underground – including trains and high speed internet.

The biggest victory, temporarily, was drinking water. The waste, however, went into Lake Michigan’s water. Thus, the drinking water supply became contaminated and disease rates went up again. More on what happened next week..

The subscriber would like to announce that he is ready to make contracts for raising building blocks to grade, and all other operations pertaining to the removal or raising of buildings of wood, brick or stone, of any size, to any desired height or distance. – Ad in the Chicago Tribune – Raising Chicago (Wikipedia)


Source: How we got to now by Steven Johnson

3 thoughts on “Raising Chicago by 10 feet”

  1. Pingback: Under the ground

Comments are closed.