As Americans moved from the rural areas to cities during the mid-1800s, many cities began to grow. Chicago, which was built right along Lake Michigan, often found itself flooded and sewage was often filling the streets. As the town grew, this problem amplified until 1855, when the city began the process of raising the city. Because the city was only a few feet above Lake Michigan sewage wouldn’t properly drain, and the Chicago Board of Sewerage Commissioners determined the best way to end the problem was to raise the city by 4ft.-14ft. based on the location.
During the two decades that the city took to raise itself, city drainage pipes were installed, and dirt and new foundations were placed under buildings. Many businesses and hotels were raised inch by inch, while still being open to visitors and guests, and once part of a block, weighing roughly 35,000 tons, was even raised using 6,000 jackscrews and hundreds of men. One man even recorded that he saw a building being raised every day by this strenuous work. This process was possible because modern skyscrapers and building materials like iron weren’t commonly used and most buildings were heavy and well built.
George Pullman was one of the masterminds behind the project and would later make his fortune in building sleeping cars. Today such a feat would be nearly impossible, yet in the late 1800s, Chicago raised its city higher to be able to continue to grow spurring the town to new growth during the turn of the century.
Written by Josh Yohe