Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering, & Technology
Back to the LHL Home Page | Back to the Exhibitions Home Page

Water Supply
Chicago Lake Tunnel
Chicago River Reversal

Reversal of the Chicago River

The Sanitary and Ship Canal
Digging Techniques

Centuries of Civil Engineering

The Traveling Cableway and Some Other Devices Employed by Contractors on the Chicago Main Drainage Canal.
New York: Lidgerwood Manufacturing Co., 1895.
Water Supply
Image Index


From the 1850s, untreated sewage flowed into the Chicago River and was carried into Lake Michigan where it overwhelmed the intake cribs for pure water, particularly during spring floods. In August 1885, more than six inches of rain overwhelmed the pumping stations and sewer pipes, fouling the city's water supply and killing almost 12 percent of the population with cholera and other diseases.

A solution proposed in 1889 recommended that the Chicago River be reversed. Instead of flowing into Lake Michigan it would, in effect, flow into the Gulf of Mexico. The project involved the construction of a 28-mile channel through a glacial moraine and bedrock ridge. The Sanitary and Ship Canal would connect Lake Michigan at Chicago with the Des Plaines River at Lockport. It would also be connected to the Chicago River and would be deep enough to permanently reverse the flow of the river. This trade publication, issued at the height of construction, shows the cableway with moveable towers that was used to hoist and remove debris from the channel.


Home Credits Order Brochure
Copyright©2002 Linda Hall Library, 5109 Cherry St., Kansas City, Missouri 64110-2498 USA. (816) 363-4600.  If you have questions or comments about this site, send mail to the exhibition curator or to webmaster.  For reference questions, send mail to Reference or to the exhibition curator.  Most recent site update: October 28, 2002