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

The Lake Tunnel in Chicago

The Two-Mile Crib
Digging the Lake Tunnel
Chicago Water Tower

Centuries of Civil Engineering

The Great Chicago Lake Tunnel.
Chicago: Published by Jack Wing, 1867.
Water Supply
Image Index


In the mid-nineteenth century, Chicago was one of America's fastest growing cities. Lake Michigan provided a plentiful and easily accessible supply of fresh water. But the city dumped its sewage into the Chicago River, and since the river ran into the lake, the water supply near shore grew increasingly contaminated. Pipes that drew water from 150 feet offshore and even 600 feet out into the lake proved inadequate by the 1850s, when spring rains carrying pollution from Chicago's sewers, distilleries, and slaughterhouses contaminated the water supply.

Ellis S. Chesbrough solved the problem in 1863 by designing a tunnel under the lake that would bring fresh water from two miles offshore. The tunnel was to be 5 feet wide and lined with brick, and would extend through the clay bed of Lake Michigan to a distance of 10,567 feet. Work started in 1864, and was far enough along by 1867 that this pamphlet could give a detailed description of the progress. A notable feature of the plan was the Two-Mile Crib, a mammoth timber intake structure launched in 1865 and placed in clean, deep waters on top of the lake-end of the tunnel. It is shown here in cross section, along with the tunnel under the lake.


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