Readers of my blog posts for Imprint know I’m a loyal fan of the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee Railway, The North Shore Line, an electric interurban railway that ran from Chicago to Milwaukee between the late 19th century and January of 1963. My fascination stems from the fact that during its run, it encompassed so many different areas that interest me. Separate from it being a regional thing by having operated in my childhood Chicago area backyard, it also was responsible for producing wonderful advertising and graphic campaigns at its pre-depression height of the 1920s to 1930. Its trains, in particular the Electroliners, displayed arresting design and landmark speed records. In addition, it was instrumental in revolutionizing the electric transit industry by becoming an integral part of the communities it serviced, and proved to be a pioneer in trailer truck intermodel piggy-back freight as well as radio transmission to its rolling stock! Finally, between 1916 to 1932, it was owned and managed by the utilities magnate Samuel Insull, who as far as I’m concerned, is one of the most fascinating personalities of the time.
This article concerns a stunning presentation brief that the railway submitted in 1923 in order to be considered for the first annual Charles A. Coffin Medal. Coffin was the first CEO of General Electric and upon his retirement, the GE Co. established the award in his memory and honor to recognize outstanding achievement in electric railway advancement. The North Shore Line won the competition and was presented with the inaugural honor. This attractive brief is a marvelous testament to what the railway had accomplished on multiple fronts, and produced with limited edition care and high production value.
I’ve included several links at the end of the article that focus on other graphic aspects of the North Shore Line that I’ve written about previously.
But First, A Little Background
The British born Samuel Insull, started his career in the United States as Thomas Edison’s assistant and later ran General Electric out of Schenectady, New York. He moved on to Chicago in 1892 to consolidate and manage the electric and gas companies there. Insull continued to build his utility empire in the Windy City and in 1916 acquired the Chicago & Milwaukee Electric Railway. He promptly renamed it the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee Railway to fully define the territory it would soon cover. Three years later, the railway was extended into downtown Chicago’s “Loop” via the north side Chicago Elevated Railway, which he also owned. This meant that it was now possible to board a train in downtown Milwaukee and travel directly into the center of downtown Chicago. All the other railroads had stations within the city but not as centrally located as where the Elevated ran. In the years prior to the highway system we now have, this was extraordinarily convenient and the passengers traveled at a speed that many had never traveled at before. One of their marketing slogans was, “Did you ever travel 80 miles an hour?”
Insull continued to institute a campaign to upgrade and modernize the North Shore Line that included new equipment, stations, advertising, safety programs and plans for an extended right of way that would bypass the more densely populated areas that significantly slowed the progress of the trains. By 1924, Insull had tripled the North Shore Line’s passenger traffic!
Here’s the 1923 Coffin Medal presentation book.
1. “Along The Green Bay Trail” produced by the Atlas Educational Film Company/Chicago and directed by George Frederic Wheeler. Two interesting notes – watch for the fly (?!) that lands on the title card between 2:18 – 2:21, and in the sequence between 10:30 – 10:55 the film stock/exposure available wasn’t able to pick up the existing gold type on the railway’s lettering above the windows. They arranged to paint the letters with white paint prior to the filming in order for it to be visible.
2. “Pace Of Progress” produced by the Rothacker Film Manufacturing Company/Chicago.
The article from Electric Railway Journal (the trade bible of the transit industry) below describes how the railway made the most of the award. . .
The following two images are additional promotional pieces used to advertise the North Shore Line’s 1920’s upgrading campaign.
Here are links to previous articles I’ve written related to the North Shore Line and its design heritage:
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