• J. J. Sedelmaier

Keeping Everyone in the Loop: 50 Years of Chicago “L” Graphics

A 1913 map of the Chicago Elevated system

A recent visit to Chicago reminded me of how enamored I am of its rapid transit. It’s so much a part of what makes Chicago unique and exciting to me. Chicago is one of those cities with a “sound” to it—San Francisco being another—and the elevated “L” system is the reason why. Much of the original structure is almost 125 years old, yet it continues to be a vital element of the city’s circulatory system. When the “L” was built, and way before we all used automobiles as our primary means of transport, the dependence on interurban transit (including streetcars and motor coaches) stretched beyond merely commuting. It provided the population an opportunity to venture into outlying areas for recreation as well.

This post reflects on a half-century of graphics (mostly the brochure covers of transit maps) relating to Chicago’s elevated and subway system, known as the “L”.

(I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible concerning dates, but if anyone sees a screwup, please leave a comment and I’ll revise.)

The reverse side of the 1913 map shown at top. This design format was used consistently through the 1920s.

A 1915 Elevated travel brochure


1915 map

An interesting and thorough brochure (circa 1910) presenting the system and the effective opportunity it offered as an advertising tool. The lighted clock-tower in the illustration on the left is the old Wells/Kinzie Street Chicago & Northwestern Terminal, now the site of the massive Merchandise Mart.

A 1920s travel brochure as a joint venture between the Elevated railways and the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee Railway, which ran trains from the south side of Chicago all the way up to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Yes, between 1919 and 1963 you could board a train in the loop and take a non-stop electric train to the Cream City.

Another 1920s CNS&M/”L” travel brochure.



A 1933 map produced in conjunction with that year’s “Century Of Progress” World’s Fair in Chicago. The fair was so successful that it ran through 1934 as well . . .

1934 map










“Guest tags” for the first day of operation on the State Street (1943) and Milwaukee Avenue (1951) subways



1948: This brochure explained the restructuring of service that ensued with the demise of the Chicago Rapid Transit and the creation of the new Chicago Transit Authority. Many stations were closed, along with some of the smaller, lesser-used branches.


1951 map

Late 1940s/early ’50s: The CTA was off and running on their modernization program with booklets like this . . .




1954 map

1956 map


1957 map

1958 map

1959 map



1963 system map

Company PR brochures offered to the public

These are examples of the PR brochure holders installed in the rapid transit cars circa 1910s/late 1940s.

Example of the baked-porcelain signage utilized on the system from the 1910s through to the 1980s. This technique and font was used on the platforms and in the stations for everything from passenger warnings to wood-framed destination signs.

These stickers/labels (1950s) were affixed to the window sills on the rapid transit cars, trolley buses, and streetcars.

The above is somewhat of a companion piece to one I wrote last year (http://imprint.printmag.com/branding/%E2%80%9Ca-true-visionary-gives-chicago-a-landmark-branding-campaign-circa-1920-30%E2%80%9D/) —so please check that out if you’re interested in further info

Finally, the best site covering EVERY aspect of Chicago Transit is Graham Garfield’s http://www.chicago-l.org/. It’s as comprehensive as it gets!


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About J. J. Sedelmaier

As President/Director of J. J. Sedelmaier Productions, Inc., he is responsible for launching some of the most talked about broadcast animated productions of the past two decades – MTV’s “Beavis and Butt-Head”, SNL’s “Saturday TV Funhouse” series with Robert Smigel (“The Ambiguously Gay Duo”, “The X-Presidents”, etc.), Cartoon Network/Adult Swim’s “Harvey Birdman - Attorney at Law”, and the “Tek Jansen/Alpha Squad Seven” series for The Colbert Report. Sedelmaier has produced over 500 film and design pieces. He has been a professor at NYU, teaching Intermediate Animation and History Of Animation courses, and has curated design and animation exhibits at The Society Of Illustrators, Milwaukee's Grohmann Museum and Westchester Arts Council. In addition, he’s a very organized hoarder.View all posts by J. J. Sedelmaier →