Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Chicago in the 1940s – In Color

A 30 minute short film about Chicago that was shot c1947 has been making the rounds bigtime in the last week or so. Someone found a print of it at an estate sale and it wasn’t previously known before. It was produced by the Chicago Board of Education (who today doesn’t seem to know anything about it) for some purpose unknown, but appears to be a promotional type film designed to sell the city. It’s very interesting to see Chicago during that era. If the video doesn’t display for you, click here.

Topics: Historic Preservation
Cities: Chicago

12 Responses to “Chicago in the 1940s – In Color”

  1. Jon Seisa says:

    So charming… the days of innocence, promise and people of modesty and trustworthiness when you could leave your front door unlocked and the keys in the ignition of your car.

  2. Ken Jackson says:

    I love Chicago, but this is a lousy movie with an inane script, repititious pictures, and terrible music. If says nothing about race or neighborhood change, and it includes no statistics and no analysis. I hope that this is not the sole video record of the city in those important days.

  3. ironwood says:


    Thanks for posting this. Wow, what a weird but wonderful movie. Incredible visual record. Four years after the War; a decade before the suburbanization and all the social/economic problems that followed; 25 years before Oil Embargo and the rusting of the Rust Belt; etc., etc. I especially loved the scant attention to the airport (Midway) and the stockyard footage. And the trains, of course. No mention of suburbs. Back in 49 who knew??? My biggest take-away: All this happened in my lifetime (I was born the year the movie was made). A lot can happen in a short 65 years. And a lot can stay exactly the same. A reminder as we anxiously read the daily tea leaves and track changes from year to year, decade to decade, that there’s a lot of temporal data points to connect before declaring trends or making projections.

  4. Gordon Stech says:

    Grew up in Lake County, Indiana with frequent exciting trips to Chicago. This film reflects the great memories from those days. Amazing how activities such as coal loading, cattle slaughter, dense traffic, obsolete buildings were described in such positive tones. Amazing how our society has changed in values.

  5. John Morris says:

    Amazing film.

    I know black and white can’t capture things but notice that skies are a bit hazy but mostly clear, in spite of heavy industry and probably a lot of coal heating. Pittsburgh’s valleys were still covered in smoke. Topography matters.

  6. John Morris says:

    Oops, the film has color. My fail. I think the point still holds. A few Pittsburgh films I have seen from this era show a city still covered in smoke.

  7. I imagine they picked the clearest days they could with the least smoke and pollution as possible. I know it’s difficult to glean atmospheric conditions from such old film stock, but notice just how dingy and in some cases downright filthy many of the buildings are. Buff Indiana limestone buildings seem especially prone to staining from coal soot. Note how horrible the Merchandise Mart looks in particular, and it wasn’t even all that old when this film was made. A teacher of mine from high school once mentioned that growing up in the 50s and 60s on the north side freshly fallen snow would only stay white for a day before the coal soot had a chance to settle over it.

  8. John Morris says:

    Yes, I think they picked the clearest days, but I doubt there were 20 days a year, Pittsburgh’s downtown Strip district or South Side looked this good back then. Perhaps if you only shot in Shadyside, Squirrel Hill & Oakland you could have made things look good.

    One can watch the whole film and never realize Chicago has a mass transit system.

  9. John Morris says:

    Yes, I think they picked the clearest days, but I doubt there were 20 days a year, Pittsburgh’s downtown Strip district or South Side looked this good back then. Perhaps if you only shot in Shadyside, Squirrel Hill & Oakland you could have made things look good.

    One can watch the whole film and never realize Chicago has a mass transit system.

  10. George Mattei says:

    Yeah John I had the same thought about the mass transit. I love how they spent about 5 minutes of the film driving up Lake Shore Drive but barely mention transit.

    I thought if they were doing a promo film like this today, it would be all about transit, and no one would mention cars, because back then cars were the wave of the future, and now the only thing everyone would think of was the awful Chicago traffic.

  11. John Morris says:

    The film is both wonderful and scary in the way it shows the attitudes of elites who will help shape the city.

    Almost no “scary” street crowds, no blacks (to be expected), relatively little street life. A city proud of its skyline but much more eager to show off its parks than its people. A little baseball, but a lot of golf. Most of the housing show is safe, suburban type.

  12. Jon Seisa says:

    I assume they didn’t mention transit because that was for commoners and considered a downgrade, for to own a family automobile was perceived as a prestigious American Dream; and it was the gleaming new dangling golden carrot of promise, hope, accomplishment and success in the post-Great Depression Era pointing towards the promise of a New Prosperous America on the heels of President Herbert Hoover’s 1928 campaign slogan, “A chicken in every pot, and a car in every garage,” that wouldn’t pan out until a decade later after the 1929 Stock Market Crash economic recovery gained steam from 1938 and onward. This American Dream was reiterated by GM’s “Futurama” exhibit designed by theatrical and futurist designer Norman Bel Geddes, featured at the 1939 New York World’s Fair – “Dawn of a New Day” (its 1935 inception inspired at the height of the Great Depression) which glorified a pre-WWII future utopian America (1959-60) operating swiftly and smoothly with a vast national expressway system:'s_Fair)

    As you can gather from the very fabulous vintage reel/video, below, regarding the automobile and future transportation the mindset at the time perceived (untainted by our modern superimposed projection and PC conditioning) was that of a future of newness, improved living, streamline efficiency, resolution of traffic congestion, environmental design integration, safety (like elevated pedestrian sidewalks separated from traffic), segregated functions and districts, better scientific methods, rapid logistics unification and communications, and the creation of new opportunities to promote individual enterprise. Albeit, critics today might punctuate the fact that a motor company is promoting this future in collaboration with oil cartel interests, but nonetheless we know today there were unforeseen consequences, as is always the case in hindsight after a new visionary future movement has been launched into reality; look at the Futurists of Italy and what they ultimately hatched; so New Urbanism is not immune to unforeseen consequences despite the current enthusiastic vision of our tomorrow.

    And on a side note, yes, there are indeed Black people seen standing in line intermingled along with White people and others, all very civilized, fashionably attired and with baited breath to mutually enter the Futurama astonishing exhibit. Chicago was very cosmopolitan. So again, us Moderns today with modern mindsets that cannot relate to the actual mindset of yesteryear tend to assume wrongly of social dynamics in bygone eras and color it and project upon it in retrospect our own conditioning and worldview, creating historical revisionism.

    VIDEO: Futurama 1939 New York World’s Fair “To New Horizons” 1940

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