clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Watch Chicago’s drawbridge system in action

New, 4 comments

This 183-year-old movable bridge network offers a fascinating look into Chicago history

Famous for its deep-dish pizza and cold winters, the Windy City also happens to be the ‘drawbridge capital’ with its 52 movable bridges, more than any other city in North America.

Chicago lies on a key water route between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, and these bridges were constructed to accommodate heavy ship traffic without impeding land travel across the Chicago river. The city build its first drawbridge in 1834 with a modest timber structure and chain lifts—picture any bridge you would see above a Medieval castle moat. Throughout Chicago’s history, new bridge projects drew inspiration from the architectural styles of the moment, like Art Deco, Beaux-Arts, and Modernism.

Now, almost two centuries after the first structure was built, things work quite differently. 43 of the original 52 drawbridges still operate, with the help of 108-horsepower motors and enormous counterweights. For a time, these contraptions would all lift up together when any large ship needed to pass through. They now raise one by one during designated periods between April and November, still quite a sight for locals and tourists who happen to peek at the right moment.