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Bridge Tenders

By the 1850s, the first movable bridges across the Chicago River led to the first bridge tender positions. Ships could come into the harbor at any time day or night. Bridge tenders were responsible for opening and closing bridges, as well as performing a variety of bridge maintenance tasks. Many bridge tenders, like lighthouse keepers lived and worked in the same place. In 2000, Chicago's 37 movable bridges employed 70 bridge tenders. By that point, only the bridges in the Calumet Region had tenders 24 hours a day. Elsewhere, six roving bridge operator teams moved from bridge to bridge as needed.

Bridge Tender’s House, Swing Bridge at Calumet Harbor, 1952


Some of the earliest bridge tenders' houses in Chicago were fixed on top of the center of the swing bridges which dominated Chicago River bridges in the nineteenth century. Seen here is a swing bridge still in operation in 1952 at Calumet Harbor, 130th Street, west of Torrence. Note that the bridge tender had a view of the action both along the river and on the two parts of the bridge. He could not easily supervise people and vehicles on his bridge, because of the height on which the bridge tender’s house perched.

See also: Calumet Region; Bridges

Bridge Tender’s House, Michigan Avenue Bridge, 1953


Some of the most elaborate bridge tender houses were built on twentieth-century bridges adjoining the Loop. Here is a 1953 view of the bridge tender’s house on the Michigan Avenue Bridge, which was completed in 1920.

See also: Bridges

Samuel Adams, Bridge Tender, 1911


Samuel Adams was the bridge tender at the Madison Avenue Bridge connecting Chicago’s Loop to the Near West Side in 1911.

See also: Near West Side

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