The Chicago River

Before the 1920s-1950s industries were polluting the Chicago River with waste and trash and as a result of this Chicago had a big problem to solve because the drinking conditions were affecting the overall health of the people and the atmosphere around the river was filled with polluted materials. The Chicago River was negatively impacted by industries which led to the water being polluted and filthy because of all the waste going to the river and polluted fresh bodied of water which affected the health of the people drinking water off-shore. And the Reversal helped cleanse the water from pollution.

The Chicago River Reversal was made to remove all the trash in the Chicago River. Chicago had the river polluted and dirty for a long time. Chicago was not happy because of the river but the people just go used to the filth because there was no real solution at that point. Or so they thought. There was a man named Ellis Chesbrough who was the governor at that time and he wanted to fix the river’s filth. His first idea was to dig a tunnel underneath the city connecting Lake Michigan 2 miles away from the drinking water source. This project took more than 10 years to accomplish. As a result, it had failed in which Chesbrough had another idea in mind. He ordered the construction workers to work on digging and building a dam to reverse the flow of the river from East to West down to Lake Michigan away from Chicago. By digging, this dam from the Chicago River further down Lake Michigan it would change the flow of the water because of the reason that the waste and the pollution still stayed in the Chicago River was that the flow went from West to East making the trash end up in Chicago and not making it move. So, by reversing the flow, the trash would slowly move away from Chicago down West going to Lake Michigan. Residents in Chicago thought that that was a great idea and was worth a shot because no one liked the trash in the river. It took a lot of years to finally finish reversing the flow that they finished 6 years after Ellis died. When the dam was finally built, they started digging a way to make the water flows through it in the direction that it was dug, like a half-tunnel half it dug down and the rest is open. The people down further West found out what Chicago was doing, they started to try and stop the workers from continuing the build. When the workers found out that the people down West were starting to try and stop them, they started to work faster to complete the build and let the water flow through it. The people down the Lake Michigan were complaining because their water would be filthy throughout the transition of the Chicago River’s waste to Lake Michigan. The workers finally finished digging way for the flow to go to, and their next step was to blow open the dam to let the water flow through the passageway that they built. Ellis’ idea worked and in a few weeks, the filthiness of the river was gone. That’s the Chicago River Reversal.

However the flow reversal did not only help the pollution of the river, although that’s why it was built, the reversal also helped the carriage of products, because that’s what the river was used for before the flood of 1849. In the document “Chicago River Bridges” by Patrick T. Mcbriarty, it says “Originally, the normally slow current of the Main Channel flowed east into Lake Michigan. At Michigan Avenue, it turned south, meandering the last half mile through the lakefront sand dunes before reaching the lake at Monroe Street.” This means that the River was used for imports and exports before the flood happened in 1849. The river was the “Main Channel.” The flood made it become a flooded mess due to the flood of 1849. In which later would be fixed in the 1920s by reversing the flow it. The flow reverses the cycle of the water and that helped clear out more water by spreading it out into Lake Michigan and thus helping clear the flooded mess in the River.

The Chicago River Reversal helped with not only clearing out the sewage and filthiness in the river but also helped solve other problems. So because it helped solve so many other problems like clearing out the flooded mess of the river, the reversal was a triumph instead of a tragedy. The tragedy was the fact that the Chicago River was filled with waste, but since we are talking about the Reversal it’s a triumph because it solves the problem of the Chicago River. The Chicagoans were really happy when the river was cleared and the air was safe to breathe because there was no sewage in the water now.

This is an image of the stream of the Main Channel and of the Chicago River leading into Lake Michigan. The image also shows where the workers made the path to reverse the flow of the water. In the image, we see the path that the water takes to Lake Michigan and as we can see it has to pass the Chicago River. Because of the flood, it made the Chicago River not usable for imports and exports which also affected the main channel as we explained above. The stream has many entrance points from Lake Michigan but they all meet up in the Chicago River and that was a huge issue because the water there was polluted and filthy and with more water coming in from Lake Michigan the more stinky and bad it was for Chicago. We can see that the arrows in the image from Lake Michigan are going towards the Chicago River because that was normal flow of the water but the Reversal change the flow of the water as we stated and visually we can see that all of the junk stored in the Chicago River moved towards Lake Michigan which is a huge body of water and can be spread out and because of that it won’t be as bad because it’s huge and in the Chicago River it’s more narrow therefore the junk is more closer together and worse.

This image on the right shows a slightly far image of the Chicago River. This shows the 2 partways in which the Chicago River flows throughout the city itself. As you can see, the river is surrounded by land mass and is used as a means of transportation for goods. This is before the river was polluted and the Chicago River Reversal came to play.

This is another image of Chicago River up close and showing off the different types of inhabitants living near there. Around here are industries and other buildings in which are disposing their waste towards the river.

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The chicago river. (2021, May 19). Retrieved August 10, 2022 , from

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