The following is a short excerpt from my History Master’s Thesis at the University of Illinois – Springfield. An original copy of this work resides in the UIS Archives, the U.S. National Archives, and in the archives of the Illinois State Police Heritage Foundation and Museum. If you would like to read more, let me know, and I’ll post more next Sunday…
The Origin of the Illinois State Highway Patrol
Copyright 1998 © Kevin E. Hughes
It had been raining hard for three days, and the dark, slowly churning clouds held no promise of relief. Governor-hopeful Lennington Small sat in the back seat of his son Leslie’s 1919 Paige Touring Car, Illinois license number “8251”. Len was a handsome, stocky man of 44, with balding head and bushy moustache. He watched the rain collect into rivulets on the side window. He could easily have been thinking to himself, “This trip should have taken me two-and-a-half hours at best! Now I’ve been trying to get to Kankakee for almost a full day.”
How relevant seemed the haunting words of the journalist J.C. Burton, “… is the supposition correct that there are no highways winding through the fertile fields on which a speed of 20 miles an hour can be maintained without pounding a motor car to pieces and inviting Trouble to jump from Pandora’s box to the bonnet of the machine?”
Candidate Small was headed home to Kankakee following a campaign tour by rail and airplane of Illinois. The Small campaign had shifted into high gear on October 18, 1920, the day in which presidential-hopeful Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding’s campaign train made its first Illinois stop at Kankakee’s Illinois Central Railroad depot. An enthusiastic crowd greeted Harding, and he assured the assembled crowd “…that he and Len Small would carry Illinois.” Harding was voicing the campaign slogan, “Return to Normalcy.” Small was promising to “pull Illinois out of the mud” by building hard (paved) roads throughout the state.
In 1920, Illinois was readily traversed in all directions by railway. It was a reliable method of travel, although not particularly fast. For example, in the early 1900s, three eastbound and three westbound trains stopped daily in Oregon, Illinois (100 miles west of Chicago) on the route from Chicago to Minneapolis, plus there was twice-daily service northwest to Galena. “It took from one-and-a-half to three hours to get 22 miles from Oregon to neighboring Rockford by rail, four-and-a-half hours to return on the 5:15 p.m. train… to get 16 miles from Oregon to neighboring Dixon took an hour-and-a-half by rail…” The Rockford to Oregon trip via horse and buggy, by comparison, took only four hours. Illinois in 1915 had 12,157 miles of steam railway, and 3,760 miles of electric railway. Yet by 1918, Illinois only had 427.77 miles of paved roadway. The main advantage of rail was that trains could run year-round, whereas the dirt roads of the day were impassable much of the year. In spring or fall they were merely mud-bogs and in winter were mostly deep frozen ruts sunk into the rural landscape.
State road near Mount Carroll, Illinois
 J.C. Burton, ”The Rock River Valley and Its Cities” (1913), in Paul M. Angle, ed. Prairie State: Impressions of Illinois, 1673-1967, by Travelers and Other Observers (Chicago, 1968), p. 455.
 Mary Jean Houde, Of the People: A Popular History of Kankakee County (Chicago, 1968), p. 300.
 James J. Flink, The Automobile Age (Cambridge, 1992), p. 137.
 Louis L. Emmerson, ed. Illinois Blue Book: 1917/18 (Springfield, 1917), p. 383.
©Kevin E. Hughes and http://www.msgt3227blog.wordpress.com, 1998 – 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin E. Hughes and msgt3227blog.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Note: I have decided that publishing the entirety of my thesis would exhaust/fill my storage capacity on my blog, so I have opened a dedicated site just for this history. It is located at: https://illinoishighwaypatrol.wordpress.com/.
3 thoughts on “The Origin of the Illinois State Highway Patrol – Excerpt”
I always enjoy reading somewhat random bits of history. Thanks. I really enjoyed the photos.
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Thanks Dan! I have a bunch of other cool photos that I rescued from destruction years ago that had been tucked behind a boiler in the old Armory building…