World’s Biggest High School (9-17-1934)

Chicago posted another superlative today, when the new Lane Tech was dedicated.  The city now had the biggest high school in the world.

Named after a pioneer Chicago educator, Albert G. Lane Manual Training School opened at Division and Sedgwick in 1908.  The school offered vocational education in fields such as carpentry, foundry, printing, and electrical work.  All the students were male.

The original Lane Tech

Other courses were added over the years, and the school became Lane Technical High School.  By 1930 enrollment had grown to 7,000, with students going to class in shifts.  The search began for a new site for a bigger Lane.

Over at Addison and Western, the Mid City Golf Club was having financial problems.  The economy was getting sluggish—this was the beginning of the Great Depression—so the course sold off part of its land to the Board of Education.  In the summer of 1930, ground was broken for the new school.

Four years and $6.5 million later, it was finished.  At 10 in the morning on dedication day, 6,000 Lane students assembled at Wrigley Field.  They were handed small American flags, then began walking down the middle of Addison Street toward the school, two miles away.

The new Lane Tech

They laughed and shouted and waved at the people watching from the sidewalk.  Along with them, in marching order, came squads of ROTC cadets and bands from seven high schools.  They passed the reviewing stand at Western Avenue and moved into the school stadium.  About 10,000 additional spectators were on hand.

At the formal dedication, the various educators gave uplifting orations on the value of learning.  The Lane students saved the most applause for Mayor Edward J. Kelly.  “You fellows have to swim upstream from now on,” he told them.  “But I’m looking at you and seeing real men.  If any of you gets in trouble and you come to me—and you’re on the square—I’ll help you.”

Mayor Kelly

The ceremonies ended, and the students dispersed.  The Mayor and the other dignitaries adjourned to the school cafeteria for a luncheon of macaroni and cheese.

The original Lane became Cooley High School, and was eventually torn down.  Though it is no longer the world’s largest high school—and no longer all male—the 1934-vintage Lane still operates at Addison and Western.


8 Responses to “World’s Biggest High School (9-17-1934)”

  1. 1 Andy Polizzi September 17, 2020 at 11:36 am

    My dad went to “old” Lane Tech, becoming the first member of our family to both go to high school and graduate from high school (1929). I still have his 1929 senior year yearbook. His family lived at 920 Sedgwick so I can visualize him walking the three blocks up to Division Street to go to school.

    I had many friends (and a future brother-in-law) growing up who went to Lane. There was much lamenting the loss of the boy cheerleaders sometime in the late ’60s or early ’70s. 🙂 My high school (St. Pat’s) for several years played Lane to kick off the prep football season. A couple of the games ended in ties as two all-male cheering sections rattled the old stadium to its core.

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt September 17, 2020 at 12:00 pm

      Thanks for writing. My dad was in the first class at the “new” Lane Tech, but had to drop out after sophomore year and get a job during the Depression.

  2. 3 Casey Tee September 17, 2020 at 1:55 pm

    Hmmmm…..censorship is alive and well here it seems…

    • 4 J.R. Schmidt September 17, 2020 at 2:19 pm

      Hi Casey—

      The last class I taught was at Roosevelt University in 2008. This was during the Obama-McCain campaign. Some of the students kept asking me to comment on the campaign. I said that I wouldn’t do it. My job was to teach U.S. History, and not to talk about current events—unlike other faculty members. One of the students said that she couldn’t figure out whom I voted for. I said to her, “That’s the idea.”

      The students seemed to appreciate this stance. After our last session, the class stood up and applauded me. This was very touching. It convinced me that I had handled those matters in the best way.

      That said, I’m not going to get into a discussion here about whether or not it was right for Lane to admit women. This blog is basically for entertainment. I hope you understand that’s the reason I’m pulling your previous comments.



  3. 5 Garry September 18, 2020 at 6:22 am

    I spent two years at that four letter word at Addison & Western. Two wasted years of my life, other than the wonderful woodshop run by Robert Burns in Room 157. If every teacher in that hellhole was like him, it would have been a decent school.
    It was all boys then 1963-65 when I was there.
    The majority of teachers were burnouts, my two counselors were a couple of old maids that hated all of us. When I was out for a month due to surgery, my mom went there to tell them, as CPS phone numbers were a secret then from the public. So when I went in to the counselor’s office to return, the first words out of that bitch’s mouth were “What did you do now”!
    I actually wrote, but never sent a letter to Khrushchev, asking him to make Addison & Western ground zero for Chicago if there was a nuclear war.
    That’s how much I hated the place.

  4. 6 Garry September 18, 2020 at 6:36 am

    To add some more.
    I had foundry the second year. Foundry was split into three phases, two weeks in the actual foundry, two weeks in the finishing shop & one week in foundry theory.
    The foundry I was in was run by a martinet, named Fred Dix. He was a monster who had a can of Goldwasser made specifically for the Goldwater campaign & its label was “AU H20”. He would hit guys on the ass with a shovel if he didn’t like what they were doing. Once he had an aluminum pour right at the bell ending the class. So the castings were to hot to handle, so some of us took a pliers & ran it under cold water to cool it off. He went ballistic & smashed some of the casting, claiming that they were ruined by that. They were just the image of the indian that was the school’s mascot. When he died, the Trib had a glowing obit for him, which disgusting to read.

    The theory room was a huge L shaped room with about 30+ chairs & the teacher, named Sutherland had written on a dozen blackboards, the theory of foundry. We were instructed to copy & write that all down in a book we had to buy, the one with a black & white spattered cover. Nothing was ever discussed about this, Sutherland, who wore a suit with a bow tie, demanded absolute silence. Then on Fridays, we got to see a couple of industrial films, that had nothing to do with foundry.
    At the end of the year, in June, I went to the alley & our big steel garbage can & burned that book!

    The finishing shop’s teacher was a really nice man, Mr Roland. He actually liked us & let us work on finishing off our Indian heads. He was a lot like Mr Burns from woodshop.

    Then there was electrical shop, with another martinet, Lester Pertle Jr., Lt. Colonel, US Marine Reserve. He went on constantly that we wouldn’t be able to get away with anything if we we in the Marines. We were 14-15 years old.

    I was so happy to get out of that lunatic asylum!

  5. 7 Bob Hendricks September 18, 2020 at 8:14 pm

    I got the impression that many or most of the students were second and third generation German descent American kids, pulling from the nearby areas in the 30-‘s-60’s. Would you agree?

  6. 8 Garry September 19, 2020 at 5:14 am

    The school’s boundary was North Ave. north & west to the city limits, so it drew all sorts from there.
    But when I went there was when Pierre DeVise first came out with his racial breakdowns per school & it said there were 300 black students there.
    I never saw more than a dozen in the halls & only had two in one history class & they were on some athletic team. When I snuck into a football game at the stadium next to the school, I was truly shocked as the majority of the team was black, but never saw any of them in school. I’m sure they were ringers brought in from another school on the west side.
    Several years after I went, the new principal, Donald Racky, was suspended by the board for changing the grades of players on the sports teams to make them eligible for play.

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