“Where are the rest of the city directories?” is a question heard frequently at the reference desk. Although the Newberry has a complete collection of Chicago City Directories, there are no directories in the microfilm drawer (or online) for 1918-1922 or from 1924-1928.
The absence of these directories is explained in the introduction to Polk’s Chicago Directory for 1923. This directory was “The first chicago City Directory published by R. L. Polk and Company. It is the 71st edition of the directory and the first issued since 1917.” A headline in the June 10, 1923 Chicago Tribune (p.3) read “City Population Is 2,935,887 By New Directory: Book, First Out Since 1917, Shows Growth.”
From 1887 until 1917, the directory had been published under the management of Reuben H. Donnelley. Following the publication of the 1917 edition, Donnelley found it necessary to use the directory staff in other capacities. Staffing issues along with other issues arising from World War I caused Donnelly to cease publication of the directory. He ultimately induced R.L. Polk & Company to resume the annual publication. Polk had been publishing directories in other locals since 1871.
Another gap followed the publication of the 1923 directory and the next directory was not issued until 1928. A December 2, 1928 Chicago Tribune article announced the “..first city directory issued in five years,” again by R.L. Polk & Co. This was a two volume publication, with the first being “all that a good directory should be, offering cursory information as names, addresses and occupations, together with a classified business directory.”
The second volume was alphabetically arranged by street (now refered to as a “criss-cross” directory) and provided the names of householders or businesses at each address. It also provides details as to home ownership, wife’s name and business connections. This second volume is available on the Chicago History Museum’s website.
Although Polk directories for other cities continue to be published, this was to be the last of the Chicago city directories. Following 1928/29, telephone books (which started in 1878) are the primary alternative available to researchers. The Newberry City Directory Guide lists the library’s holdings for both city directories and telephone books.
Additional criss-cross directories were also published. The Newberry holds the 1953 and 1955 editions. The Chicago History Museum holds editions from 1928, 1950, 1952, 1953 and 1978 to the present.