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Chicago Building Permits Digital Collection 1872-1954

Browse Building Permits

Chicago Building Permit Collection 1872-1954: Introduction

This digital collection contains building permits issued in Chicago between 1872 and 1954. To use the collection, you must know the address of the structure you're looking for. The collection consists of 95 ledger books that were microfilmed and then digitized for online use, along with a card catalog index to the ledgers by address. This guide will show you step-by-step how to navigate the digital collection which includes:

  • The Chicago Building Permit Street Index
  • The Chicago Building Permit Ledgers
  • City of Chicago Fire Reports
  • Building Construction Data

You will find information about:

  • Navigating tips on using the online collection
  • Supplementary information about the collection
  • Related resources for additional information

Important to Know!

  • Please do not use the search tools in the interface for this collection. This collection is handwritten and is not searchable. 
  • In many cases the permits cite other documents or information that we do not have access to, such as plan or file numbers. This collection does not include plans or blueprints of historic homes. 
  • The Digital Reel system allows 9 concurrent users for this collection.  It is possible that your session could be interrupted, so we recommend taking notes and/or saving screens as you go.
  • You will have to use the image Enhance, Adjust, Zoom and Scissors (clipping) tools to read the permits more clearly. All images display in low resolution mode first, to make navigation faster. Images may not be legible until you use the image tools to improve them.

Common Terms Used in this Guide

Digital Reel 

The web platform used to deliver the collection. Digital Reel mimics a traditional microfilm reader, providing scroll and zoom options through digitized microfilm reels. You will use the digital version of this collection in almost the same way as microfilm.

Street Index Card

The street index card card indicates if there is a permit for your address and when it was issued. These cards may also report minor alterations or repairs to a property.


A ledger books are where the permits themselves are recorded.

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