Chicago Washburne Technical HS

Washburne Technical High School
A large brick building

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             The History of Chicago Washburne Technical High School

Chicago (population approximately 2,800,000) is situated in the far northeastern portion of Illinois in the heart of Cook County. Highways leading to and from Chicago include I-55, I-57, I-88, I-90, and I-94. Several railways also take you into the nation’s third largest city. Lake Michigan serves as Chicago’s eastern border and was vital (and still is today) to Chicago’s early growth and economy.

The area in which Chicago is located was first settled in the very early 1800’s. The mouth of the Chicago River at Lake Michigan served as an important waterway from the east to the west. The town was organized in 1832 and chartered as a city in 1837. Chicago’s population that year was 4,180.

By the late 1800’s, Chicago was a boom town, the population increasing at a rapid rate. Along with this boom came the need for education. Residents saw to it that their children were given many opportunities. Along with the growth of public schools came the establishment of technical schools that could teach a trade to a student that was looking to enter the workforce rather than go off to college. One of those schools was Washburne Technical.

Washburne Technical High School was opened in 1919 on West 14th Street near Union as a continuation of education for the grade school that had been there since 1887. The school was named for Elihu Washburne, a former US Congressman from Galena that also was Secretary of State under President Ulysses S. Grant (another former Galena resident).

In the beginning, the school offered carpentry and electrical engineering, but with the backing of various labor unions, Washburne was able to expand its offerings and eventually became the school for vocational education citywide.

As the school’s catalog for vocational offerings grew, it eventually moved to Division & Sedgwick on the Near North Side in 1934 and then again in 1958 to a two-block area in the Little Village neighborhood into the former Liquid Carbonic plant at 31st and Kedzie. The building had been built for drugstore owner Jacob Baur, who discovered a way to put carbonic gas into soft drinks and led the invention of the soda fountain. Baur’s company occupied the building in 1910 as it was designed by Nimmons and Fellows, an architectual firm that was renowned for its work on the original Sears Tower at Arthington and Homan in Chicago.

Washburne Tech’s demise is believed to be tied to desegregation of the student body in the mid to late-1960’s. Prior to that point, the students were primarily Caucasian with 17 unions involved at the school. But afterwards, the number of unions dropped to eight by 1978, and eventually just two remained at the time of the school’s closure in 1993.

However, the City Colleges of Chicago revived Washburne a year later but it did not stay at the former Liquid Carbonic plant long because only the culinary program was moved to Kennedy-King College in 1996 and from there, it relocated to the South Shore Cultural Center after the turn of the 21st Century, where it remains today.

The building on 31st and Kedzie remained vacent after the school left in 1996 and was preyed upon by vandals as weeds and graffiti increased, and a fire in February 2009 helped push for demolition of the school, which was finally completed in October 2009.

Another shot of the Washburne campus
A picture containing grass, outdoor, field, grassy

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Year opened as grade school:   1887

Year reopened as high school:  1919

Year closed:                               1993

School colors:                             unknown

School nickname:                       unknown

School song:                               unknown


We have been told that Washburne Technical did offer athletics, but uncertain as to what other extra-curricular activities because its’ student body was made up of those who preparing for entering the working world within a short time. More information would gladly be appreciated from someone who may have attended the school at the addresses below.

A former student informed the Glory Days site and stated that the school did offer boys’ basketball while he was enrolled at Washburne from 1954-58, and that singer Jerry Butler was also attending the school at the same time.


Jerry Butler—Started out as a gospel singer, then crossed over to rhythm and blues with the Impressions as its lead singer. Butler wrote the song “For Your Precious Love,” which landed the group a recording contract with Vee-Jay Records in 1958.

He also had a recording career as a solo act, with hits such as “He Will Break Your Heart,” “Only the Strong Survive,” “Let It Be Me (duet with Betty Everett),” and “Moon River.” Butler (also known as “The Iceman”) was been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 as a member of the Impressions, and was a politician on the Cook County Board of Commissioners before he retired in 2018.


from Bill Siniscalchi:

“My dad taught electrical “engineering” at the old Washburne on Sedgwick, starting around 1943, and later became Director of the night school there. After the move to 31st and Kedzie, he became assistant director to the school.

“The ultimate demise of the school was the desegregation of the CPS, starting in the late 60s. Washburne, (which was) being funded by the trade unions primarily, was 95% white (or Caucasian). The Feds required desegregation; the unions wanted no part of that, and ultimately moved their training facilities along with their apprentices, outside of the city in the 70s. The union apprentices were all high school graduates from the 50s.”


If you have more information & details about Washburne Technical High School, then please contact us at or by mail at:

Illinois High School Glory Days

6439 North Neva

Chicago, IL  60631

Overhead view of Washburne campus
An aerial view of a city

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