In 1832, New York City implemented the first urban streetcar system, which consisted of horses pulling public carriages along designated tracks. Other cities quickly followed suit. The combination of horses and rail technology was adopted because steel or iron tracks limited friction, allowing horse-drawn streetcars to carry a greater number of passengers in all types of weather than streetcars whose wheels had to roll through the mud during much of the year. As with locomotive transit that followed, this early form of urban-trolley service produced a variety of now-collectible ephemera, from timetables and maps to tickets and tokens.

The first machine-powered light-rail systems relied on underground cables to pull vehicles along city streets. Perhaps the world’s most iconic trolleys are the cable cars of San Francisco, which were installed in 1873 to carry travelers up the city’s steep hills. Before electricity was widespread, cable cars were powered from a central facility that used a large steam engine to keep the system’s cables continuously moving. A cable car gripman would latch the trolley onto the cable to set it in motion, and then detach the car to brake it.

By the late 1880s, electric generators had improved enough to power streetcar lines without the use of cables or horses; in 1888, the first electric railway debuted in Richmond, Virginia. Soon cities across the country replaced their horse-drawn systems with electric trolleys, so nicknamed for the “trawlers” used to connect cars to their electrical power sources.

These new railways spurred major suburban growth, altering the landscape of American cities. Interurban lines were designated to run between these closely spaced communities, further separating the residential and commercial spheres by allowing commuters to live farther from work. Streetcars quickly became an integral part of modern life, often appearing in photographs and postcards of cityscapes during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In 1929, the Presidents’ Conference Committee (PCC) was created to investigate issues of urban transportation, eventually developing the improved PCC car. Many PCC streetcars are still in use by rail companies today, as its upgraded design allowed vehicles to brake and accelerate more quickly, while also offering passengers a smoother ride.

With the spread of automobiles during the '20s and '30s, streetcar lines were viewed by many municipalities as a hindrance to drivers. National City Lines, a covert venture initiated by General Motors, Firestone Tires, and Standard Oil, explicitly lobbied cities to halt rail service and simultaneously purchased smaller rail systems to dismantle their tramways. The company was ultimately taken to court and found guilty of a conspiracy to eliminate the U.S. streetcar system, but by the time of the verdict in 1949, most of America’s light-rail infrastructure had already been destroyed.

In addition to objects directly connected with light-rail service, from operator hats and badges to streetcar parts and signs, collectors also gravitate to the many miniature trams created by toy companies such as Bing, Corgi, Märklin, and Marx. And major brands like Campbell’s Soup and Pepsi also produced a variety of streetcar-shaped toys to advertise their products.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Market Street Railway

Market Street Railway

This website is the virtual companion to the entirely functional, outdoor museum of vintage streetcars serving ride… [read review or visit site]

Railroadiana Online

Railroadiana Online

If you've ever wondered how to tell real from fake railroad china, or how brass baggage tags originated, this extre… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Brass Trolley,ho Brass Import Train Car,orion Model TrolleyOriginal Slide - Illinois Terminal It 301 Trolley Electric Action At Subway 1954Original Slide - Montreal & Southern Counties M&sc 607 Trolley Electric 1951Graphic 1878 Horse Drawn Trolley Street Car Safety Wanamaker & Brown Trade CardOriginal Slide - Pacific Electric Pe 313 Trolley Electric Bellflower Depot 1958Original Negative Trolley 920 Connecticut 1937 Savin Rock Park West HavenOriginal Slide - Illinois Terminal It 285 Trolley Electric Monticello Depot 195554mm Lead Gas Lamp + Railway Porter + Trolley + Churns + Trunk BritainsTin Tobacco Tag Tags Carhartt's Trolley Car Very RareOriginal Slide - Dc Transit Dct Ctc 1139 Pcc Trolley War Bonds Paint 1954 RbkCirca 1931 Union Traction Co Interurban Indiana Map Vellum Blueprint RailroadOriginal Slide, Italy Genoa Tram Trolley #1662, In 1954Original Slide, Toronto Ttc Pcc Trolley #4410, 1960sOriginal Slide, Pittsburgh Pcc Trolley #1758, In 1971Original Slide - Pacific Electric Pe 1530 Trolley Electric Wayside Press 19611925 Cincinnati & Dayton Traction Co Ohio Interurban Electric Railway TimetableOriginal Slide - Slps St. Louis 1629 Pcc Trolley St. Louis Post Dispatch Aug 62Original Slide, San Francisco Muni Trolley #148, In 1952Snowman Family In Trolley W/ Reindeer ~ Christmas Ornament ~ Vtg Card ImgOriginal Negative Trolley Lvt 1021 Lehigh Valley Transit Norristown 1940's Scene19thc Streetcar Design Celluloid Labor Union Pin W Freedom MessageOriginal Slide, Japan Tokyo Tram Trolley #6231 & Trailer Bus Scene, Early 1950sOriginal Slide - Lehigh Valley Transit Lvt 417 Trolley Electric Scene 1950s RbkOriginal Slide - Sfmr San Francisco 178 Trolley Electric & Storm Light 1958 RbkPublic Service Company Of Indiana Traction Interurban Vellum Blueprint RailroadNorth Texas Traction Co., Traction News, Feb. 1929, Fort Worth Trolley MagazineUneeda Biscuit Early National Biscuit Co Nabisco Trolley Car Sign Toilers RoughPuget Sound Electric Traction Interurban Vellum Blueprint RailroadOriginal Negative Nops 933 New Orleans Trolley 1949Original Negative Nops 952 New Orleans Trolley 1953 Street SceneManchester,new Hampshire-elm Street Looking South-trolley-1912 Real Photo 5jh13Original Trolley Slide Timisoara Romania 224-47 Scene;july 1969Original Trolley Slide Wien/vienna Austria 556-1803-1801 Scene;july 1979Original Trolley Slide Crandic Frt.motor 55 ;cedar Rapids;9/53 Gray Mount SlideOriginal Trolley Slide Timisoara Romania 178-60 Scene;july 1969Cottage City Maryland Md Sheriff Police Patch Old Railroad Trolley Car1959 Johnstown Standard Trolley 357 With Pcc Original Kodachrome SlideVintage Photo Album Electric Train Trolley Street Car Lot Of 190+ Images ChicagoVintage 54mm Lead Railway Porters + Trolley + Britains John HillImages Of Rail (images Of America). Group Of 12 Streetcar / Train Photo Books.Original Slide, Atlantic City Trolley #208, Early 1950sOriginal Slide, Scranton Transit Co. Trolley #510, In 1954Original Slide, Philadelphia Ptc Pcc Trolley & Northeast Diner Scene, 1958Original Trolley Slide Fddm&s 82-66-72 Scene;;9/54 Gray Mount SlideOriginal Trolley Slide Wcf&n 381;cf Line;june 1956 Gray Mount SlideVtg Los Angeles Transit Lines Employee Pinback Button Trolley Bus Street Car C1910 Postcard Railroad Streetcar, Electric Park, Hoquiam, Wa WashingtonOriginal Slide, Atlantic City Trolley #6887, Early 1950sBritish Columbia Electric Railway Time Table #72 1946 New Westminster ChilliwackBritish Columbia Electric Railway 1951 Time Table 75 New Westminster-vancouver1930 Interurban Traction Blueprint Atlas Locomotive Location Indiana RailroadIquique,chile,south America,calle Baquedano,horse Drawn Trolley,c.1909Original Slide, Scranton Transit Co. Trolley #507, Early 1950sTrolley Car Advertising Football Game At Wolf Lake Chambersburg Pa 1906Orig Kodachrome Slide: Seattle Trolley BusOriginal Slide, Philadelphia Red Arrow Lines Pstc Trolley #81, Late 1950sOriginal Slide, Toronto Ttc Trolley Bus #9213 On Flat Car, C. 1970Original Slide, Pittsburgh Pcc Trolley #1782 Interior, 1974Original Slide, Pittsburgh Pcc Trolley #1761, In 1971Original Slide, Italy Livorno Bus & Trolley Bus, Early 1950s