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    

Vintage Boston Elevated Railway Center Entrance Trolley Roll SignBrass Ceiling Fixture - Chicago South Shore & South Bend Interurban Coach Css&sbOh Ohio West Milton Street Car Train Trolley Office Barns Miami County Postcard1912 Photo Postcard Of Trolley On Bridge In Circleville OhioMaine South Berwick Junction Railway Trolley Cars Inc. "old 16” Rppc 1907Sacramento Northern Ry # 670, Steeple Cab Trolley Loco Dup 35mm Color SlideOriginal Slide - Illinois Terminal It 471 Trolley Electric Terminal Scene Gc 50sOriginal Slide : Germany - Moselbahn Railway Interurban Car @ Trier In 19631946 Photos Of Trolley's Last Run Hershey Pa 16 Original Photos News Article Etc'heijo' - Pyongyang North Korea C.1930 - Trolley-tram On 'yamatomachi' StreetJapan Yokohama - Onoyecho-dori Tram Tramway Old Unused Postcard1930’s Lewistown Reedsville Pa. Railroad Trolley PhotoMoose Jaw Electric Railway Co Uniform Cuff Button 1911-1932 Saskatchewan CanadaDupe Traction/trolley Slide Mta (boston) 5159 SweeperDept 56 Snow Village Streetcar 5240-0 - Parts Or Restoration Original Slide : Germany - Trolley Car On Incline Railway @ Stuttgart In 1957Rppc - San Antonio, Tx - West End Alamo Heights Trolley Car - Early 1900s1900 Scarce Winchester Avenue Street Railroad Book New Haven Ct Streetcar Illus.Ohio Brass Insulator Mansfield Oh Transit Catalog Trolley Equip Street Car 1948Wsa9433 U&u 29 Horse Trolley In Galata’s Crooked Streets Constantinople Turkey DBrooklyn Bus & Trolley Coach History New York City Transit Authority NyctaNov 1922 Union Traction Company Of Indiana Interurban TimetableOrig. Traction/trolley Slide Mta (boston) 6108+Fj&g Fonda Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad Trolley Ny New York Photograph 1San Francisco Trolley Slide: Muni 1117 Laying On It's Side (original)7-ea Illinois Traction Terminal System Railroad Chicago Valley Interurban JolietToronto Trolley Slide: Ttc Lrv 4005 1st Day With Gm New Look Bus (1979 Original)Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee Trolley Slide: Cns&m Electroliner (duplicate)Interurban Special No. 14 - Electric Railways Of Minneapolis & St Paul - 1953Vintage Metal Conductor Trolley Or Train Ticket Punch- L-hole Punches-heavy DutyFj&g Fonda Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad Baggage Car Trolley Ny Photograph 4Toronto Trolley Slide: Ttc Pcc 4496 & 4525 Awaiting Scrap (1988 Original)1909 Dillsburg & Mechanicsburg Pa. Williams Grove Trolley PhotoFj&g Fonda Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad Sand Car Trolley Ny Photograph 6Fj&g Fonda Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad Trolley At Fonda Ny Photograph 92 1919 Coney Island And Brooklyn Railroad Ci&brr Transfer Tickets Trolley #22771910 Hershey Transit Co. Campbelltown Pa. Trolley Car #4 PhotoChicago Trolley Bus Slide: Cta 9698 Marmon-herrington Route 12 (duplicate)San Francisco Trolley Bus Slide: Muni #776 Marmon-herrington (1976 Original)Toronto Trolley Bus Slide: Ttc Flyers Lansdowne Ready Line (1976 Original)Orig. Traction/trolley Slide Septa (philadelphia) 2275 / 2254 Car House SceneDupe Traction/trolley Slide Ttc (toronto) S35 SweeperPacific Electric Railway,southern District Timetable Bulletin No 401, 04-14-1954San Francisco Muni Original Color Trolley Slide Of Ex Toronto Ttc Pcc Car 11831909 Postcard Interurban Line North Texas Traction Co Between Fort Worth DallasVintage Photograph - Los Angeles Railway Trolley Car #189 Early 1900s TractionNew Haven Railroad - Berkshire Street Railway (streetcar) - 1913 Article (x2)Vintage Photograph - Los Angeles Railway Trolley Car 9000 Early 1900s TractionToronto Trolley Slide: Ttc Pcc 4548 Awaiting Scrap (1988 Original)Fj&g Fonda Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad Trolley At Car Shop Ny Photograph 7Fj&g Fonda Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad Trolley At Fonda Ny Photograph 10Undated Indianapolis & Southeastern Interurban TimetableOriginal Negative Trolley 503 Montreal & Southern Counties Freight 1948Original Negative Trolley 620 Niagara St. Catherines & Toronto 19591911 Chicago Harvard Geneva Lake Rwy Interurban Trolley Il Wi Walworth Reprint Conneaut,ohio-high Level Bridge-1917-interurban Railroad-trolley Jh86Pacific Electric Ry Interurban Emp Time Table 84, Long Beach Line, 04-19-1954Fort William (now Thunder Bay) Trolley Bus Slide: Fwt #44 Brill (1969 Original)New Zealand Dunedin Octagon With Tramcar Used 1910..35mm Dupe Slide Speedrail Trolley #63 Milwaukee Wisconsin 1950