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.

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Rare Armspear Bangor Railway & Electric Co. Rr / Trolley Lantern & Red Globe NrNice 1910's Adams California Fruit Chewing Gum Trolley Sign Canada Tramway Pack Adlake Non Sweating Rare Chicago & Joliet Electric Railway Caboose Lantern1909 Oneida Railway Company (trolley) Public Timetable (cdl)1906 Pacific Electric Railway Magazine Los Angeles P.e. TopicsTrolley Guide 1907 Volume 1 Interurban Time Tables Ohio Michigan ToledoTug Tram Trolley ShuttleToledo Interurban Electric Railway Guide June 1 1907 Time Tables Railroad Ohio6 Antique Lamson Air Line Cash Trolley Wood Money Carrier Brass Pulley Wheel LotT45 Kodachrome Trolley Slide: Toronto Railway Co 1706 Beautifully Restored 1967Original Trolley Slide Szombathely Hungary 14-13 Scene;july 1967Indiana Interurban Railways Time TableThe Stark Electric Railroad Company Interurban Timetable Ett June 21, 1931 SerrT70 Kodachrome Trolley Slide: Toronto Pcc 4344 Carlton-yonge Night LightsVintage Original New York Subway Train Trolley Iron Handle Strap N394 Ss35mm Orig Slide Lvt Trolley #912 Front Street Fullerton Pa 1950T98 Germany Kodachrome Trolley Slide: Dortmund 430 Hauptbahnhof 1977Original Trolley Slide Szeged Hungary 12 Scene;july 1967Ohio-real Photo-delaware-1909-interurban Station-born's Beer SignOriginal Trolley Slide Fddm&s 82-72 Scene;;sept.1955 Gray Mount Slide1907 Trolley Tourist Birds Eye View Of Trolley Routes Brochure (cdl)Original Color Slide British Columbia Hydro Trolley Bus #2330 7/11/1973 Rt 25Original Trolley Slide Ccw 50 Scene;charles City;june 1955 Gray Mount SlideOriginal Trolley Slide Iowa Terminal 45t #45;charles City;august 1967Orig Kodachrome Slide: Baltimore Md Trolley Streetcar Scene In 1950sTennessee Williams Signature Check Signed On Occasion Of Streetcar Named DesireOriginal Trolley Slide Szeged Hungary 77 Line Car Scene;july 1967Toledo & Indiana Interurban Trolley Timetables Ptt April 1, 1928 T&iNorthern Ohio Power & Light Interurban Trolley Timetables Ptt Aug 15, 1929 Nop&lCleveland & Erie Interurban Trolley Timetables Ptt March 30, 1919 C&eTrolley Negative: Oakland Key System 951 Prw Btw Foothill Blvd & E 14th/1st AvLarge 4x5 Trolley Negative: Pacific Electric 5156 Single Track Prw In 1954T53 Kodachrome Trolley Slide: Toronto Pcc 4512 Bathurst Bridge Gardiner XpwySeneca,illinois,lasalle County,interurban Railroad Electric Trolley,streetcarOrig Red Border Slide: Wcfn Waterloo Cedar Falls Northern Trolley In 1953Red Cloud, Nebraska Royal Hotel Rppc Horse-drawn Street Car Trolley 1916 KoontzOriginal Lab-made Trolley Photo (1 Only): Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee 154Original Trolley Slide Illinois Terminal Itc Pcc 450;granite City;3/57 Gray Mt35mm Orig Slide Lvt Trolley #913 New Street Bridge Bethlehem Pa 1948Original Trolley Slide Lake Erie & Northern 955 Scene;pt.dover;7/48 Gray MountTrolley Negative: Boston Mta Type 4 Low Sign 5209 Lexington St Route Maverick SqOriginal Trolley Slide Crandic "comet" 111 Action;airport;may 1953 Gray MountPacific Electric Railway Company Employee Timetable 1 1960 Los AngelesColor Trolley Negative: New York Tars 378 Route 3 Yonkers Division In 1947Trolley Negative: Pittsburgh Railways 5546 Lanark Nr Denham Route 21 FineviewKey System Transit Lines Streetcar No. 271 In 1957 NegativeC1939 Milwaukee Electric Railway & Transport Company Transit Guide/map (cdl)Northwestern Pacific Railroad Co. Time-table 60 - Interurban Trains, Jan 1, 1940Trolley Negative: Philadelphia Ptc Pcc 2173 Route 5 -3rd St Nb At Vernon StT51 Kodachrome Trolley Slide: Toronto Pcc 4561 Mt Pleasant Dominion Coal SilosT80 Kodachrome Trolley Slide Toronto Ttc Pcc 4688 Queen Wb At Wineva, Stormy SkyT16 Kodachrome Trolley Slide: Toronto Pcc 4647 Dundas Wb At DovercourtTrolley Negative: Baltimore 7329 Guilford Av Elevated Route 8 Govanstown 1949T82 Kodachrome Trolley Slide: Toronto Pccs Hillcrest Storage + Gcl & Ttc BusesOriginal Lab-made Trolley Photo (1 Only): Chicago Cta Pcc 7188 Twin Coach 8102Original Trolley Slide P&w Weed Sprayer 406;72nd St;december 1958Annisquam, Ma Old Postcard Over The Bridge From The Trolley / On Cape AnnOrig Neg Androscoggin & Kennebec "trolley Hopper" 652 @ Bath Original 2 ½ X 4Trolley Negative: New York Tars 600 B&o Motor Coach Stn Huge Coca Cola Sign 1940Trolley Negative: Oakland Key System 914 On East 14th St Route 1 In 1948