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    

Antique Railroad Switch Stand Lamp - Track Signal Lantern - Trolley / ElevatedAntique Trolley Fare Coin Box - Main Fare Box & Supply CoO Gauge Tram O Scale Streetcar London Transport '33' Needs Motorized Trucks Occupational Shaving Mug: Electric Trolley Car "john Schofield"Early Cardboard Nabisco Uneeda Bisquit Trolley Sign Peanut SandwichPery Pacific Electric Railway Freight Brakeman Cap Badge Lower Res!Antique Brass Sfc Co Streetcar Raiway Trolley Pull Chain Stop Bell Wall MountVintage Kibri 9561 Model Railways Oo Ho Packet Of Platform Trolley 21871910 Gillespie Il Rppc: Electric Interurban Near Livery & Sale StableAntique Railroad Train Trolley Electric Rail Car Brake Handle Brass W Wood T01Original Slide Trolley Bus Nops 1204 New Orleans Kodachrome 1964Old Photograph Volk's Electric Railway Brighton Sussex Vintage C.1905Antique Railroad Train Trolley Rail Electric Cars Reverser Handle T09Early Framed Rockland, Abington & Brockton (ma) Trolley/street Railway PhotoEvansville & Ohio Valley Ry Interurban Public Timetable Ptt July 7 1930 E&ovCedar Rapids & Iowa City Interurban Coach #119 Original Neg Crandic Ex- C&leOriginal Slide Trolley Bus Nops 1178 New Orleans Kodachrome 1964Trolley Conductors Crosstown, Michigan Antique Real Photograph Postcard CablecarOriginal Slide, 1950s San Francisco Street Scene, Muni Trolley Bus #663 Diller'sRock Island Southern Ry Interurban Public Timetable Ptt December 1, 1923 RisT.m.e.r.&l. Co. Trolley #466 In Milwaukee Wi - Original Vintage Photo - 19061897 Los Angeles Railway Rules And Regulations For Conductors Streetcar BookEarly 1900s Lake Wichita Falls Texas Trolley Colonnade Hotel Vintage PostcardOriginal 1930 Pacific Electric Railway & Transit System Map So Ca 25" X 17" T10Springfield Center,ohio-main Street-interurban-real Photo-akron-massillon 3jh74Original Kodachrome Slide Dc Transit Pcc Trolley 1556 Glen Echo Park 1950's #3San Francisco Municipal Railway Trolley Bus/streetcar Scene NegativeOriginal Kodachrome Slide Dc Transit Pcc Trolley 1539 Glen Echo Park 1950's #2Postcard Hershey Pa 1911 Era Hershey Park Miniature Trolley Exc ~1910 Real Photo Postcard, Illinois Traction Trolley Tram & People Close35mm Orig Slide Mwp Trolley #115 Viscose Line Parkersburg West Virginia 1942Karl Strauss Beer Tap Handle. Red Trolley AleNops New Orleans Public Trolley 35mm-[ Slide #265]-1970 Ymca Circle Vintage Wmspt And North Branch (pa) Trolley Photo Card By Ripple BrothersAntique Vintage Rail Ephemera Train Tramway Tickets Municipal Tramway Large LotOriginal Lab-made Trolley Photo: Vancouver Bcer 1215+1205 Granville Bridge 1949Stratford Conn Ct Vintage Postcard Main Street Looking North With Trolley Tracks35mm Orig Slide Ptc Trolley Snow Sweeper #130 In Action Philadelphia Pa 1964Original Slide Trolley Ttc S-36 Toronto Transit 1967 Original Slide Sfmr Muni Trolley Cable Car 7 Kodachrome 1974 San FranciscoOriginal Slide Trolley Bus Muni 763 San Francisco Kodachrome 1972Original Kodachrome Slide O&cb Omaha Neb Pcc Trolley & Bus 1950'sOriginal Kodachrome Slide Dc Transit Pcc Trolley 1564 Glen Echo 1950's #1Orig. Traction/trolley Slide Mbta (boston) 3300Shanghai, China, Nanking Road, Trolley, Cars, People, Real Photo Pc, C. 1930s35mm Orig Slide Lvt Trolley #954 Hamilton St. Btw Lv & Cnj Stations Allentown PaEarly Udb Rppc Fleetwood, Pa (berks County) Trolley On Main Street1909 Rppc Clearing Ttc Streetcar Tracks & Watt Feed Co & Gtr Car Toronto OntarioEarly 1900 Postcard Of The Interurban Station In Plainfield IndStreetcar Transfers (8) Birmingham Electric Co., Birmingham, Al - 1930's-40'sNops New Orleans Public Trolley 35mm-[ Slide #267]-1970 Canal St. Scene Vintage Postcard Franklin Street Looking South Tampa Florida 1913 Trolley, BuggyOriginal Slide Bus 650 Mtc Montreal Trolley Kodachrome 1959 Original Slide Trolley Ttc 4683 Toronto Transit 1967 KingstonPhiladelphia Rapid Transit (prt) - Streetcar / Old York Road Line - 1920 ArticleChicago Aurora & Elgin Trolley # 453 Vintage Black & White PhotoOriginal Kodachrome Slide Ptc Trolley #8349 5th & Market St Philadelphia 1950'sYakima Valley Transportation Brill Master Unit Streetcar #20 Orig Negative Yvt1947 Black And White Photo Trolley Bloomington Illinois (430)Trolley Streetcar On Broadway Hanover York County Pa Pennsylvania