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    

Lgb 'g' Gauge 20th Anniversary 2 Car Trolley Tram Set 1968-1988 Boxed #742St Petersburg Tram 1943 Twin Coach Model 44 Trolley Bus Model 1 Of 50 Coa In BoxTrolley-train Hat Cap Badge Motorman Fonda Johnstown & Gloversville RailroadTrolley-train Hat Cap Badge Conductor Fonda Johnstown & Gloversville RailroadAntique Cast Iron Trolley Still BankOriginal Slide Trolley Cns&m Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee 1962 Edison Court1940 Gum, Inc. Superman The Runaway Trolley Car #65 Psa 2 Gd (pwcc)F.e.myers &brothers Trolley Pulley H254,cast Iron,antique/vintage,farmBrill Trolley Coach Ad Honolulu Rapid Transit CompanyOriginal Slide Trolley Cns&m Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee 1962 Night SceneCia. Del. F. Yt. (veracruz, Mexico) Conductor Cap Badge #23, Traction, Trolley 1920 Blossom Trolley Trip Brochure Peninsular Railway Santa Clara California RlyOriginal Slide Trolley Cns&m 802 Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee 1961Original Slide Trolley Cns&m 744 Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee 1962Original Slide Trolley Cns&m Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee 1964 Cta Johnson Fare Box Vintage Trolley Fare Meter Bus Train Subway Street Car Pat.19146/23/33 Trolley Lace Diner 23rd St 11th Ave Manhattan Nyc Old Photo Negative 42a1908 Used Rppc Of Ne Corner 55th St. & Madison, Chicago,stores,carts,streetcarAmerican Car & Foundry Co. Interurban Blueprint Railroad Indiana Electric # 1Original Slide - Prco Pittsburgh 1675 Pcc Trolley & Motorman 4-loop Feb 1957 RbkOriginal Negative Trolley B&qt Brooklyn Queens Transit Fresh Pond Ridgewood BmtVintage Postcard Camden Nj Railroad Trolley Station Train Railway DepotSan Francisco Municipal Railway Original B&w Trolley Negative Pcc 1001 In 1949Pacific Electric 1100 Series Interurban Blueprint Original Slide Trolley Bus 9059 Ttc Toronto Transit Kodachrome 1971Vineyard Haven Massachusetts Bridge Trolley Antique Postcard K32826#5 American Car & Foundry Co. Interurban Blueprint Railroad Indiana Electric B2/ Key West Florida Fl Postcard C1910 Duval St Trolley Beehive Department StoreOld Vintage Brass So. California Edison Co.marker Or Trolley Foot Pedal?Old Antique Conductor Bell #5 A Paris France Railroad Train Trolley Carriage Rppc Vintage Photo Postcard Snow Storm Railroad Train Trolley RailwayRare Postcard: "the New Trolley And Third Rail, Newfield, Nj" Real Photo 190661 Different Street & Electric Railway Employees Union PinsRppc Vintage Photo Postcard Snow Removal Railroad Train Trolley RailwayToledo & Port Clinton Ohio Interurban Railway Car - Unmailed C.1910Original Slide Trolley Cns&m 776 Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee 1961 SkokiePost Card Thomaston - Waterbury, Ct Electric Railroad Trolley C-1918 F63679Original Slide - Pacific Electric Pe 403 423 Trolley Electric Scene June 1957 RbArkansas Valley Interurban: The Electric Way, CollinsPhb&nc Trolley Trackage Bridge Between Pittsburgh & New Castle Pa Harmony Line35mm Orig Slide Pstc/phila & West Chester Traction Co Trolley #73 In 1973Chicago Il Store Fronts Street View Trolley Lincoln Ave. M L Photo Rppc Postcard35mm Orig Slide Lvt Trolley #917 Newton Ave On Easton Line Bethlehem Pa 1949Chicago Il Store Fronts Street View Trolley 43rd Street Rppc PostcardOriginal Slides (20) Misc Trolleys @ East Troy Electric Railway Wi - In 1989Original Negative Trolley B&qt Brooklyn & Queens Transit Queens Forest ParkNipissing Central Railway Pass - 1924 - Interurban - CanadaOrig Kodachrome Slide: Seashore Trolley Museum Scene In 1950sOriginal Negative Ny Trolley B&qt Brooklyn Queens Transit 1940 Myrtle RidgewoodOriginal Negative Trolley B&qt 8433 Brooklyn & Queens Transit 1940 Queens SceneChicago Surface Lines (csl) Original B&w Trolley Negative Pcc 7018 Taken 8/1941Montreal Cartierville Streetcar At Garland Terminus 1958 Orig Kodachrome SlideBritish Columbia Electric Rwy (bcer) Original B&w Trolley Negative Pcc Car 4315 Diff. 1910-20 Chicago Street & Electric Railway Employees Div 308 Union PinsPacific Electric Ry Interurban Psgr Timetable 5, Santa Ana Line, July 4, 1947Duplicate Slide Streetcar / Tram: Bce British Columbia Electric Sightseeing CarBoston Mbta Original Color Trolley Slide Of Pcc Car 3321 On 42nd St In New YorkOhio Lake Shore Railroad Interurban And Locomotive Railroad Cars [1908] MailedSacramento Northern Rr # 654, Steeple Cab Trolley Loco Orig 35mm Color SlideRepro 1937 Lake Shore Elect Interurban Trolley Railroad Timetable Cleveland Ohio