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 Brass Railroad Streetcar Padlock Keys With KeychainVtg Real Photo Postcard Interurban-queen Cigar & News Stand Galveston Texas RppcTrolley Wreck Lewistown And Reedsville Pa Mifflin County Pennsylvania PostcardVintage Old Sfc Co Brass San Francisco Trolley Cable Car BellSan Francisco: Muni Streetcar At First & Market Streets - 1947 4x5 Negative1910s Cincinnati Georgetown Portsmouth Railroad Trolley Rppc ConductorsOriginal Slide Trolley Bus 9047 Ttc Toronto Transit Kodachrome 1971C1910 Mason City, Ia Iowa Park Inn European J.h. Sundell Prop. Trolley & Old CarOriginal Slide Trolley Bus 105 Kitchener Kodachrome 1968 OntarioAntique Trolley / Bus Advertising Sign Dingwall Silversmith Jewellers SilverwareOriginal Slide - Hamburg Germany 3821 Trolley Tram Electric & City Scene 1964The Salt Lake & Utah Rr Interurban Passenger Card Ticket, Provo To Lincoln,1942Pacific Electric Railway # 5179, Dt/de/ar/cd, Interurban Dup 35mm Color SlideThree Vintage, Streetcar Transfers, Municipal Railway San Francisco 5-1/2" X 2Early Postcard Of King Street Honolulu Hawaii, Trolley, Drug Store, Nice!!Sacramento Northern Interurban Combine #1005 On Key System Orig Negative Sn TramToronto Trolley Slide: Ex-cleveland Pcc Ttc Cars 4625 & 4672 (1979 Original)1948-d Encased Cent/lucky Penny "aerial Tramway Franconia Nh"Dallas Railway & Terminal Pcc Streetcar #618 Original Negative Dr&t Tram TrinityVintage Stereoview - Street Scene W/ Trolley In Athol, MassSacramento Northern Interurban Combine #1005 Original Negative Sn TramNew Orleans Public Service (nops) Original B&w Trolley Negative Car 29 In 1945Montreal Transportation Comm Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Car 2605 In 1954San Francisco Municipal Railway (muni) Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Pcc 1035San Francisco Municipal Railway (muni) Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Car 82Toronto Trolley Slide: Ttc Lrv 4014 Inside The Car House (1980 Original)Original Slide - Valencia Spain 456 Trolley Tram Electric Scene & City 1964Pacific Electric Railway, 2 Different Local And Western District TransfersHancock, Mich. Front Street With Horse-drawn Wagon & Streetcar - Rppc Sf Muni 210 C Line Streetcar At Geary & Broderick 1956 Original Kodachrome SlideRppc Red Electric Pe&e Ry Trolley In Albany Oregon Engineer Conductor 1915 PhotoOriginal Slide - Shrt Shaker Hieghts 75 Pcc Trolley & Nkp Yard Cleveland Oh 1955Real Photo 1912 Monument Square Battle Creek Michigan. With Trolley. PostcardDiamond Match Box Car #21 Ex- Sacramento Northern Interurban Orig Negative SnBrunswick Me Merrymeeting Park Entrance C1910 Postcard - Trolley Station?Stafford Springs Ct 1911 Antique Postcard Trolley Bridge To Willimantic ConnKey System Transit Lines # 397, 397, Dt/de/ar Streetcar Dup 35mm Color SlideDes Moines & Central Iowa Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Car 1712 In 1941Des Moines & Central Iowa Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Car 1714 In 1941Toronto Trolley Bus Slide: Ttc 9303 Weston 89 Route (1974 Original)Washington Trolley Slide: Dct Pcc 1512 Silver Sightseer (duplicate)Duke Power Co. Trolley Bus Slide: #108 Pullman Greensboro, Nc (duplicate)Original Slide - Wien Austria 2973 Trolley Tram Electric Scene October 1964Original Slide - Wien Austria 4130 Trolley Tram & Trailer Scene Oct 1964Original Slide - Wien Austria 312 Trolley Tram Electric On Wien-baden Line 1964Original Slide - Cnsm North Shore 764 Trolley Electric Action By Old Abe Coal 62Elkhart Indiana - Streetcar At End Of Beardsley Ave. West From Grove St 19103 Vintage, "2 St. Petersburg, Trolley On Water Front & Old Indian Shell Mound &Texas Electric Ry 308, Dt/de/ar Interurban At Oak Cliff Jct Dup 35mm Color SlideWashington D.c. - Trolley Heading Down G Street N.w. At Eleventh - U.s. PatentOfficial Interurban Guide1913 Railroad Depot Postcard - Electric Railway - Disaster Scene - TrainVintage Trolley Cards Litho For Daisy Fresh Bras And Girdles. C. 1950sVintage Trolley Cards Litho Lady Forsyth Shirts Eaton's Of Canada C. 1950sVintage Trolley Cards Ad Imperial Bank Of CanadaBrochure - Pacific Electric Railway, Map With Connecting Lines + Ads, 1935Original Slide - Css&sb South Shore 218 Mofw Trolley Electric Scene North Ch '63Vtg Letterpress Print Block Ghost Trolley Seashore Trolley Museum Maine AmazingAtsf Original Railroad/railway/trolley Slide Santa Fe Passenger Cars 15 SlidesVintage Real Photo Postcard Of Norway Iowa West Main St With Streetcar Rppc