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    

Ohio Lake Shore Electric Railway Interurban Streetcar Conductor Metal Hat BadgePersia 1935, Ppc Tehran Tramway / Railway W. Reza Shah Franking To Italy - Vf RrAugusta Ga Georgia, Buildings, Confederate Monument, Trolley, 1900 Pmc PostcardIn Indiana Interurban Streetcar Rr Indianapolis To Ft Wayne Rppc C 1910 PostcardLot 65 Train Ephemera Trolley Railway Railroad Books Pamphlets Vintage 1916 Seymour Indiana View Of The Dixie Flyer Trolley - Lawton Va PostmarkAntique Automobile Foot Plunger Bell For Trolley Carriage ??35mm Dupe Slide Pacific Electric Railway Express Motor #1460 Union Station 1950Missouri Pacific Original Railroad/railway/trolley Slide 174 SlidesVintage Tin Small Disneyland Tip Tray Horse Drawn Trolley Vntg Pe Pacific Electric Railway Brass Railroad Hat Or Lapel Pin Badge 35mm Dupe Slide Pacific Electric Railway Trolley #5162 Los Angeles Ca 1952Dept. 56 Streetcar On-30 Size.trolley Original Color Slide Los Angeles Trolley #1387 9/21/1958 1st St. Loop1895-1947 Memphis Street Railway Co. (w Trolley Car) 23mm Gilt Button PettiboneBc - Vancouver, Viewing Vancouver By Streetcar, Barrowclough C.1910 RppcSan Francisco Municipal Railway (muni) Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Car 522Baltimore & Annapolis Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Cars In Annapolis In 1949Cleveland Fare Box Ad Bus StreetcarPacific Electric Ry # 1375, Dt/de/ar/cd Interurban Special Dup 35mm Color SlideSf Muni 208 N Line Streetcar To Transbay Terminal 1957 Original Kodachrome SlideNew In Original Box, Dept 56 Village Streetcar Set, Complete, MintKey System Interurban Combine #495 Original Negative Ex- Sacramento Northern Sn(6) Early Danville Il Illinois Postcards National Bank Interurban Bridge Cv5143Orig. Slide Cns&m North Shore Line Interurban Trolley #746 Train 1958 DorchesterSan Francisco Municipal Railway (muni) Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Car 517Original Color Slide Los Angeles Trolley #1416 9/1958New Orleans Streetcar Nops Trolley 941 Scene@ New Orleans In 1964 Original SlideEdmonton Ab Big Trolley~purvis Co Limited~corner Bank~king Edward Hotel 1911Original Slide Nops Trolley 906 New Orleans Work Van Kodachrome 1973Railroad Slide Italy Interurban Car 554 Milan 1988Original Aug 1958 Kodak 35mm Color Slide Mta Trolley In Boston MassGrand River Ry, Interurban Passenger Card Ticket, 1950, 2-1/4" X 1-1/4"35mm Dupe Slide Roanoke Railway & Electric Trolley #44 Roanoke Va 19481910 Post Card...street Scene,trolley Car On Brady Street..du Bois, Pennsylvania35mm Dupe Slide Johnstown Traction Co Trolley #354 Franklin Loop 1951Canal Dover, Oh Wooster Ave. Bridge/ Trolley On Bridge/ Bldgs/non-linen Pc35mm Dupe Slide Montreal Transportation Comm Trolley #1981 Route 65 1953706h Original Slide, #149 Tram Trolley Street Scene Victoria Hong Kong 1968Original Color Slide Los Angeles Pcc Trolley #3075 4/5/195835mm Dupe Slide 3rd Avenue Railway Trolley #851 42nd St Crosstown 19501911 Waverly Iowa Real Photo Bremer Avenue Trolley Car Streetcar Rail Train RppcOriginal Negative Trolley Ca&e 725 Chicago Aurora & Elgin 1952 AuroraEastern Massachusetts Street Railway Original B&w Trolley Negative Car 5278Montreal & Southern Counties Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Car 502 In 1946Lehigh Valley Transit Lvt Trolley Allentown Pa 1953 Orig Red Border KodachromeNew Orleans Public Service (nops) Original B&w Trolley Negative Car 916 In 1940sCedar Rapids & Iowa City (cranic) Original B&w Trolley Negative Car 109 In 1939Baltimore & Annapolis Original B&w Trolley Negative Car 104 In Annapolis In 1940Chicago Transit Authority (cta) Original B&w Trolley Negative Car 318 In 1950'sOriginal Color Slide Los Angeles Trolley #1419 9/1958Rare Vintage Metal Sign "toonerville Trolley"Pacific Electric Railway, 2 Different Forms:1935 Pass And Pasadena Paper TicketTram Ticket: Austria: Salzburger Eisenbahn & Tramway Ges.: To BerchtesgadenNbc "sugar Loaf Tramway" Media Traded For Rio Brazil 2016 Olympic Games Pin 35mm Dupe Slide Waterloo Cedar Falls & Northern Rr Trolley #382 Waterloo Ia 195435mm Dupe Slide Gary Railways Trolley #213 At Sub Station 2 Hammond Line 194635mm Dupe Slide Lvt Trolley #953 17th & Hamilton St Allentown Pa 1952Gary Indiana 5th Ave & Broadway Trolley Streetcar 1908 Antique Postcard 23346New Philadelphia, Oh/ West High St./ Trolley Tracks/ Horse Drawn Buggy/postcard