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 Train Or Trolley Sign Double Sided AwesomeChina-hong Kong Tram Trolley Shau-ki Wan Tobacco Store 1920s Post Card Un-usedNice Old Borden's Evaporated Milk Dairy Cardboard Advertising Trolley SignEarly 1900's Rppc Ontario, New York Street Scene & Streetcar Real Photo PostcardOriginal Slide, Pe Pacific Electric Trolley #5151, Early 1950sKay Bojesen Toy Trolley. Sign " Kay Bojesen, Monsterbesk". Early Variant1912 Skippack Pa Rppc Trolley Main Street Montgomery CountyBulk Slide Auction (275) Misc Blackhawk Duplicate Slides - Steam+diesel+trolley1900 Detroit Trolley Brochure Interurban Ypsilanti Wyandotte Lake Orion MichiganPortland Electric Power Interurban Coach #1093 Original Negative Pepco GreshamSacramento Northern Interurban Loco #650 Original Neg Lisbon Trestle Collapse SnPortland Electric Power Streetcar #804 Original Neg Pepco TramLondon & Port Stanley Interurban Coach #8 Original Slide L&ps Tram Radial RyPortland Electric Power Streetcars #804 & 470 Original Neg Pepco Tram TrolleyBoston Mbta Type 5 Electric Streetcar #5752 Original Slide Trolley Tram Park St.Antique Minneapolis Streetcar Motorman’s Metal Shoulder Strap Case With TicketOriginal Slide - Ptc Philadelphia 8270 Trolley Electric Scene 1950s RbkAntique Vintage Railway Ephemera Train Tickets Tramway Bus - Large LotOriginal Slide, Milwaukee Trolley #979, In 195610 Rare Vintage Puerto Rico Rppcs Horse Drawn Trolley Child Funeral Small CasketPortland Traction Co # 408, Dt/de/dr Streetcar Rt Ab-alberta Orig 616 B&w NegMontreal Tramways Company Electric Streetcar #1913 Original Slide Mtc TramOrig Negative Ny Bus Trolley B&qt Brooklyn & Queens Transit 1940's Snow SceneOriginal Slide, Dsr Detroit Trolley Work Car At Highland Park Shops, 1963Original Slide, New Orleans Nops Trolley #925, In 1963Cambells Pepper Pot Soup Cardboard Trolley Sign#015 Trolley Wcf&n Waterloo Cedar Falls & Northern Car 382 Duplicate SlideItaly Railways Original Railroad/railway/trolley Slide FsZionsville In Rr Train Interurban Street Car Canceled 1910 Merridian StreetSan Francisco Muni Streetcar Fourth & Market 1940s Vintage Cars Bus Photo SlidePittsfield, Ma, The Park, Looking East - Double Card - TrolleyScarce Lot Of 7 Cincinnati Street Railway Co. Pat. 1919 Trolley TicketsC.1910 Canton Ohio Courthouse Court 4th July Flags Trolley 5x7 Glass NegativeKey System Streetcar #271 Original Negative Tram Trolley Philadelphia Suburban Trans. Co. Brilliner Electric Interurban Original SlideEl Paso City Lines Streetcar #504 Original Negative Epcl Tram Near Ft BlissOrig Negative Trolley B&qt 1073 Brooklyn & Queens Transit Ny Smith Street Scene1890's Photograph Kansas City Missouri Mo Trolley Cars, Horses, Buggies, Etc.Antique Vintage Rail Ephemera Train Tramway Tickets St Kilda Sandringham PlusBaltimore Transit Pcc Trolley On York Road 1960 Vintage Cars Photo SlidePostcard-brownsville-pa-trolley-store Fronts-snowdon-fayette County-1929Antique Vintage Railway Ephemera Train Tickets Tramway Bus - Large LotOriginal Slide, Dsr Detroit Trolley Bus #9129, In 1961Pa - 1908 Rare! Real Photo Trolley On Third Street In Beaver, Pennsylvania Waterloo Cedar Falls & Northern Wcf&n Iowa Interurban Railroad 1954 Photo SlideRppc Postcard Penn New York Trolley Shearman House Photo Train W. J. Harris OldSacramento Northern Interurban Locomotive #650 Original Negative Lisbon TrestleKey System Streetcar #271 Original Negative Tram Trolley Route 2New Orleans Regional Transit Authority Electric Streetcar #451 Orig Slide NortaPhotograph Negative Richmond & Chesapeake Bay Railway Trolley On Bridge RichmondE2 Red Border Kodachrome Trolley Slide Ottawa 828 Bank & Albert Sts Route BMunicipal Railway Of San Francisco # 424, Dt/de/dr Streetcar Orig 616 B&w Neg11 Dc Capital Transit Street Car Trolley Magazine Transit Lines Headway RecorderLatvia Liepaja Libau Либава - Arbeiterhaus & Tramway Pre Wwi Postcard Pzcm Ellicott City Md Trolley Terminal Fire Dept 40s Maryland Postcard Pztr PzfrTtc Toronto Transit 35mm Original Trolley-[slide #1661]-1966 Pcc CarOriginal Slide - Cta Chicago Trolley Electric Scene 1957 Red Border KodachromeAntique Vintage Railway Ephemera Train Timetable Tramway Hobart 1937Original Slide, Dsr Detroit Trolley Bus #9102, In 1961C1905 San Francisco Ca Market Street In The Future Cars Bikes Trolley Horses Pc