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    

2-railroad/interurban Railway Original Company Base Metal Marker Light BracketsCollection Of 14 Pcs Vintage Railway / Tramway Etc Badges & Buttons Inc. SilverRare, Original Los Angeles Electric Railway Sign6/16/36 Trolley Streetcar 3rd Ave 55th St Manhattan Nyc Old Photo Negative 532aVintage Union Pin Pinback Lot - Trolley Milk Wagon Truck Drivers Oil Workers +Mich Rppc Hamlin Lake Trolley Ludington Michigan Real Photo PostcardCleves, Cincinnati, Oh: 1921: Trolley Travelling On Miami AvenueOriginal Kodachrome Slide Of Remaining Portion Of Ny Bmt El & Streetcar - 194118lbs Box Lot Old Railroad Trains- Ho Diesel Engines Trolley Tickets Mags VideosClaremont Railway Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Loco 18 At B&m Claremont 1952Old 1943 Pacific Electric Railway Goverment Employees Time Table Train,railroadGlen Cove Railroad Railway Streetcar Trolley Long Island New York Ny Rppc 1905Postcard Hotel Victory Put-in-bay Ohio Folding TrolleyBiloxi Mississippi Old Handcolored Street Scene Postcard View Street Car TrolleyOld 1914 Postcard Illinois Traction System Station Trolley Car Lincoln IllinoisVintage Glass & Tin Toy Toonerville Trolley Candy Container Circa 1922Mich Rppc Trolley Grand Haven Michigan Real Photo PostcardThomson Houston Co Electric Tramway Trolley Catalog 1890 General Electric Ge1953 Train Trolley #401 Photo Negative 2.5"×2.5" Ge Fort Dodge-des Moines Line (3) Early Buses And Tourist Buses And Trolley Original Trolley Slide Mvg Mannheim Germany 440 Scene;july 1979 Z Original Slide - Dct Dc Transit 1471 Pcc Trolley Electric Union Station 19611948 Photo Negative Trolley West Penn Railway At Uniontown Pa Terminal Car #732Toronto Trolley Slide: Ttc Pcc 4170 Bloor Transferway (1966 Original)Duplicate Slide Streetcar Cta Chicago Pcc 4169 Crossing Railroad Tracks1912 Rppc Academy St Shinglehouse Pa Caros Lead Allens Gibsons Clothiers TrolleyDallas. Texas Commerce Street, Vintage, Horses & Buggies, TrolleyZ Original Slide - Dct Dc Transit 1512 Silver Sightseer Pcc Trolley August 1960Toronto Trolley Slide: Ttc Pcc 4445 Bloor Route (1965 Original)Manchester Street Railway Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Car 142 In 1936Sacramento Northern Interurban Combine #1005 Original Negative Sn West LafayetteRppc Sodus Point, Ny Lower Trolley Train StationEl Paso, Texas-birdseye View-looking East-railroad-trolley Rppc Photo PostcardManchester Street Railway Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Car X-1 In 1939Pacific Electric Railway Booklet, "ride All Day If You Like On Sunday $1 Pass"Unused, Orig: Ogden, Logan & Idaho Railway, Passenger Interurban Card Ticket,Pennsylvania Trolley Car Postcard 1917 Oil City Pa Center Street PetroleumSand Springs Railway (oklahoma) Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Car 75 In 1952Original Slide Trolley Bus 125 Kitchener Kodachrome 1972 Ontario449e Orig 1953 Slide Street Scene Trolley Tram Hotel Königshof Munich GermanyKorea Postcard Seoul Trolley / Streetcar / Electric Car C. 1910 Rare!China Shanghai Real Photo Nanking Road & Tramway Vintage Ppc SuperbWhiting Lily Of The Valley Sterling Pittsburgh Trolley Souvenir Spoon BrooklineAntique Postcard Moss Point Mississippi Foundry Street Trolley Track Lumber Co31 Streetcar Trolley Amsterdam Ave 95th St Manhattan Nyc Old Photo Negative 533aManchester Street Railway Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Car 204 In 1937 Z Original Slide - Dct Dc Transit 1467 Pcc Trolley Scene September 1958Original Slide - Milwaukee Electric 958 Trolley Electric Scene Milwaukee Wi 19551911 Interurban Car At G. J. & G. R. V. Railway Depot In Fruita, Colo. Mesa Co.E. 1900s Postcard Put-in-bay Ohio Colonial Amusement Building Trolley FlagsOrig. B&w Traction/trolley Negative Ottawa Transportation Comm 1001Rppc B&le Traction Trolley Car In Fredonia New York - PostcardOrig Negative Bus Psnj Psct 1011 Public Service New Jersey 1934 On Trolley TrackManchester Street Railway Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Car 206 In 1935Original Slide - Cta Chicago 9589 Trackless Trolley Bus Ye Olde Shrimp House '72 Z Original Slide - Dct Dc Transit 1529 Pcc Trolley Columbia & Harvard July 1960Souvenir Photo Pamplet - Mount Lowe - The Pacific Electric Railway Z Original Slide - Shizuoka Tram Railway Japan 61 Trolley Tram Electric 1957Decatur Indiana 1923 "interurban Station"--with A (magley Indiana)--post Mark~~~Toronto Trolley Bus Slide: Ttc 9098 Brill Nortown 61 Route (1966 Original)