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”)

This website is the virtual companion to the outdoor museum of vintage streetcars currently serving riders on the s… [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    

Main Fare Box Euclid Products Co From Bus Or Trolley Model M4Rare Kenton Cast Iron No. 15 National Transit Co. Trolley Lg. Size (dakotapaul)Antique 1913 Pacific Electric Railway Co Map Los Angeles Laura L WhitlockOriginal Slide - Key System 124 Trolley Electric At Berkeley Ca Depot 1954Antique 1912 Pacific Electric Railway Brochure Map Mt Lowe Old Mission TrolleyCannon Mtn. Aerial Tramway Vintage Metal Souvenir Building Salt Pepper ShakersSeville,ohio-electric Interurban Railway Depot-c1908 Real Photo-wooster 9jh50Johnstown Trolley Slide: Jtc Pcc #408 (1959 Original)Trolley Negative: Nelson Street Railway 21 (british Columbia) In 1946Original Negative Dct 1109 1119 Dc Transit Washington Dc Trolley 1957La Habra, California. Pacific Electric Railway Station Photocard & Packing HouseOriginal Slide - Milwaukee Speedrail 301 Ex Shrt Trolley Hales Corners Wi 1950Pittsburgh Railways Original Color Trolley Slide Of Pcc Car 1742 On ForbesJamesville Ny, Mcconnells Store & Trolley Station, Jordan Pc Co. RppcTrolley Negative: Baltimore 5704 On 18 Canton Via Elliott St Route In 1949Capital Transit # 1129, Pcc Streetcar, Washington Orig 620 Square B&w Negative**rare: German Elite Allgemeine Xx Truppe Passing Streetcar In City On March!**2 1956 Disneyland 35mm Slide Car/trolley Main St N Unfinished Construction Sacramento Northern Trolley Slide Car #302 Original Slide - Btc Baltimore 7383 Pcc Trolley W/ Woman Operator July 1959Original Slide - Css&sb South Shore 110 Trolley Electric At South Bend In 1955Old Postcard - Wantage Tramway CompanyOriginal Slide - Austria - Trolley #2532 Street Running In Vienna - 1963Bryan,ohio-t&i Interurban Railroad Crossing The Beaver-1910 Real Photo 9jh41Toronto Transit Commission Bus & Trolley Coach History Ttc Gray Coach LinesBrooklyn St. John's Place Trolley Line From Rogers Ave, NycYauco,puerto Rico,trolley Car Amongst The Palms,caribbean,used,yauco,p.r.1911Twin Coach Bus & Trolley Coach History FageolOriginal Negative Trolley Prc 1438 Pittsburgh 1950's Street Scene Route 75Original Negative Trolley 209 City Of Detroit 1950's MichiganTrolley Negative: Boston Mta 4400 Meridian St Near Paris St, Chelsea Via Central10 Real Photo Postcards Penang Tramway Penang Port Hill Railway Penang SingaporeTrolley Negative: Birmingham Pcc 847 Route 2 West End Later Toronto Ttc 4747Original Negative Trolley Nops 960 New Orleans Canal Street 1964Original Negative Trolley Nops 923 New Orleans 1940'sBoyertown Pa, Berks Co., South Reading Ave. StreetcarTrolley Negative: Buffalo Irc 147 Florence Av Sb At Main St Route 9 In 1947Trolley Negative: Wheeling Wv Cooperative Transit 45 Main St Off Steel BridgeOriginal Lab-made Trolley Photo (1 Only): San Francisco Muni 1024 By Fox TheaterPacific Electric Ry Interurban Employee T.t. Glendale-burbank # 63, 12-09-1945Original Lab-made Trolley Photo (1 Only): Pacific Electric 5007 Fletcher DriveOriginal Lab-made Trolley Photo (1 Only): San Francisco Muni 1006 On Van Ness AvShaker Heights Trolley Slide: Ex-rta #70 Pcc In BrooklynLos Angeles Railways Original Color Trolley Slide Of Pcc Car 3134 Toronto Trolley Slide: Ex-birmingham Ttc Pcc 4714 Being ScrappedToronto Trolley Bus Slide: Ttc 9291 Flyer (1974 Original)Old Postcard - Glyn Valley Tramway - Glyn Train (leaving Station) ChirkYakima Valley Trolley (yvt) Original Color Slide Of Trolley Locomotive 2Yakima Valley Trolley (yvt) Original Color Slide Of Trolley Locomotive 298Antique The Bristol Counter W/ Key Trolley Car Railroad The Root Co Pat 1891Rppc Postcard Closeup Trolley Street Car Ames Ia IowaBritish Guiana Old Postcard Georgetown Middle Street Scene, Tram Tramway, GuyanaVintage Railroad Ephemera ~ Rr11 Poster 18x6" Pacific Electric Railway 1925 ?Vintage San Francisco Souvenir Trolley Car Metal Ashtray,california W/foil LabelOriginal Negative Trolley Prc 1704 Pittsburgh 1950's Shannon LibraryOriginal Negative Trolley Prc 1766 Pittsburgh 1950's Street Scene Route 64British Columbia Electric Ry # 1219, Dt/de/ar 2 Car Interurban Orig 616 B&w NegOriginal Negative Trolley Prc 1641 Pittsburgh 1950's Bridge Scene Route 49Atlanta Trolley Bus Slide: Ats 1767 St. Louis Built (duplicate)Original Negative Trolley Btc 5748 Baltimore Transit 1940's Ellicott City