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-usedAntique Brass Trolley BellNice Old Borden's Evaporated Milk Dairy Cardboard Advertising Trolley SignGlass Negative Vintage Upper Douglas Tramway No. 73 Tram Manx Isle Of ManOccupational / Fraternal Shaving Mug: Electric Trolley & Ioof "chas. F. Gerrish"Original Slide, Pe Pacific Electric Trolley #5151, Early 1950sKay Bojesen Toy Trolley. Sign " Kay Bojesen, Monsterbesk". Early Variant1912 Skippack Pa Rppc Trolley Main Street Montgomery CountySan Francisco Red Trolley Downtown Cable Car Sf Exclusive 3" Vinylmation New Tin Vintage Porcelain Enamel Trolley Car Stop Double Sided Original Sign See Pic.Rppc 1908 Streetcar Trolley Canada Pacific Office Selkirk Manitoba Winnipeg10 Rare Vintage Puerto Rico Rppcs Horse Drawn Trolley Child Funeral Small CasketBulk Slide Auction (275) Misc Blackhawk Duplicate Slides - Steam+diesel+trolleyBoston & Northern Street Railway Trips By Trolley Brochure 1906Original Slide - Ptc Philadelphia 8270 Trolley Electric Scene 1950s Rbk1900 Detroit Trolley Brochure Interurban Ypsilanti Wyandotte Lake Orion MichiganSacramento Northern Interurban Loco #650 Original Neg Lisbon Trestle Collapse SnEl Paso City Lines Streetcar #504 Original Negative Epcl Tram Near Ft BlissOld Colony Street Railway Trolley Trips Land Of The Massasoits Timetable 1906Antique Minneapolis Streetcar Motorman’s Metal Shoulder Strap Case With TicketAntique Vintage Railway Ephemera Train Tickets Tramway Bus - Large LotAntique Vintage Railway Ephemera Train Tickets Tramway Bus - Large LotCambells Pepper Pot Soup Cardboard Trolley SignColorful Trolley Car Advertising Cardboard Sign - Ganong's Chocolates - 1920'sBoxing Fire Alarm School Trolley Electric Brass BellSan Francisco Muni Streetcar Fourth & Market 1940s Vintage Cars Bus Photo SlideTwo (2) B.c. Electric Trolley 616 Negatives  Trolley Negative: Atlanta - Georgia Power 480 (milton Candler) Downtown 1947Trolley Negative: Pacific Electric 759 North 1st Av, Arcadia, 1951Rail Colour Slide Lifted Line Of The Wantage Tramway, Berkshire Ex Gwr 1951Antique Vintage Rail Ephemera Train Tramway Tickets St Kilda Sandringham PlusOriginal Slide, Dsr Detroit Trolley Work Car At Highland Park Shops, 1963Original Slide, Milwaukee Trolley #979, In 1956Original Slide, Pittsburgh Pcc Trolley #1649, In 1965Original Slide, Dsr Detroit Trolley Bus #9129, In 1961Original Slide Trolley Dc Transit Dct 1484 Washington Dc 1959 Kodachrome Rt 30Baltimore Transit Pcc Trolley On York Road 1960 Vintage Cars Photo SlideItaly Railways Original Railroad/railway/trolley Slide Fs#015 Trolley Wcf&n Waterloo Cedar Falls & Northern Car 382 Duplicate SlideRed Hat Society Big Collection_bags+books+albums+trolley Bag_no Reserve!!Zionsville In Rr Train Interurban Street Car Canceled 1910 Merridian StreetRppc Postcard Penn New York Trolley Shearman House Photo Train W. J. Harris OldPacific Electric Railway - Stations At Van Nuys & Los Angeles - 1913 ArticleKey System Streetcar #271 Original Negative Tram Trolley Sacramento Northern Interurban Locomotive #650 Original Negative Lisbon TrestleMontreal Tramways Company Electric Streetcar #1913 Original Slide Mtc TramPortland Electric Power Interurban Coach #1093 Original Negative Pepco GreshamE2 Red Border Kodachrome Trolley Slide Ottawa 828 Bank & Albert Sts Route BTrolley Negative: Pacific Electric 1019 Santa Monica Airline Franchise Car 1949Trolley Negative: San Francisco Muni 167 168 Market St At 7th St Route M 1948E29 Kodachrome Trolley Slide: Toronto Ttc Pcc 4411+4469 Danforth-dawes Rd Tie-upRottweiler Dog Key Ring Bag Charm Shopping Trolley Coin/tokenOregon Electric Railway (oer) - Detailed Operational Overview - 1913 ArticleAntique Vintage Railway Ephemera Train Timetable Tramway Hobart 1937Waterloo Cedar Falls & Northern Wcf&n Iowa Interurban Railroad 1954 Photo SlideDuplicate Slide, Dsr Detroit Pcc Trolley #174, 1950sOriginal Slide, Lamta Los Angeles Trolley Bus #9016, In 1963Original Slide Trolley Dc Transit Dct 1563 Washington Dc 1959 KodachromeOriginal Slide Trolley Mbta Pcc 3058 Boston Kodachrome 1970 Route E