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    

Circa 1900's Australian Railway Silver Medallion - Railway & Tramway ServiceChicago Aurora Elgin Ge Interurban Brass Controller Handle From Wood Car Ca&eNorth Shore Line Electric Interurban Match Striker Cns&m Chicago Milwaukee North Shore Line Plated Brass Interurban Match Striker Cns&m Chicago MilwaukeeExtremely Rare Antique Elgin Trolley Car Conductor's Pocket Watch, C 1910, G.f.Antique Advertising Pocket Mirror British Columbia Electric Railway CoNorth Shore Line Interurban Conger Lantern Milwaukee Cns&m ChicagoDepartment 56 Snow Village Streetcar 5240-0 Retired 1998Corgi Pcc Ttc Streetcar #55011Vintage Union Illinois Railway Museum Railroad Paperweight Chicago StreetcarPacific Electric Ry 1593, Trolley Freight Loco With Train Dup 35mm Color Slide Streetcar Scene / Retail Business Rppc Real Photo Postcard Winnipeg Manitoba Original Trolley Slide Dresden East Germany Ddr 721.021;july 197512 Photo Of Shanghai China During 1930's Street Life,chinese Trolley,race TrackWaterloo, Cedar Falls & Northern Ry # 102, Interurban Open Obs Orig 616 B&w NegRare 1894 Toronto Railway Transfer Ticket Queen St West Streetcar Canada 20 Pacific Electric 35mm Slide San Pedro Line Interurban Films Box SetWashington & Old Dominion Ry # 25, Dt/de (wooden) Trolley Loco Orig 616 B&w NegOriginal Negative Ny Trolley B&qt 8394 Brooklyn & Queens Transit 1940's Sea GateLot Of 6 Vintage British Uk Railway/ Railroad Buttons Police/tramway Conductor Switzerland, Lucerne Floods, 1910, Real Photographic With Trolley Bus, Postcard.Original Trolley Slide Stefer Roma Italia/italy 073 Scene;july 1977Mercado - Central Market With Trolley - San Jose Costa Rica PostcardWashington Yakima Electric Railway Special Police Patch RareCedar Rapids & Iowa City Rr, # 54, Trolley Locomotive, 8" X 10" B&w Photograph Philadelphia & West Chester Traction Co. - Railroad Streetcar - 1905 ArticleRppc First Trolley In Bustleton! Philadelphia Pa 1922 Real Photo PostcardOriginal Negative Trolley Connecticut 1935 South Manchester 1939 Bridge SceneFrankford Tacony & Holmesburg Street Railway Philadelphia Pa Trolley PhotographLot 67: 7 Pcs Automobile Sheet Music: Autos Early Cars 1915 - 1925 Trolley TooOrig Negative Trolley B&qt 8348 Brooklyn & Queens Transit Lorimer Theater SceneOriginal Negative Trolley M&q 112 Manhattan & Queens 1930's New York Nyc*vintage Solid Brass Bliss Trolley Bell Original Patina Streetcar Art Deco* RareHeavy Metal Underground Mine Sign-danger 600 Volt Trolley Overhead-coloradoTtc Toronto Transit 35mm Trolley-[slide #2367]-1964 Pcc City Scene Toronto Trolley Slide: Ttc Witt 2348 Car House Return (1957 Original)Philadelphia Ptc/septa Original Color Trolley Slide New Hampshire Pcc Car 2270Middlebury, Ct ~ Trolley At Quassapaug Station, Albertype Pub ~ C. 1910-20Hershey Transit Company Hummelstown Trolley Pennsylvania Pa Photo 1935 NegativeOriginal Negative Ny Trolley B&qt 8051 Brooklyn & Queens Transit 86th Snow SceneOriginal Negative Trolley Tars 16 Third Ave Railway Nyc 1940's Bronx New YorkOriginal Negative Trolley Tars 664 Third Ave Railway Nyc 1940's Bronx New YorkOriginal Negative Ny Trolley B&qt 8352 Brooklyn & Queens Transit 1940's MyrtleVintage Old 1960's Color Photo Of Abandoned Trolley Cars Trolleys Altadena Ca1912 Postcard Marengo Il Ill West Prairie St W TrolleyTtc Toronto Transit 35mm Trolley-[slide #2376]-1965 Sand Car Street Scene West Penn Railway Uniontown Pa 1948 Pennsylvania Trolley PhotographPacific Electric Ry Interurban Emp Time Table #79, Lg Beach San Pedro 09-15-1952 Mta Boston, # 3214, Pcc Streetcar Post-wwii Pcc Dup 35mm Color SlideVintage Postcard Of Stockbridge, Mass./trolley Stop/early 1900s/very GoodSf Muni San Francisco Trolley 35mm-[slide #456]-1973 Trolley Bus Toronto Trolley Slide: Ttc C-2 Crane Car (1965 Original)Pittsburgh Railways Original Color Trolley Slide Of Pcc Car 1738 On 56 Line(pc109) Christmas Trolley St Petersburg Florida Pm 1975 - 1960s Rppc PostcardNorthern Photo Co. Rppc Wausau Wi Trolley & Conductors, Friedrich Saloon Ca 1908Egypt Old Vintage Photograph .old Tramway Station .alexandria 1927Utah-idaho Central Rr # 25, Ex-oregon Electric Trolley Loco Orig 616 B&w NegativToronto Trolley Slide: Ttc W-26 Sand Car Car (1965 Original)Philadelphia & Western Railway Bryn Mawr Pa 1907 Pennsylvania Trolley PhotographPhiladelphia And Western Railway, Bryn Mawr Pa Trolley Depot Pennsylvania Photo