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”)

Streetcar.org

Streetcar.org

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    

Neat Old Original Cast Iron Main Street Trolley Still Penny Bank C.1920'sWestinghouse Brass Trolley,train Dual Hand Air Brake Gauge Star Brass Mfg.bostonOriginal Old Vintage Porcelain Flanged Trolley Stop Sign Tan & Green NiceAntique 1913 Pacific Electric Railway Co Map Los Angeles Laura L WhitlockAntique 1912 Pacific Electric Railway Brochure Map Mt Lowe Old Mission TrolleyOriginal Trolley Slide Johnstown Jtc Pcc 408+ "last Day" Lineup.june 11,1960Northwestern Pacific Railroad Co Employee Timetable 1924 Interurban Southern DivOriginal Trolley Slide Crandic Frt.motor 72 Scene; Cedar Rapids;7/53 Gray MountOriginal Slide - West Penn 294 Trolley Electric At Connellsville Pa 1952 RbkOriginal Slide Trolley Montreal Mtc Kodachrome 1959 SceneCss&sb Rr Railroad Blueprint Chicago South Shore Interurban Electric LineOld 1915 View Washington & Popular Trolley Street Car Cairo Il Postcard Vintage Ceramic Snoopy Trolley Cable Car Christmas Ornament-japan35mm Orig Slide Ptc Trolley #5093 Essington Ave On Chester Line Phila Pa 19461951 Original 35mm Slide, Trolley #7 In Mannheim, Germany & Train Station35mm Orig Slide Ptc Trolley Car #8191 Route 6 Willow Grove Line 1948Original Slide Trolley Btc Baltimore Transit 7385 Kodachrome 1963 Catonsville P700b Rp 1940s Pittsburgh Railways Co Washington Pa Interurban StationVictorian Photographs-new Zealand, Bush Tramway (1) & Residential Houses (2)35mm Orig Slide D.c. Transit Trolley #1053 Conn & Florida Ave Nw Washington DcN1 Red Border Kodachrome Trolley Slide: Philadelphia Pcc 2752 New In 1947Original Trolley Slide Fddm&s 72-82 Scene;harcourt;sept.1955 Gray Mount SlideOriginal Trolley Bus Slide Johnstown Jtc 703 Scene;moxham;november 1958San Francisco Muni Streetcar No. 289 In 1947 Negative Seville,ohio-electric Interurban Railway Depot-c1908 Real Photo-wooster 9jh50Original Lab-made Trolley Photo (1 Only): Pacific Electric 5162 Hollywood XmasCapital Transit # 1129, Pcc Streetcar, Washington Orig 620 Square B&w NegativeOriginal Trolley Slide Timisoara Romania 192-447;july 19801951 Original 35mm Slide, Trucks, Cars & Trolley In Heidelberg Germany Original Slide Trolley Mbta 3214 Boston 1965 SceneOriginal Slide - Pat Pittsburgh 1731 Pcc Trolley Scene August 1959 ViewUnion Traction Company Muncie, In Frieght Depot Blueprint Railroad InterurbanReal Photo Postcard Of D. & B. Trolley At Twin Hills,danville,pa.M41 Red Border Kodachrome Trolley Slide Detroit Pcc Aerial View Cadillac Sq 1954Orig Kodachrome Slide: Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto Trolley Scene In 19561938 Beautiful Women In Swimsuits On Horse Trolley Long Beach Ca Press PhotoM1 Kodachrome Trolley Slide: Washington Pcc 1490 Wisconsin Av Sb At O St Nw 1959Original Trolley Slide Cairo Egypt Pcc 1129 Ex-los Angeles;july 1977Pacific Electric Railway, Interesting Data For Consideration, Safety&instructionOriginal Trolley Slide Timisoara Romania 218-56 Scene;july 19691951 Original 35mm Slide, Trolley And Train Station In Heidelberg, Germany Danvers Illinois Trolley Depot - Childs Rppc Real Photo PostcardRppc Postcard Main Street Looking South Interurban Plymouth Michigan Mi 1912Jamesville Ny, Mcconnells Store & Trolley Station, Jordan Pc Co. RppcTrolley Advertising Sarong Girdle Cardboard Car Sign 1950s Subway Mta NycBrooklyn St. John's Place Trolley Line From Rogers Ave, NycReal Photo Postcard Of Trolley Under-grade,danville,pa.Vintage S.f.c. Co. Solid Brass San Francisco Trolley Car Bell With Chain Ring!!!Original Trolley Bus Slide Cleveland Cts St.louis 1042 Scene;may 1960M46 Three Kodachrome Trolley Slides: Toronto Pccs Being Scrapped At Danforth ChOriginal Trolley Slide El Paso City Lines Pcc 1501;august 1963Toronto Transit Commission Bus & Trolley Coach History Ttc Gray Coach LinesOrig Negative Trolley Pst Philadelphia Suburban West Chester Pike Sub StationOriginal Negative Trolley Prc 1438 Pittsburgh 1950's Street Scene Route 75Original Negative Trolley 209 City Of Detroit 1950's MichiganLa Habra, California. Pacific Electric Railway Station Photocard & Packing HouseP15 Red Border Kodachrome Trolley Slide: Philadelphia 8289 33rd & York Sts Rte 8M36 Red Border Kodachrome Trolley Slide: Toronto Pcc 4557 Bay Route On Avenue RdTrolley Negative: Buffalo Irc 147 Florence Av Sb At Main St Route 9 In 1947N49 Kodachrome Trolley Slide: Toronto 4593 Cedarvale At Strathmore Danforth Car