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    

Rare, Original Los Angeles Electric Railway SignOriginal Slide, Pittsburgh Pcc Trolley #1723, Late 1950s2-railroad/interurban Railway Original Company Base Metal Marker Light BracketsOriginal Slide, Pittsburgh Pcc Trolley #1138, 1950sBachmann 'oo' 32-993 Yellow With Wasp Stripes Wickham Trolley Car Boxed #498yClaremont Railway Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Loco 18 At B&m Claremont 1952Original Slide, Pittsburgh Trolley & Pcc Trolley Scene Rail Yard, 1950sGlen Cove Railroad Railway Streetcar Trolley Long Island New York Ny Rppc 1905Original Slide, Pittsburgh Pcc Trolley Street Scene, Late 1950sOriginal Slide, Hong Kong Tram Trolley #99, In 1968Original Slide - Milwaukee Electric 958 Trolley Electric Scene Milwaukee Wi 1955Original Slide Trolley Pe 1299 Pacific Electric Los Angeles Kodachrome 1950's Vintage Real Photo Postcard Rppc Interurban Queen Cigar Store Galveston, TexasOriginal Negative Trolley Pe Pacific Electric 005 1930'sWalnut Hills, Cincinnati: Trolley Going Along Gilbert AvenueClaremont Railway Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Loco 18 At B&m Claremont 1952China Old Postcard Tramway Tientsin To Peking 1911 !!Marine City Michigan Mich Mi ~ Interurban Streetcar Trolley ~ Pesha Rppc 1907Duplicate Slide, Hong Kong Tram Trolley #131 Street Scene, 1950sAtan Trolley #1004 1973 Original Slide Italia Rail Interurban Rwy Napoli,italyVintage Real Photo Postcard Rppc Interurban Queen Cigar Store Galveston, TexasMarket Street Railway San Mateo Interurban #1236 Original Negative Colma TramPennsylvania Trolley Car Postcard 1917 Oil City Pa Center Street PetroleumBoston Mbta Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Pcc Car 3298 North Station In 1968Original Slide Trolley Bus 125 Kitchener Kodachrome 1972 OntarioOriginal Slide, Washington Dc Transit Pcc Trolley #1585, Late 1950sOriginal Slide, Pittsburgh Pcc Trolley #1102, In 1958Original Trolley Slide Magdenberg East Germany Ddr 330-329-119 Scene;july 1975Orig. Slide, Jtc Johnstown Traction Co. Pcc Trolley #413 Amoco Gas Station 1950s1912 Rppc Academy St Shinglehouse Pa Caros Lead Allens Gibsons Clothiers TrolleyRare Grand Junction, Colorado Rppc. Ewing Photo. Majestic Theater, Trolley, 1910Original Slide Trolley Bus 720 Edmonton Transit Kodachrome 1974 Canada1923 Rppc Of House Of David Trolley Scene - Benton Harbor, Mi - UnusualBerlin Street Railway Original B&w Trolley Negative Car 6 In Berlin, Nh In 1937Atac Trolley #2259 1973 Original Slide Rome Interurban Railway Rome,italyOriginal Slide Trolley Connecticut Kodachrome 1940's Yale BowlOriginal Slide Trolley Pst 16 Philadelphia Kodachrome West Chester 1954Original Slide Trolley Rochester Transit New York 1956 Meigs Goodman StationVintage Real Photo Postcard Rppc Interurban Queen Cigar Store Galveston, TexasMarket Street Railway San Mateo Interurban #1241 Original Negative San FranciscoPostcard Trafford Pa Street Railway Trolley Transfer Point Greensburg PittsburghAustralian Nswgr Railway Tramway 7 Badges Fob Pins EnamelThe Arkansas Valley Interurban Railway Public Timetable Ptt February 24, 1935 AvDallas Railway & Terminal Pcc Streetcar #620 Orig Negative Dr&t Katy Mkt OfficesC17/ Canal Dover Ohio Postcard 1908 Birdseye View Homes Trolley BridgeQuebec Railway, Light & Power Co, Small Trolley Ticket-good For One Fare, 1-1/4"Manchester Street Railway Original B&w Trolley Negative Of Car 74 In 1937Vintage Photo 1948 Port Of Spain Trinidad Electric Railroad Trolley StreetcarCorgi O Scale Pittsburgh Railways Pcc TrolleyNew Homes, Streetcar - Grand Avenue Heights Oakland Ca 1912 Glass Plate NegativeOriginal Slide Trolley 175 Key System Oakland Kodachrome 1957 California Rockland Maine Trolley Train Wreck Disaster Real Photo Antique Postcard J63183Trolley Negative: Pacific Electric 865+897+868 Venice 1936 - See Green BoxOriginal Slide Trolley Atlantic City 223 Kodachrome 1951 New JerseyOriginal Slide Trolley Mtc Montreal 997 1177 1046 Kodachrome 1958 St. DenisOriginal Slide Trolley Johnstown Traction 355 Kodachrome 1959 Roxbury LoopOriginal Negative Trolley Tampa Electric 413 Florida 1944 Street Scene Z Original Slide - Slps St. Louis 1799 Pcc Trolley & Street Scene April 1958 RbOriginal Slide - Hamilton Street Railway 742 Trackless Trolley Bus & Texaco 1973Post Cards (2) Rockville Hartford, Danielson Putnam, Ct Trolley Trips C-1901-07