Public Transport:  These days, we hop on a train, or a bus…we don’t think much of it. But public transport was very different back in the eras when our grandparents and great-grandparents were alive. In the early 1900s, buses as we know them today did not exist. Trains were steam-powered or powered by electricity. Electrically-powered trains ran on very short lines, usually confined to servicing a given city or town, not used to travelling great distances. So, what forms of public transport existed in town back in the early 1900s?

Call it what you will, from the 1870s until the 1950s, the tramcar was a fixture on many main roads throughout towns and cities around the world. The first trams were horse-powered, but were soon replaced by the safer, more advanced and controllable cable streetcars, which made their appearance on the streets of the world in the late 1870s.  The inventor of this ingenious system of transport was inspired to create it after he saw a heavily-loaded horse-tram go sliding backwards down one of the steep and slippery streets of San Francisco.

This black and white photograph of a Melbourne cablecar is representative of the type of public street-transport that existed in many cities throughout the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century. Cablecars such as this grabbed a moving cable in the ground, between the streetcar tracks and they were operated by a two-man team: The gripman and the conductor.

In the 1920s and 30s, streetcars began to change. The old-fashioned cable-pulled, steam-powered streetcars were out of date by now. While they continued to exist in some places, many began to be replaced by the faster, more quiet electric trams, which ran along the streets, powered by overhead cables which delivered electrical power to the tram’s motor. They were able to move to more places and do it more efficiently. They had enclosed passenger cabins which had doors that were opened or closed by pneumatic pressure.

Trams were a popular and common sight on the streets of many cities around the world until after WWII. In the Postwar World of the 1950s and 60s, people considered trams old-fashioned, noisy, clanky and inefficient. Many tramlines were closed down, the tracks were ripped up or paved over, and bus-routes replaced them. In a select few places, however, such as Melbourne in Australia, San Francisco in America and various towns in Germany, trams or streetcars still exist as a form of practical public transport.


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