Built to Move Millions: Streetcar Building in Ohio

Built to Move Millions: Streetcar Building in Ohio

Built to Move Millions: Streetcar Building in Ohio

Built to Move Millions: Streetcar Building in Ohio


At the beginning of the 20th century, the street railway industry was one of the largest in the nation. Once ubiquitously visible on the city streets, by mid-century the streetcar was nothing more than a distant memory. Ohio was home to several large streetcar systems, especially in Cleveland and Cincinnati, and had more interurban tracks than any other state in the union. Thus, Ohio served as one of the street railway industry's greatest centers of manufacturing.

Built to Move Millions examines the manufacture of streetcars and interurbans within the state of Ohio between 1900 and 1940. In addition to discussing the five major car builders that were active in Ohio during this period, the book addresses Ohio companies that manufactured the various components that went into these vehicles.


Predecessors to modern street railways

The modern street railway system was a late-nineteenth-century invention, evolving out of a desire to replace the horse car. Horse cars first appeared on city streets in the 1830s and were common in most large cities by the 1860s. Essentially, a horsecar was a large carriage with metal wheels designed to run on metal rails laid in the middle of the street. Rails were used because they provided a smoother ride, enabling the horse to pull a much heavier load. the cars were not exceptionally fast, usually running at 4–6 miles per hour.

Although pop u lar, the horse car had numerous disadvantages. Horses moved slowly and typically could only work four to six hours per day, requiring a street railway to have three to five times as many horses as cars. Each horse consumed 30 pounds of feed per day.

A large workforce was required to care for the horses. in addition to blacksmiths and veterinarians (an outbreak of disease could ruin an operation), one stable hand was necessary for every 12 to 14 horses. Street crews were required to clean up after the horses, as most cities had strict regulations about the removal of manure from their streets.

The average car horse had a useful service life of only five years. They were expensive to replace—for example, in 1880 a new car horse cost $150. This cost might be recovered partially through the sale of retired car horses, but not all of it. Some operators attempted to economize by substituting mules for horses. Although less expensive initially, mules also had a lower resale value than retired car horses.

It should come as no surprise that street railway operators sought mechanical alternatives to the horsecar. By the 1880s there was a plethora of alternatives, ranging from the conventional to the bizarre. During the 1889 American Street Railway Association convention, mechanical alternatives to the horsecar were discussed at length. Streetcars propelled by steam (produced both by conventional coal-fired boilers and by “fireless boilers” that generated heat using caustic soda), gasoline engines, ammonia, and compressed air . . .

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