commemorating the 75th anniversary of|
the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad
|George Shillibeer's first London omnibus (1829)|
|Rail car in the West End, Boston3|
The West End Street Railway began consolidating the byzantine network of Boston area franchises in 1887. But a typical horse could work only four or five hours a day pulling a streetcar about a dozen miles and producing prodigious amounts of manure.
Horse-drawn rail car
passing the Ellery and Babson houses|
near the present-day Gloucester rotary, late 1880sPhoto courtesy of the Cape Ann Museum
That same year the management of the West End Company was running out of options for a practical public transportation system in the congestion of Boston. "As a last resort, they journeyed to Richmond, Virginia to study yet another new technology, electrification, recently undertaken by the Union Passenger Railway Company.... it seemed almost impossible that a small copper overhead wire could propel cars set on rails at such great speeds....So impressed were the Boston visitors, that the decision was made to electrify all of the West End Street Railway routes."3
Frank Julian Sprague
"Father of Electric Traction"
Sprague's company originated key improvements to many parts of the trolley concept that made street railways commercially viable. His motor was the first to maintain constant speed under varying load. It was endorsed by Edison as the only practical electric motor available.
In 1888 Sprague won the opportunity to install the first successful municipal street railway system, in Richmond Virginia. Almost immediately 110 electric railways incorporating Sprague's equipment had been begun or planned on several continents. In 1890, Edison, who manufactured most of Sprague's equipment, bought him out.6
Main Street, Gloucester|
Photo c. 1910 courtesy of Paul Harlin
The trolley reaches
Photo c. 1905 courtesy of Paul Harling
1. "History of the Railways of Massachusetts," by Hon. Edward Appleton, Massachusetts Railway Commissioner, in Walling's Atlas of Massachusetts for 1871.
2. "Omnibus" Wikipedia
3. Website of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
4. Cape Ann Advertiser, December 1, 1877.
5. Gloucester Daily Times, May 25, 1888.
6. " Frank Julian Sprague," Wikipedia
7. "Tracking the Gloucester Trolley" by John Sample in Rail Classics, Vol 16 No 3, May 1987
8. Paul Harling's monograph on Cape Ann Trolleys, unpublished.