Baltimore Streetcar Transportation


The advent of urban streetcar transportation played a critical role in the growth of American cities - especially Baltimore - during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the early nineteenth century, city dwellers lived within a short walking distance of their workplace. As the Industrial Revolution swept through American cities, more industries sprang up causing an increase in the number of urban workers. Larger cities, more industries, and more people naturally correlated to people living farther away from their workplaces. Omnibuses, or horse-powered stages were an early form of public transportation, but most were expensive and therefore only utilized by the wealthy.

With the introduction of roads made of smooth-riding rails in the 1820s and 1830s, mass public transportation took on a new potential. New York opened the first official urban railway for commuters in 1832. Baltimore opened its first horse car commuter line in 1859. Horses could pull more weight easier and faster on rails, and were used to pull these streetcars until the late 19th century. As the demand for this convenient streetcar public transportation increased, alternative sources of power were examined. Baltimore was one of the first cities to experiment with electricity as a power source for its public streetcar transportation. However, its first attempt using underground cables was not successful. The first successful electric streetcar line occurred in Richmond in 1888. The design incorporated an overhead wire as the source for electric power. The streetcars used in this system featured a pole mounted to the roof which connected to the wire. Other cities, including Baltimore, soon adopted this system.

In the late nineteenth century, Baltimore was riddled with a multitude of competing streetcar line companies. This inefficient system eventually ended when all of Baltimore's streetcar companies merged together into the United Railways & Electric Company (UR&E) in 1899. At its peak between 1900-1929, Baltimore could boast over 400 miles of streetcar lines and commuters could hop onto a car within a one to 15 minute wait. Most of the major lines were originally the old major turnpike roads into and through the city. Streetcar lines extended to many points in every direction from the city including Curtis Bay, Ellicott City, Woodlawn, Reisterstown, Druid Hill, Towson, Overlea, Middle River, and Sparrows Point. At this time, just about everyone in the city rode on public transportation. Baltimore's streetcar lines were not segregated, unlike its schools and neighborhoods. The decline of streetcar transportation began in the 1930s with the Great Depression. Although World War II provided a brief delay of the inevitable in the 1940s, it was not enough. Private automobiles and cheaper trackless trolleys (or buses) were the wave of the future. By the twentieth century, city streets were more crowded than ever and the new professional traffic engineers all agreed that the electric streetcars were getting in the way. Two-way streets were made one-way to help ease congestion, but this solution was not conducive to streetcar transportation. Furthermore, suburban towns were developing farther away and making track extensions too expensive. Baltimore's last streetcar went out of service in November 1963.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12.

Era 7: The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)

STANDARD 3: How the United States changed from the end of World War I to the eve of the Great Depression

STANDARD 3B: The student understands how a modern capitalist economy emerged in the 1920s.

5-12: Explain how principles of scientific management and technological innovations, including assembly lines, rapid transit, household appliances, and radio, continued to transform production, work, and daily life. [Examine the influence of ideas]

9-12: Analyze the new business downtowns, the development of suburbs, and the role of transportation in changing urban life. [Explain historical continuity and change]

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Towson and Cockeysville Electric Railway showing laying of the tracks
    REPRODUCTIONS: Image reproduction and permission
    SOURCE: Legacy Web
    REPOSITORY: Baltimore County Public Library
  2. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Towson & Cockeysville Electric Railway
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: Unknown, after 1912
    REPRODUCTIONS: Image reproduction and permission
    SOURCE: Legacy Web
    REPOSITORY: Baltimore County Public Library
  3. DESCRIPTION: Baltimore Street east from Commerce Street
    CREATOR: Unknown
    REPRODUCTIONS: Original owned by the Maryland Historical Society. For reproduction and permission information, please contact
    SOURCE: Baltimore City Life Museum Collection
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, Maryland
  4. DESCRIPTION: Baltimore, Md. Street car conductor
    CREATOR: Collins, Marjory, 1912-1985, photographer
    How To obtain copies of this item
    Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection
    Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540
  5. DESCRIPTION: Double horse car used in Baltimore in 1885
    Obtaining reproductions and copyright
    Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540
  6. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, 500 Block of South Broadway Street, Baltimore
    Image reproduction and permission
    Maryland Department, Photograph Collection
    REPOSITORY: Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, Maryland
  7. DESCRIPTION: Street Cars Baltimore City Railway ca. 1885 - 1890
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: ca. 1885 - 1890
    REPRODUCTIONS: Image reproduction and permission
    SOURCE:Maryland Memory Projects: The Digital Library of the Maryland Historical Society, Z24.420
    REPOSITORY: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Historical Society
  8. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Baltimore, Pimlico and Pikesville line of the Baltimore Traction Company
    REPRODUCTIONS: Image reproduction and permission
    SOURCE: Legacy Web
    REPOSITORY: Baltimore County Public Library
  9. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, last horse-drawn streetcar in the Baltimore area posed in front of the Lorraine Cemetery gate in Woodlawn
    REPRODUCTIONS: Image reproduction and permission
    SOURCE: Legacy Web
    REPOSITORY: Baltimore County Public Library

Secondary Resources

Buschman, Charles F. Streetcars of Baltimore. Baltimore, MD: Baltimore Streetcar Museum, 1994.

Cox, Harold E. Early Electric Cars of Baltimore. Forty Fort, PA: Harold E. Cox, 1979.

Farrell, Michael R. The History of Baltimore's Streetcars. Sykesville, MD: Greenberg Publishing Co., 1992.

Farrell, Michael R. Who Made All Our Streetcars Go? The Story of Rail Transit in Baltimore. Baltimore, MD: Baltimore NRHS Publications, 1973.

Harwood, Herbert. Baltimore Streetcars: The Postwar Years. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.

Sachs, Bernard J. Baltimore Streetcars 1905-1963: The Semi-Convertible Era. Baltimore, MD: Baltimore Streetcar Museum, 1982.

St. Clair, David J. "The Motorization and Decline of Urban Public Transit, 1935-1950." The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 41, No. 3. (Sept., 1981), pp. 579-600.

Wirtz, Willem. Baltimore and Streetcars, 1926. Baltimore, MD: Baltimore Streetcar Museum, 1988.

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

Baltimore Street Car Museum
1901 Falls Road
P.O. Box 4881
Baltimore, MD 21211

B&O Railroad Museum
901 West Pratt Street
Baltimore, MD 21223

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Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Sarah Davis. Updated 5 February 2013 by Nancy Bramucci Sheads.


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