05 April 2021

Remembering the streetcars of Minneapolis

The fascinating photo above shows a streetcar in the town where I grew up (Excelsior, Minnesota).  Close examination of this photo [click for superhuge size] from the early 1900s reveals horse-drawn vehicles and a gloriously muddy street, crossed by boardwalks (note the sidewalks are also built of boards*).
A hun­dred years ago, you could get from Minneapolis to Excelsior as quick­ly as that 18-mile trip takes today at rush hour — about 45 min­utes — but in­stead of fum­ing in grid­lock, you'd breeze along, gaz­ing at fields and trees from a street­car.

From the late 1800s to the 1930s, streetcars were the pri­mary mode of trav­el with­in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but also east to Stillwater, Bayport and White Bear Lake and west to Lake Minnetonka.

In the late 19th cen­tu­ry, Thomas Low­ry, own­er of Twin City Rapid Transit, be­gan lay­ing tracks for e­lec­tric streetcars to re­place steam-pow­ered com­mut­er trains. At its peak, the com­pany had 524 miles of track and car­ried 200 mil­lion rid­ers each year — more than twice Metro Transit's total rid­er­ship in 2019.

Streetcars brought to­gether peo­ple of all socio­eco­no­mic class­es, said John Diers, co-au­thor with Aaron Isaacs of Twin Cities by Trol­ley: The Street­car Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul. "Ev­er­y­one rode the street­car — from mil­lion­aires to ho­bos," said Diers, a re­tired trans­it employee...

Street­car speeds could top 60 mph, about 20 mph fast­er than a Ford Mod­el T.

As auto­mo­bile mass pro­duc­tion grew in the 1920s and '30s, street­car rid­er­ship dwin­dled. The Lake Minnetonka line closed in 1932. Car sales boomed af­ter World War II, sub­urbs de­vel­oped, and the last street­car in the met­ro area ran in 1954.
Here is a lengthy video of these streetcars (I'm not sure why it autostarts in the middle - you'll need to back up using the video progress bar):

Readers living in or visiting Minnesota who are interested in this subject should consider visiting the Minnesota Streetcar Museum.

*Unrelated to the streetcar, but I'll mention that I used to subscribe to coinshooting and metal-detecting magazines and read that when boardwalk sidewalks were replaced with concrete ones in the 1950s-60s, those doing so found lots of old coins on the ground below the boards.  


  1. Replies
    1. They are back! Come to the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. See our website for details. www.trolleyride.org

    2. Unknown, if you are associated with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum, perhaps you could suggest to the webmaster that the physical location of the museum is exceedingly difficult to locate on the website - if a physical museum exists, which may not be the case.

  2. It should be noted that roads like this helped lead to the Good Roads Movement, when bicycle enthusiasts, riding clubs and bicycle manufacturers formed the League of American Wheelmen. There is more information in the link below, but it is ironic that improved roads led to the idea that roads are for automobiles, not cyclists or pedestrians.


  3. i don't know of any of those places. but i do like the video! that trolley video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6L8KchhXaA A 1950s trip on the Como-Harriet streetcar line


  4. One of these cars is still operational in San Francisco (www.streetcar.org/streetcars/1071-1071-Minneapolis-St-Paul-MN/).

  5. one side benefit of that trolley video is seeing all the cool cars and the store signs, many with neon.

    and a question of the trolleythusiats - in the video, they talk about the trolleys switching lines, et c. and you can see tracks going straight and curving off the that line to another. how did the trolleys go from on line to another? were there switches in the roadway that the motorman had to throw before changing to another line? the switches were controlled automatically? were there no switches - the trolley was steered to the other line?


  6. I love traveling through San Francisco on the street cars & cable cars. Riding on a cable car with a friend I mentioned how much more enjoyable this method was than a bus or a car. He simply said "They got it right the first time."