1892 : Detroit Citizens Street Railway Begins Electrifying Trolley Lines in Detroit

August 22, 2018 all-day

By the mid-1890s, a mixture of both horsecars and electric powered streetcars operated along the city's streets. This photo (taken btwn 1893-95) looks east along Fort St at Woodward.  While an electric streetcar can be seen heading west along Fort, a horse-driven streetcar heads north along Woodward. (Schramm Collection Photo)

On August 22, 1892, the first electric trolley began operation in Detroit along Jefferson Avenue.

At the beginning of the Gay ’90’s, the horse-car riding public included just about everybody in town. Even the most enthusiastic cyclists used the cars in bad weather. The acceptance by the Detroit Electrical Works of a contract to electrify the Jefferson Avenue line of the Citizens Railway drew widespread interest — but not everyone approved. Some considered the idea of stringing naked, lightning-bearing copper wires above the middle of the street to be outlandish and dangerous. And was it necessary? After all, the horse-cars had served the city well since Civil War days.

While awaiting a hopeful favorable outcome in the courts, the Detroit Citizens Street Railway decided to move ahead with plans to electrify 50% of its lines. Although never officially approved by the city, the company issued a notification in April of 1892 of its plans to begin electrifying its Jefferson Avenue line. Work began in June; and on August 22, 1892, at 7:42 a.m., the first of several trial trips were made along E. Jefferson, from Woodward to Baldwin Avenue. ll While men stopped and waved their hats; families left their breakfast tables waving napkins and shouted praises while the cars swiftly glided past. The following morning—-Tuesday, August 23, 1892-—electric service officially began on Jefferson Avenue with a fleet of twelve cars being used to maintain service.

On December 15, 1892, electric operation began on the Woodward Avenue line, soon followed by the Mack Avenue line beginning December 17, 1892. After the conversion of the three lines were completed, any further electrification by the Citizens’ Company would await the final outcome of the franchise litigation in the courts. However, the company did announce on February 15, 1893, that its electric cars would begin 24-hour service on its Jefferson and Woodward lines.

Source : Detroit Historical Society

For more information, see Kay Houston, “Clang, clang, clang went the trolley”, Detroit News, January 17, 2000.

The Streetcar Companies vs. Mayor Pingree (1890—1900), Detroit Transit History, Part Two.

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