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Horsecars of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Street Railway Companies

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Black and white photograph of a horse-drawn streetcar in Minneapolis; sign reads Sixth Street, Monroe Street and Eighth Avenue, c.1885. This photograph shows a second team of horses ready to relieve the team on the horsecar.

Horse-drawn streetcar in Minneapolis; sign reads Sixth Street, Monroe Street and Eighth Avenue, c.1885. This photograph shows a second team of horses ready to relieve the team on the horsecar.

With the rapid growth of the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis in the mid-nineteenth century, the need for a reliable form of public transportation became apparent. Horse-drawn streetcars provided the answer and sparked the growth of what would become one of the most extensive streetcar systems in the country.

Horsecars had been operating in New York City since 1832. The St. Paul Street Railway Company was incorporated in 1872 and began running horsecars in July of that year. The Minneapolis Street Railway Company followed suit three years later.

The early Twin Cities horsecars were modest in size at just ten feet long and, at about one thousand pounds, were equivalent in weight to the average horse. Each car could accommodate up to fourteen passengers and ran at a maximum speed of six miles per hour, as mandated by city ordinances. For the comfort of riders in winter, heat was generated by a small iron stove placed in the middle of the car and the floor was covered with a thick blanket of hay. Signal lights were hung on each end, and an oil lamp provided light inside the car.

The first horsecar lines were also modest. St. Paul's initial line was two and one-half miles long, and the Minneapolis line just two and one-tenth miles. Minneapolis line construction cost $6,000 per mile, and the completed tracks were made of five-inch-square wooden rails, or "stringers," with wooden crossties and bent iron plates spiked onto them. The inferior quality track sometimes caused a car to derail, at which point passengers disembarked to help push it back onto the track. Passenger power was sometimes employed to assist a car up a steep hill as well.

The early streetcar barns housed both horses and cars and were staffed by a mechanic and a blacksmith. The first barn in St. Paul was located at Fourth and St. Peter Streets, and in Minneapolis at Third Avenue North and Second Street.

The public could ride anywhere within the city limits of St. Paul or Minneapolis for just five cents. Passengers would drop a nickel into the fare box located in the front of the car before taking a seat. The first day's revenue for the Minneapolis Street Railway Company totaled $21.50, collected from four hundred thirty passengers. By 1877, the company was running eighteen cars and carrying an average of seventeen hundred riders daily, with receipts totaling up to $100.

Maintaining the horsecar lines was expensive. The first cars cost $872 each. Six horses were needed for each car to keep them in operation for a full day. Horses cost $135 to $150 per head and were fed five times daily. Drivers (and later, conductors) worked twelve- to sixteen-hour days in all weather for $35–$54 per month. With such high overhead, the lines were not cost-effective and employees sometimes waited several weeks to be paid.

While embraced by the commuting public, horse-drawn cars had serious drawbacks. The odor and health risks associated with horse pollution were a real concern. One horse can produce up to fifty pounds of manure daily. When dried, wind-blown manure dust contaminated the air. Health officials warned that the polluted air was responsible for the high occurrence of diarrhea, especially in children. Piles of manure attracted flies, and outbreaks of typhoid fever were a common problem for city residents. Rainy weather turned the dust into a sludge that made walking highly disagreeable.

Worse yet, horses were sometimes injured in the line of duty or succumbed to the burden of their work, dropping in their harnesses on the street. Unable to move the heavy carcasses, drivers would leave them where they fell, and a cart was eventually sent to collect them. The carcasses posed health risks and blocked traffic.

Electric streetcar lines were introduced in Minneapolis in 1889 and St. Paul in 1890. By that time, Minneapolis was running a total of two hundred eighteen horsecars with one thousand eighteen horses and mules on over 66.7 miles of track. St. Paul had one hundred fifty-nine cars with nine hundred horses and mules covering 53.3 miles of track. By 1892 all lines had been converted to electric operation.

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Goodrich, Calvin G. A History of the Minneapolis Street Railway Company; Covering 35 Years, 1873–1908. Minneapolis: Brooks Press, 1909.

The Environmental Literacy Council. "The Horse & the Urban Environment."
http://enviroliteracy.org/environment-society/transportation/the-horse-the-urban-environment/

Extension. "Stall Waste Production and Management."
http://www.extension.org/pages/18868/stall-waste-production-and-management#.VddGnflVhBc

Illustrated Minneapolis: A Souvenir of the Minneapolis Journal. [Minneapolis]: Minneapolis Journal, 1891.

Kieffer, Stephen A. Transit and the Twins: A Survey of the History of the Transportation Company in Minneapolis and Saint Paul: An Analysis of the Role of Public Transportation in the Growth of the Twin Cities. Minneapolis: Twin City Rapid Transit Company, 1958.

Lind, Alan R. Twin City Rapid Transit Pictorial. Park Forest, IL: Transport History Press, 1984.

Lowry, Goodrich. Streetcar Man: Tom Lowry and the Twin City Rapid Transit Company. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1979.

Miller, John Anderson. Fares, Please! From Horse-cars to Streamliners. New York, London: D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc., 1941.

New York City Transit Museum. Teacher Resource Center. New York City Transit Timeline Quick Reference Guide.
http://www.transitmuseumeducation.org/images/quickreferencetimeline.pdf

Olson, Russell L. "Electric Railways of Minneapolis and St. Paul." Interurbans 11, no. 2 (December 1953): 4–5.

——— . The Electric Railways of Minnesota. Supplement. St. Paul: Minnesota Transportation Museum, 1990.

Russell L. Olson Street Railway Research Files, 1881–1996
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Research notes, background information, compilation of statistical and financial data, and other material pertaining to the Twin City Rapid Transit Company (TCRT) and to more than 25 other street railway systems in Minnesota and adjacent states.

"Railroad Excursion. Formal Opening of the St. Paul Street Railway." St. Paul Pioneer, July 16, 1872.

Tuckey, Edson Newton. An Historical Account of the Street Railways of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Typescript. Undated.

Twin City Rapid Transit Company Corporate records, 1872–2001
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/00207.xml
Description: Records of the company, its subsidiaries, and successors that operated the streetcar and local bus system in the Minneapolis–St. Paul metropolitan area from 1891 until 1970.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of a horse-drawn streetcar in Minneapolis; sign reads Sixth Street, Monroe Street and Eighth Avenue, c.1885. This photograph shows a second team of horses ready to relieve the team on the horsecar.
Black and white photograph of a horse-drawn streetcar in Minneapolis; sign reads Sixth Street, Monroe Street and Eighth Avenue, c.1885. This photograph shows a second team of horses ready to relieve the team on the horsecar.
Black and white photograph of a "bobtail" horsecar 94, St. Paul City Railway Company; sign reads Rice Street to West St. Paul via Robert, Ducas, and Concord Streets, c.1883–1889.
Black and white photograph of a "bobtail" horsecar 94, St. Paul City Railway Company; sign reads Rice Street to West St. Paul via Robert, Ducas, and Concord Streets, c.1883–1889.
Black and white photograph of a horsecar in Minneapolis on Plymouth and Bloomington Avenue line, c.1888.
Black and white photograph of a horsecar in Minneapolis on Plymouth and Bloomington Avenue line, c.1888.
Black and white photograph of the first horsecar in the Twin Cities (St. Paul Street Railway Company), July 15, 1872.
Black and white photograph of the first horsecar in the Twin Cities (St. Paul Street Railway Company), July 15, 1872.
Black and white photograph of a 1872 horsecar compared to a new electric motor streetcar, May 3, 1921. Photographed by C.J. Hibbard.
Black and white photograph of a 1872 horsecar compared to a new electric motor streetcar, May 3, 1921. Photographed by C.J. Hibbard.
Black and white photograph of a horsecar in front of Central High School, Minneapolis, 1878.
Black and white photograph of a horsecar in front of Central High School, Minneapolis, 1878.
Black and white photograph of St. Paul City Railway horsecar number one at Snelling Shops storage shed prior to reconditioning for the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the first horsecar line in St. Paul, 1922.
Black and white photograph of St. Paul City Railway horsecar number one at Snelling Shops storage shed prior to reconditioning for the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the first horsecar line in St. Paul, 1922.
Color image of a Minneapolis Street Railway Company fare token (front), c.1905.
Color image of a Minneapolis Street Railway Company fare token (front), c.1905.
Color image of a Minneapolis Street Railway Company fare token (back), c.1905.
Color image of a Minneapolis Street Railway Company fare token (back), c.1905.
Color image of a brass bell from a horse-drawn streetcar used by the Minneapolis Street Railway Company, c.1874–1891.
Color image of a brass bell from a horse-drawn streetcar used by the Minneapolis Street Railway Company, c.1874–1891.

Turning Point

Public transportation in the Twin Cities gets its start in 1872, when the first streetcar tracks are laid in St. Paul by the St. Paul Street Railway Company.

Chronology

1832

The first horsecars in America appear on the streets of New York City.

1872

The St. Paul Street Railway Company is incorporated and begins horsecar operations on 2.5 miles of track.

1873

The Minneapolis Street Railway Company is organized.

1875

The Minneapolis Street Railway Company begins horsecar service with two cars.

1877

The St. Paul Street Railway Company defaults and is sold at a sheriff's auction. It is renamed the Saint Paul City Railway Company.

1877

The Minneapolis horsecar system carries an average of seventeen hundred passengers daily.

1878

Thomas Lowry and other investors obtain a controlling share of the Minneapolis Street Railway Company's stock.

1887

Thomas Lowry takes control of the St. Paul City Railway Company, merging it with the Minneapolis Street Railway Company.

1887

12-foot and 16-foot cars are introduced in the Twin Cities.

1887

Conductors are introduced on the lines.

1887

Driver and conductor pay increases to $54.00 per month.

1887

The first cable car line opens in St. Paul, signaling the end of the horsecar era.

1889

Electric streetcars begin to replace horsecars in Minneapolis.

1890

Electric streetcars begin to replace horsecars in St. Paul.

1892

The conversion from horse-drawn to electric cars is complete.