In the 1850s, Baltimore’s 170,000 residents had few options when it came to getting around town. Before the decade’s end, however, the omnibusan urban version of the stagecoachemerged as Baltimore’s first mass-transit vehicle. Horsecars followed, then cable cars, and ultimately electrically powered streetcars. Recognizing the need for cohesion, the city’s myriad transit providers merged into a single operator. United Railways and Electric Company, incorporated in 1899, faced the unenviable task of integrating routes being served by inadequate, incompatible, and often obsolete equipment. Over the next seven decades, privately run mass transit in Baltimore survived bankruptcy, a name change, two world wars, the proliferation of private automobiles, a takeover by out-of-town interests, and a plethora of new vehicles. Arguably a unified system of privately operated mass transit was no closer to being a reality in 1970, when it reached the end of the line and was taken over by the state.
About the Author
The Baltimore Streetcar Museum is a nonprofit facility dedicated to the preservation of Baltimore’s public transit history, especially from the street-railway era. Gary Helton lives and works in Bel Air, Maryland, where he is the manager of public radio station 91.1 WHFC-FM. He and his wife, Mary Ellen, have two grown children, one grandson, and “Frankie the Wonder Mutt.”