Object of the Month

The Last Horse Drawn Streetcar in Boston

The Last Horse Drawn Street Car

Last horse drawn streetcar
Albumen photograph taken ca. 1888
11.9 cm. x 9.2 cm.
View shows streetcar in front of the New Old South Church on Dartmouth Street, Boston.
Massachusetts Historical Society

For close to forty years, horse drawn street cars dominated Boston's streets. The first horse car line began operation on 26 March 1856, running from Central Square, Cambridge to Bowdoin Square in Boston. Horse cars running on railroad tracks competed with and then replaced popular omnibuses which had been used in Boston since the 1820s. Residents were wary at first of having tracks mar their city streets but public favor soon turned to horse cars which provided greater speed and a smoother ride.

By the end of the nineteenth century it became clear that Boston needed a new method of public transportation. Streets were clogged with traffic and horses frequently were injured while pulling heavy loads. In 1888 the first electric streetcar line began operation from the Allston Railroad Depot to Park Square, and in 1897, Boston's subway system, the nation's first, began operation.

The Massachusetts Historical Society will display this photograph as part of an exhibition entitled, "Boats, Trains, and Even Planes: The Transportation Revolution in Massachusetts, 1803-1903," starting 30 May 2003 and continuing through the summer. The exhibition will document landmark changes in transportation technology from the opening of the Middlesex Canal in 1803 through the state's first experiments with airplane technology in the early twentieth century.

Highlights from the exhibition include proprietor's records for the Middlesex Canal; the papers of Charles Francis Adams, Jr., member of the Massachusetts Railroad Commission and president of the Union Pacific Railroad; and programs and broadsides for the Harvard-Boston Aero Meet in 1910, the first airplane flying competition in the Boston area, among much more. Highlights from the photo archives include photographs of the transition from horse drawn to electric streetcars in Boston, as well as photographs of some of the Wright brothers' first experiments with flight from the collection of Godfrey Lowell Cabot, a noted aviation pioneer


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