"Loaded cable car, Court House hill, Tacoma, Wash." (1906)

In the last decades of the nineteenth century, horse powered public transportation gave way to mechanical systems for a variety of reasons. Horses became fatigued, and they created large amounts of waste detrimental to public sanitation. And horses were highly susceptible to disease. The first successful replacement for the horse car was the cable car, first and famously applied in San Francisco in 1873 to tackle the difficulties of ascending the city’s famous hills. Chicago’s first cable car lines opened in 1882, and though the network was extensive for several decades, the infrastructure was expensive to maintain, and the technology proved only to be viable on the city’s most heavily trafficked routes. In time, electric trolleys supplanted cable lines in relatively flat cities such as Chicago, but cable cars remained important in hillier cities like Tacoma, Washington. Tacoma’s cable car line was still a curiosity when this photograph was taken 1906—enough so to be the subject of a stereoscopic image. The line was one of the last ones constructed, and it stayed in operation until 1938.

 

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Hilton, George W. The Cable Car in America. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997.

McShane, Clay, and Joel A. Tarr. The Horse in the City: Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century. Baltimore : The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.

Miller, Warren. The Cable Car Book. Millbrae, CA: Celestial Arts, 1980.

Young, David M. Chicago Transit: An Illustrated History. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 1998.

"Loaded cable car, Court House hill, Tacoma, Wash." Stereograph. 1906. From Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division: STEREO U.S. GEOG FILE –Washington—Tacoma—Street scenes [item] [P&P]