"Ridin' in the Street Cars"

(St. Louis, Mo.)


Horse drawn Steet Car

Horse drawn street car which is the type being described in the 1870
St. Louis song, "Ridin' in the Street Cars".
Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.


Street cars first made their appearance on the streets of St. Louis on July 4, 1859. It was on this date that Erastus Wells (President of the Missouri Railway Company) took a trial run with his horse drawn street car  down Olive Street (running between Fourth and Tenth Streets). This car loaded with company representatives as well as city officials drew a large cheering crowd, but rocks along the tracks derailed the car on its maiden run. Company engineers devised a way to eliminate this problem and soon the street car business overtook the omnibus (which was a large stage couch) method of local travel. The main advantages of using a horse drawn street car on rails versus the horse drawn omnibus was the increased passenger capacity and a much smoother ride. One company, The Nortwestern St. Louis Railway, in Oct. 25, 1874 even  expanded the capacity further by the operation of a two story car.
 

By 1881 the Missouri Railway Company owned more than eight and a half miles of track along Market and Olive Streets.  Other Company lines opened up, such as the St. Louis Railway Company, which owned the north-south track going from Bellefontaine Rd. to Keokuk Ave. The original fair started at 5 cents but by 1870 it cost 15 cents. The business was booming  and according to James Neal Primm (author of "Lion of the Valley", history of St. Louis), "total trackage in 1881was 119.6 miles; the companies owned 2280 horses and mules and 496 cars, employed more than a thousand workers, and carried 19.6 million passengers."

Steam powered Street cars were first tried in 1870, but due to the noise which tended to startle and bolt carriage horses, the experiment was deemed unacceptable. However gradual acceptance came about after Eratus Wells in 1876 introduced his West End Narrow Gauge Railway that ran through rural St. Louis county (from Grand & Olive to Normandy in 1876, and Normandy to Florissant line in 1878). This apparently opened the way for  public acceptance of a steam powered cabled street car in 1885.  Variations sometimes included a open-air double-decker car that was added as a trailer behind the first car. Nevertheless, the faster steam powered cars were short-lived as electrified cars began replacing them in 1890.
 

In 1900, street car workers unionized into the Street Railway Employees of America, Local 131. At this time ( May 8, 1900), the union went on strike to demand company recognition of their union, protest low pay, and to limit the work day to ten hours. St. Louis Transit Company, at first conceded  to the union's request, but later withdrew and brought in strikebreakers. This resulted in dangerous demonstations that began with the throwing of rocks, frogs, and water soaked bread at the cars. Later activities included cutting cable lines, bon fires, barracading and dynamiting the tracks. St. Louis residents and businesses for the most part rallied behind the union workers, but grew weary at the lack of transportation service. A Federal judge ordered a mandatory "militia duty" of 2,500 "respectable" citizens to halt the stoppage of street car traffic (on the grounds that some cars carried U.S. mail).  Some striking workers began operating horse-drawn omnibuses to compete with the "scab driven" street cars.

The situation grew even more explosive when strike-breakers began firing into St. Louis crowds from the cars. One shootout episode in June left three dead and 14 wounded. Also during this time three attempts were made to blow up the car barns located at Easton and Prairie Avenues. It was here that the replacement workers were being quartered. One explosion did go off, luckily not hurting anyone. An agreement was reached with the help of Joseph W. Folk and Rev. Willard Boyd in which Edward Whitaker (President of the St. Louis Transit Company) agreed to hire back strikers according to an original agreement. Whitaker later reneged on the deal and the strike resumed in crippling city transportation for the entire summer of 1900. By September, due to depleted funds and hunger, the impoverished workers were compelled to surrender their cause. According to historian, James Neal Primm, the strike did highlight problems of "poor municiple services, corporate arrogance, legislative corruption..." as well as a possible need for public ownership of the transit system.

The strike was a temporary set back for St. Louis street cars. Throughout the twentieth century, lines were expanded to not only serve areas of the City of St. Louis but much of St. Louis county as well. In the early 1960's a poor descision was made to discontinue street car service and switch to buses. With the opening of new interstate highways, automobiles took the forefront of  local commutes. Bus transportation never obtained the wide appeal that the old street cars once entertained. Sadly the last street car  in St. Louis ceased to operate  in 1966, it was an electric powered car on the Hodiamont line. The author remembers, as a five year old child, as being one of the fortunate few to ride this final car that marked an end of  the St. Louis street car era. Today a ride in a refurbished 1950-60 style electric street car can once again be experienced  at the National Museum of Transportation in west St. Louis county. In addition, Metro-Link offers area residents an excellent way to experience how it once was to travel St. Louis without an automobile.

 

"Ridin' in the Street Cars"

Music and lyrics by Fred Wilson.
Published 1870 by: Balmer & Weber, 206 North Fifth St.,  St. Louis, Mo.
Midi File courtesy of Benjamin Tubb

 

Verse One


A riding in the cars,
On a wet and muddy day,
A long with Pa and Ma,
You've fifteen cents to pay,
You sit down side by side,
On seats so well arranged,
And fumble through your pockets
for the necessary change.


CHORUS


Ring the bell,
Crack the whip,
Now we go hurrah,
Don't we have a jolly time,
A riding in the car.
Oh' Ring the bell,
Crack the whip,
Now we go hurrah,
Don't we have a jolly time,
A riding in the car.

 
 

Verse Two


Now if the car is full,
And a lady wants a seat,
You kindly give your own,
And stand upon your feet.
She takes it with a frown,
Which gives your nerves a jar,
And makes you hate the city crowd,
that's riding in the car.
 

CHORUS

Ring the bell,
Crack the whip,
Now we go hurrah,
Don't we have a jolly time,
A riding in the car.
Oh' Ring the bell,
Crack the whip,
Now we go hurrah,
Don't we have a jolly time,
A riding in the car.

Verse Three

A man stands at the door,
Who is not at all polite,
He's had too much to drink,
And smokes a dirty pipe.
You ask him for to move,
And kindly give you place,
Instead of moving he will puff
tobacco in your face.


CHORUS

Ring the bell,
Crack the whip,
Now we go hurrah,
Don't we have a jolly time,
A riding in the car.
Oh' Ring the bell,
Crack the whip,
Now we go hurrah,
Don't we have a jolly time,
A riding in the car.

 
 
1901 Advertisement of Lindell Hotel

1901 Advertisement depicting street cars in St. Louis. Located along Washington Avenue, between
Sixth and Seventh Streets. This "world class hotel" is the second building, built 1874, the
original burned in a fire on March 30, 1867. Only five years after this ad was run, in 1906,
the Lindell Hotel was torn down.


 
 
 
Close-up of the cable Streetcars shown in the above
1901 advertisement.

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This webpage by Scott K. Williams, Florissant, Missouri (1999)