Remember the streetcar debate? You know, that seemingly endless, incredibly tiring war between folks who believed installing a 2.5-mile downtown line would be the greatest thing in Milwaukee history, and those who thought it would bring the city to its knees? Remember how it all quieted down when we decided to just go ahead and build the thing? Sure, you can still find plenty of “BOONDOGGLE!”s being grunted out in the bowels of the Journal Sentinel‘s Facebook page, but for the most part, people have gone on with their lives. The streetcar is being installed as we speak. It should be ready sometime in 2018. Yay.
Of course, this isn’t Milwaukee’s first go at a streetcar. On May 30, 1860, four horses made Milwaukee public transportation history when they lugged a streetcar from the Walker’s Point Bridge to what is now Juneau Avenue. This so-called “horsecar” was the work of city co-founder George Walker and his City Rail Road Co. The system cost anywhere from $6 or $7 a day to operate.
Milwaukee’s horsecars had their problems, however. They were slow, topping out at around six miles per hour, and the horses themselves required oodles of maintenance. Then there was the horse shit: According to a piece on Urban Milwaukee, “by one estimate, Milwaukee’s 12,500 horses in 1907 produced 133 tons of manure a day.” Somewhere, a long line of Tannens in the Back To The Future universe quaked in their boots.
In the end, electricity came along and put an end to all the equine fun. The Milwaukee Electric Railway Company was established in 1890, giving the city its first electric streetcar. Other companies followed, and in 1896 they were consolidated into the Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Co., an ancestor of today’s We Energies. The last Milwaukee streetcar ran on March 2, 1958. Nearly 60 years later, the city braces for its return…