In the August/September issue, you noted that August 10 would be the one-hundredth anniversary of the first commercially operated streetcars, which started running in Baltimore. It is interesting to note that the designer and builder of the Baltimore system was named Daft, and an eminent scientist of that time declared him a “knave or a fool” for thinking it possible to undertake such a project. The system used an exposed third rail in the center to power little electric locomotives that pulled one horsecar each. At cross streets, however, power was taken from an overhead electrified pipe by means of a crude copper collector. The system wore out after four years, and the line reverted to “oat power.”
Meanwhile, in January 1888 and 145 miles south of Baltimore, Frank Julian Sprague completed the first entirely successful installation of electric streetcars in Richmond, Virginia. Sprague’s system used the now familiar trolley pole and overhead wire system that eventually became universal, along with reduction gears to enable the electric motors to drive heavy cars up steep grades.
It nevertheless remains a fact that the first commercially operated system was the result of the efforts and persistence of British-born inventor Leo Daft.