Sunday, July 11, 2010

Streetcar Sundays - Pittsburgh, Pennsyvania

This card shows downtown Pittsburgh at the turn of the century. You can see the streetcar tracks and what looks to be a streetcar down the line.  On July 4, 1897 there was a serious streetcar accident in Pittsburgh.  This excerpt is from GenDisasters, a website that chronicles the disasters that shaped our ancestors' lives. Warning: it is a little graphic. I am also puzzled by their willingness to predict who will die.

Streetcar Wreck on an Incline at Pittsburg.
PITTSBURG, July 7. -- Four people were fatally injured and 18 or 20 others were more or less injured in a streetcar wreck on the Forbes street line of the Consolidated Traction company last night.  The names of the seriously injured are:
Michael Doyle, motorman, top of head torn away, two ribs and a leg broken; will die.
W. A. Manly, employed in the circulating department of The Times, scalp laid bare and hurt internally; probably die.
Miss Smith, skull fractured; will die.
C. C. Rogers, leg and arm broken and hurt internally; will die
Mrs. Mary H. Wilson, Allegheny, two ribs, right leg and left ankle broken; may recover.
The full list of injured is not ascertainable.
The wreck occurred on the Soho hill at the time when the immense crowds which attended the fireworks display at Schenley Park were returning home.
An Atwood streetcar had gone about half way down the hill when it jumped the track, closely following it came an open summer car with a trailer, both densely packed with people.  Before the second train could be stopped it crashed into the derailed car. Hardly had the first collision happened before a third car, heavily laden, came down the hill at full speed and forced its way into the wreck ahead.  It was the second crash that did most of the damage and the scene was indescribable.
Fort Wayne News, Fort Wayne, In 7 Jul 1897

I'm not going to go into the details of Pittsburgh's illustrious streetcar history, in part because there are a few existing web pages that do a very nice job of it. One is an article written in 2006 by Matthew Campbell for Carnegie Mellon's student newspaper. Here's the link: Streetcars define Pittsburgh's transportation history. And then of course, there's Wikipedia, which also has an impressive amount of information.


  1. It look very much the same today, sans tracks. On a related note, would you say an incline in the same as a streetcar?

  2. Hi Keri,
    Thanks for the segueway. I think next week I'll do a post on the various different kinds of cars. the Incline is a cable system, similar to San Francisco's cable cars, but San Francisco has both streetcars and cable cars.

  3. It's always surprising how graphic newspapers used to be - I've seen accounts of train wrecks from the 1910-20s that made similar predictions about the fate of the injured. It's really unsettling, even reading it decades later.

  4. I'm not that familiar with Pittsburgh, but don't think that the accident occurred on one of the city's 'inclines', or funiculars, which climb the steep hills across the river from the central city. Rather, based on the park mentioned and Soho Hill (which I believe is in the Bluff neighborhood adjacent to downtown), it was likely a regular streetcar on a hill (or incline...). In response to Keri's question, I would guess that the numerous funicular's in Pittsburgh really did function as an integral part of the streetcar system- I'm sure there were streetcar stops at the top and bottom of the hill to meet the funicular. Funiculars in some other cities seem to be more of a novelty than a significant leg of a mass transit system.

  5. I like the vanishing-point perspective of this card. I have fond memories of the Pittsburgh funicular from a long ago visit.



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