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The Electric Interurban Railways in America

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One of the most colorful yet neglected eras in American transportation history is re-created in this definitive history of the electric interurbans. Built with the idea of attracting short-distance passenger traffic and light freight, the interurbans were largely constructed in the early 1900s. The rise of the automobile and motor transport caused the industry to decline a One of the most colorful yet neglected eras in American transportation history is re-created in this definitive history of the electric interurbans. Built with the idea of attracting short-distance passenger traffic and light freight, the interurbans were largely constructed in the early 1900s. The rise of the automobile and motor transport caused the industry to decline after World War I, and the depression virtually annihilated the industry by the middle 1930s. Part I describes interurban construction, technology, passenger and freight traffic, financial history, and final decline and abandonment. Part II presents individual histories (with route maps) of the more than 300 companies of the interurban industry. Reviews "A first-rate work of such detail and discernment that it might well serve as a model for all corporate biographies. . . . A wonderfully capable job of distillation." —Trains "Few economic, social, and business historians can afford to miss this definitive study." —Mississippi Valley Historical Review "All seekers after nostalgia will be interested in this encyclopedic volume on the days when the clang, clang of the trolley was the most exciting travel sound the suburbs knew." —Harper's Magazine "A fascinating and instructive chapter in the history of American transportation." —Journal of Economic History "The hint that behind the grand facade of scholarship lies an expanse of boyish enthusiasm is strengthened by a lovingly amassed and beautifully reproduced collection of 37 photographs." —The Nation


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One of the most colorful yet neglected eras in American transportation history is re-created in this definitive history of the electric interurbans. Built with the idea of attracting short-distance passenger traffic and light freight, the interurbans were largely constructed in the early 1900s. The rise of the automobile and motor transport caused the industry to decline a One of the most colorful yet neglected eras in American transportation history is re-created in this definitive history of the electric interurbans. Built with the idea of attracting short-distance passenger traffic and light freight, the interurbans were largely constructed in the early 1900s. The rise of the automobile and motor transport caused the industry to decline after World War I, and the depression virtually annihilated the industry by the middle 1930s. Part I describes interurban construction, technology, passenger and freight traffic, financial history, and final decline and abandonment. Part II presents individual histories (with route maps) of the more than 300 companies of the interurban industry. Reviews "A first-rate work of such detail and discernment that it might well serve as a model for all corporate biographies. . . . A wonderfully capable job of distillation." —Trains "Few economic, social, and business historians can afford to miss this definitive study." —Mississippi Valley Historical Review "All seekers after nostalgia will be interested in this encyclopedic volume on the days when the clang, clang of the trolley was the most exciting travel sound the suburbs knew." —Harper's Magazine "A fascinating and instructive chapter in the history of American transportation." —Journal of Economic History "The hint that behind the grand facade of scholarship lies an expanse of boyish enthusiasm is strengthened by a lovingly amassed and beautifully reproduced collection of 37 photographs." —The Nation

30 review for The Electric Interurban Railways in America

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bradley Scott

    It's a little dry, but if you're interested in the electric interurban railways that briefly flourished in the United States in the early twentieth century, then just as quickly withered and died by the middle of that century, this book is a must-read. The first 60% of the book is an overall survey of the history of the interurban industry in the United States, beginning with the development of the electrical technology that made high-speed inter-urban electric passenger transportation possible, It's a little dry, but if you're interested in the electric interurban railways that briefly flourished in the United States in the early twentieth century, then just as quickly withered and died by the middle of that century, this book is a must-read. The first 60% of the book is an overall survey of the history of the interurban industry in the United States, beginning with the development of the electrical technology that made high-speed inter-urban electric passenger transportation possible, then proceeding to analysis of their traffic and operation, financial and regulatory aspects of the industry, and the eventual near-total obliteration of the industry. Both authors are economists, and rely heavily on analysis of business data and interpretation of trends. They argue that the brief efflorescence and sudden decline of interurbans in the US was essentially preordained. The development of interurban technology in an era of growing population and urban and suburban development made its widespread adoption irresistable to investors and town-boosters, even in areas where population density and resulting traffic density was marginal at best. The explosive development and popularity of personal automobiles and paved roads just a decade later then took away much of the traffic that the recently-built interurbans depended on, starving them of revenue, changing the goals of civic boosters, and driving interurbans out of business in everything except the densest urban areas. I can't help but note that in many places, the unrestrained adoption of cars and highways eventually resulted in traffic and parking problems, once a certain density was reached, that would have made interurbans viable once again. Indeed, several modern cities are essentially rebuilding interurbans today, under the newfangled moniker "light rail". The last 40% of the book is an encyclopedic listing of interurbans that operated throughout the US, grouped by state, with maps and several paragraphs describing the history and operation of each one. This is of course interesting to readers who want to see what interurbans once operated in their own backyards, but it also allows a glimpse of the ways that the various regional systems spread out from major urban centers to reach many outlying smaller cities within a hundred miles or so, but usually failed to connect to each other and form an efficient and convenient national network. The only major flaw in the copy of the book that I read (a 2011 paperback reprint) was the small selection of photos and the muddy, blurry quality of the photos that are included. I don't know whether the same complaint applies to earlier editions.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    Where, when, and why they grew and, well, failed to flourish. Reads like a thesis with an national collection of data.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dan Moulton

  4. 5 out of 5

    Doreen Faulconer Rogan

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Moore

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jack

  7. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Kraybill

  8. 4 out of 5

    Gordo Penniston

  9. 4 out of 5

    Alice Lemon

  10. 4 out of 5

    Allen

  11. 5 out of 5

    David Britten

  12. 4 out of 5

    Scott

  13. 4 out of 5

    Brendan

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michael Carnell

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

  16. 5 out of 5

    Roger Dupuis

  17. 4 out of 5

    Toryn Green

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kate and Pat

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jim Branley

  20. 4 out of 5

    Matt English

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tom

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ann Alexander

  23. 4 out of 5

    Julia

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Ngo

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brad

  26. 4 out of 5

    Charles Kwiatkowski

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rifat Islam

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lawrence Velázquez

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Lashinsky

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ricki

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