tv Lectures in History CSPAN September 2, 2016 10:34pm-11:48pm EDT
similar to rural trolleys. before the rise o f the personal automobiles, these local systems allowing people from rural areas to get to city centers in a cheap, reliable way. he talks about inter urban as precursor to the urban light rail today. his class is about an hour and ten minutes. >> this morning, we are going to begin a three part study of electric inner urban. one of the least studied aspect of american transportation history. the overall theme and one that i want you to keep in mind, we can making argument that the electric inn electric inter urban were the world's trolley. in fact, if the automobile had been invented perhaps, 20 or 25
years before and if we had the triumph of the good roads movement about the same time, we would not have had the inter urban era. we can make a case, too that the inter urban is the transition between steamed railroad less and express of becoming the motor truck. and, in the near future, in fact, on thursday, i want to talk about trolley or inter urb urban freight. to begin, lets keep in mind that the american inter city road system was awful. we did talk about that turnpike movement at the end of the 18th century that continued in the earliest 20th century. we had that national road that was financed by the federal
government in the 1840s and 50s. also, there were local improvements, for example, the plain roads stand out as a good illustration. it would not be until the 1890s when there was this bicycle crazed, the safety of bicycle were introduced in the latter part of 1880s and communities were being pressured to have better roads. perhaps, only going out in the suburbs. we have places like cleveland and philadelphia that are installing brick roads. so there is a movement for all weather road systems, or at least in the limited sense prior to the coming o f the automobile which really is about 1900 to
1905. most of american roads at the beginning of the 20th century were mud holes during the wet season and extremely dusty during the dry season. it was estimated that only about 5% of america's 2.2 million miles of roads were actually all weather. in other words, they were covered with all broken stones and some type of gravel or sand or in florida with seashells. to make a long story short, the roads system was abysmal. one good example comes from iowa. as of 1905, only 2% of the state's network of more than 100,000 miles of roads were improved or all weather or semi all weather.
here is a comment that was made at this time by a hawkeye state, newspaper editor. this week a former walks four miles to town with a basket of produce. this week a farmer's wife came to town with her butter. most of everyone in town heard of it because it was the only country butter received here. the explanation quite simple. "rarely the bad roads have well cut the country from the town and the town from the." so this community which is red oak, iowa, in the south western part of the state was kind of island community. if the roads the were passable? yes, she would have delicious country butter or fresh poultry
or some other commodities from rural line areas. with that in mind, it is quite obvious that we needed a better mouse trap. yes, during this time period which i call the twilight era of american steam railroads. there were efforts to add additional miles of line. so there would be these branch lines and independent short lines that were built. needless to say there were areas that simply needed something mo more than a branch line or short line and passenger. considering the condition of the roads, this is one reason why we have this new, perhaps, replacement technology. so you may ask, what is an interurban. i know you all took a baby latin
in high school. interurban between cities, the kind of latin that i actually remember from the early 1960s. so, perhaps, it is a time for me to give you some visual images of an interurban. this is a brochure that was sold to travelers in the greater new england era. this is the hard land of what we call rural trolleys. it is simply streetcar companies that extended their lines out into the suburbs, near by
villages or perhaps to an amusement park or to a cemetery or whatever. this is the kind of early in urban car that was so yu yu -- looks leike fun. it is a way to certainly see the landscape. this ises t this is the first type of interurban car. notice it had over head an uphold that connects with the power source. there would be hundreds of miles of these rural trolleys constructed and mostly in new england but also scattered throughout the country. this is a view taken in april of
1925 when supposedly the good road movement was moving at a rapid case. here we have a car that resembles a rural trolley on illinois railway. here is a sense of a typical of country road. as they said in the 19 century and apparently to the 20th century, choose your road and stay with it. i think we would agree that taking this interurban car because it did connect to cities that were roughly a dozen miles apart. what we are seeing then is that we start out small, perhaps, not all that different from an
animal car. >> here is the essential of the interurban cars. one that dates from 1907. it is on iowa interurban. the clinton and muscateen railw railway. we have the motor man and we have the various passengers gazing out the window and the conductor who is their gardening the rail. what we had is really a large railroad car if you will that's simply is self propelled. not all that difference from
those gas electric cars that were being introduced about the same time and later we have what we are called rail diesel cars that were modern and sophisticated. if you have been to new orleans and st. charles street or even charlotte with its recent light rail system, you can see similarities. the power today may come from a third rail but most of the railroads were electrifieelectr. here we have this nicely track so you can go along the western stores if you want to call them shores, the mississippi river
between davenport and muscateen. here is another typical interurban car. it comes from southern ohio. from the cincinnati, gorge town a , georgetown. here is as wonderful example where promoters hoping to get to port man but they did not get much to georgetown. this railroad was originally built and standardized and converted to electricity. there were some examples of that. here is some what smaller car dating also from about 1910 or there abouts.
here we have one more interurban car. notice that we are operating in multiple sections. this is on the piedmont in northern railway. it was taken not too far outside of greenville. and, this electric urban built by the duke power interest. the duke's cigarette interest and tobacco interest. it was one of the most profitable of all interurban railroad. it develops a substantial carload freight business so cars can be interchange with the southern railway and the georgia florida railroad and so on and so forth. this is a special excursion. a white flag signifies extra train. it is not a scheduled train. and apparently, we have school
children on an outing. the piedmont is some what different than other interurbans. as i said, it made money and many of them did not. but, we are in a state where jim crow's laws are being in forced so there is a special session or african-americans, a color section as it was called. the railroad would operate various color only excursions often to baseball games that were held and anderson or perhaps, greenwood. this railroad was built in sections and it was never connected. it was a north carolina division from charlotte to gastonia and as i said, we have this south carolina operation from spartanburg to greenville with the branch to anderson and down to greenwood.
so, here we have again, some what later, this is a train about the time of the first world war. this railroad was not built until 1912 to 1913. really at the end of the construction period. and, it would last for many years and we'll talk later about the twilight of the trolley. a good working definition of an interurban is probably appropriate at this time. early in the century a new york investment banker came up with what i considered the best deaf negotiation. he said that a bona fide interurban was one that was more than 15 miles in length.
distinguishing it from a rural trolley which had at least two-thirds of its track outside the municipal limits. operates cars at a maximum speed of not less than 20 miles an hour. in other words, we are talking about an interurban that is longer than 15 miles. two-thirds of its track is outside of corporate limits, and its got to be able to operate a 20 miles an hour or faster. now, the federal government, bless its heart never could come up with a real definition. for a while the department of commerce and labor before the two departments were celebrasep inside the century suggested that any electric line that operated between two municipalities was interurban.
then there was a realization that we have essentially suburban streetcar this, the government said, look, when we send out this questionnaire about whether you're a trolley company or an interurban, it's up to you to decide. we'll make you the ultimate judge of what you happen to be. for most of the history of the interurbans, it was up to an individual corporate entity. now let me explain the technology. and even though i wrote a book on railroad technology, i'm not that skilled in explaining interurban technology. as you saw on those images, that the earliest interurban cars really were just somewhat larger
animal cars or perhaps small city streetcars. most of them were relatively small. and it would be operated by the motorman. would call on a steam railroad, the engineer. and you would likely have a conductor. so we're talking about a two-person crew. the power comes almost always from the overhead line. some interurbans experimented with third-rail. but there's always the danger, there was a problem in the state of washington, where livestock or at least small livestock, i guess chickens are livestock, sort of, although you can't herd chickens. and children were shocked and in the case of animals, actually killed, more likely dogs than anything else. and so there was a lot of
concern about third rail and perhaps you've been in new york city, and the subway and you don't want to touch the third rail. it's not a good idea. unless you're planning suicide. originally and for much of the history of interurbans, we find the use of direct current, dc. general electric is the innovator here and a number of these interurbans, like the ones that i showed you, with the exception of the piedmont and northern, used 600 to 1200-volt dc. then the westinghouse electric and manufacturing company, the competitor to general electric, early in the 20th century introduced alternating current, ac. and this might be 6,600 volts, 25-cycle power. and westinghouse engineers
argued, they're trying to sell this to various interurban promotors, that you didn't have line drop like you did with dc current. when you used dc, you had to use a number of substations that added more juice to the current. also, westinghouse suggested that less copper wire was needed or at least less quality copper wire was required. but there were limitations. and the limitations involved the fact that ac operated interurban cars had to be heavier, there were issues with the motors. they had to be perhaps more durable. also you had to use more expensive copper wire.
and so the bottom line was -- that maintenance costs generally were higher with ac. and there was another issue. cars using ac could not accelerate as fast as those that used dc so there is this conflict. and there were municipalities that said, we don't want this high-voltage ac lines in our street so they would have to then convert to dc, when they had street runnings through a municipality and these interurbans tended to go into the heart of communities. so if we look at the history of interurbans and we're interested in electricity, we would say that a majority perhaps, 70 to 75% used direct current. well when we look at the
beginnings of electric powered transportation, we see that there were these tinkerers who realized that electricity was a kind of magical power. and there were a variety of efforts to put it to use on track, vehicles using flanged wheels. there's no single inventor. just as there's no single inventor of the automobile. certainly one individual who gets high praise is frank julian sprague. sprague was a graduate of the united states naval academy and after he completed his mandatory tour of duty. he went to work for thomas edison. mr. light bulb. and while working with edison, he became fascinated with the possible application of
electricity to transportation. he then left in the early 1880s, the edison company, and created his own manufacturing concern that focused on building what we would call electric trolleys. there were some dead ends, but in 1887, and 1888, sprague was successful in honoring a contract that he signed with private investors in richmond, virginia, to electrify the richmond union passenger railway. what he did was to electrify the existing dozen or so miles of animal car line in that virginia capital. and he built or had his company construct 40 motorized cars.
and built a power station. in other words all the bells and whistles that we would need for an electric powered trolley system. what sprague did and his great contribution was to figure out how to mount the electric motor under the car. before it was a rigid mounting and streets were rough and those people that had used that approach discovered that the motors failed or there were constant adjustments necessary. so sprague has a system of supporting springs that are used for the traction motors. so the jarring that occurs as a result of rough streets no more. also he worked on motor
components, making them more useful using carbon brushes for example. so in other words, sprague didn't invent the electric streetcar, which is going to morph into the electric interurban. but he solved some of the technical problems. so bless frank sprague. and sprague did well financially. some inventors don't do that well. but sprague was very cautious about patents and he had friends with legal connections. perhaps he picked this up from thomas edison who was also a stickler for patent protection. so almost immediately, and i pointed this out earlier, we find that city streetcars that are electrified become all the rage so by 1890, a high percentage of communities had
converted from animal car to trolley. from steam dummy operations to trolley. from cable car to trolley. so by 1900, you're hard-pressed to find an animal car line left in the united states. and in anderson, for example, the electric city, right? you think of that when you enter the corporate limits, correct? it had one of the early electric street car systems in the southeast, certainly in our beloved state.
now, we always have problems as historians to say that something was the first. well, i would argue that the prototype for the interurban can be found in ohio. and ohio was just a great place to build interurbans, because you had the population density. it was a prosperous state, manufacturing as well as agricultural. and communities were not that far apart. so you had villages, you had towns, and you had cities. so the prototype was an electric interurban that was built between newark, locals pronounce it "nerk," ohio, if you're not from around there, you pronounce it newark, to granville, ohio. anybody ever been to granville, ohio? it was an at least regionally famous university, dennison university, a baptist institution, once upon a time. so here we have the county seat town of newark, and this college
community which is seven miles away. and the company did not build a private right-of-way. it simply used the side of a country road. but it is incredibly profitable. and certainly the students at dennison, remember, baptist, were delighted to go to newark, because it had the reputation for saloons and brothels. it was kind of a rough town, a railroad town, coal mining center. free at last, free at least. the historian at dennison university had pointed out that the administration was not happy. and so there were representatives of the school that went down to the trolley station, the interurban station, to see what these students were
like physically, when the last car ran at 11:00 p.m. so we're not talking dwi, but it's close to where some of the students would be campused as well as expelled. this is really a rural county, out into the hinterlands. it does connect to the cities and at least two-thirds of its mileage was outside of corporate limit. but certainly one of the first true interurbans, and i would argue the first major interurban, also appeared in ohio. it was called the alphabet route, the a, b, and c railroad, for akron, bedford, and cleveland railway, and connected the municipalities in its corporate name. it opened a relatively high
speed, partially double tracked line in 1895. that was a bad year, during the depths of that nasty depression of 1893 to 1897. a local syndicate paid for it. and it was a real money maker. in other words, it went from somewhere, akron, which was growing, a diverse manufacturing center, this was before the rubber industry took control, and cleveland, which was not the mistake on the lake. it was a place where a lot of smart money was being invested, and a lot of smart people were anxious to live and to stay put. and now the craze is on. so we're going to start to see interurban madness. and let me just add parenthetically that when we looked at those canals, folks, the most prosperous ones were
built in the best areas, like the new york erie canal from roughly albany out to buffalo. but when we were building a canal between the ohio river and lisbon, ohio, that was not necessarily the best location to have a profitable ditch operation. so it was realized certainly by 1905 or so that maybe in some localities the best routes have already been selected and interurbans built, and maybe we shouldn't build any more in that immediate vicinity. now the big question. why were interurbans popular? you have a good inkling as a result of looking at those god awful roads, where you have that vicious and viscous mud gumbo, yuck.
first of all, interurbans are clean. as one company said, no cinders, no dust, no dirt, no smoke. and when you compare that to the typical steam operated passenger train, you look like you had been down in a coal mine, perhaps, or perhaps too your hat, whether you're a female or male, had pockmarks in it. there were occasions when sparks actually set coaches on fire. not good. now, admittedly, there were a few railroads, the so-called anthracite roads, that burned this hard coal as opposed to this high ash, high sulfur local coal that we would find let's say in illinois. and so there was a limited amount of smoke.
so railroads like the delaware lackawanna western, lehigh valley, the erie and several other carriers, used anthracite. but it was expensive. although in the case of lackawanna, the company owned a number of anthracite mines. so we have a kind of vertical integration, if you will. well, interurbans like to point out that they were clean. i think if you had your good sunday clothes on, you appreciate that. now, the lackawanna in the early part of the century had an advertising campaign that was in some ways remarkably successful. they selected a young woman, mythical woman, a kind of gibson girl type, sexy, actually, for the time. her name was phoebe snow. and there were a number of jingles that the company used in
advertisements, newspapers, magazines, and public timetables. and the most common one, and i quote, says, phoebe snow about to go upon a trip to buffalo. my gown stays white from morn to night upon the road of anthracite. and miss snow, ms. snow to be politically correct, had a white hat and a white shirtwaist, white skirt, and usually had a white parasol. so she was white. unlike some people in the room that have their school colors all black, we have all orange, right? well, white. an a creative employee for the illinois traction system, sometimes called mckinley lines, thought that phoebe snow would really enjoy riding on one of
that interurban's cars. and the only traction system, which later becomes the illinois terminal company, a major freight road, was long, about 400 miles, and connected such places as springfield, decatur, peoria, with st. louis. in fact the company built its own bridge over the mississippi river. it was a money maker, and was in some ways considered to be one of the nation's finest interurban. that's the illinois traction system. here is the poem that we have. after a ride of a day and night over the road of anthracite, phoebe snow and her five sisters rubbed and scrubbed until they had blisters. steam roads are out of date, said they. we'll have to travel some other way.
tomorrow to springfield we will go, dressed all in white from head to toe. so they boarded a car on the illinois traction system. when phoebe said, i must confess, i've heard of this road, it's service fine, it's hard to beat an electric line. the car was clean, the woodwork bright. the tipless porter treated them right. no dust, no dirt, all of which shows there wasn't a speck on the sisters' clothes. they arrived in springfield white and clean, not feeling tired, dirty and mean. said phoebe snow, retiring that night, this beats the road of anthracite. also, in urban cars were relatively quiet. a steam locomotive makes a lot of sound, like your stomach
after a meal. there's this clanking whatever. but in an interurban car, you just have the hum of the motor and every so often the noise that comes from the air pumps. so it's quiet. so i think we are thinking, interurbans, good news, they're clean. but even more important than that, from the public perspective, was the fact that they were convenient. interurban companies commonly operated on hourly schedules, sometimes every 30 minutes during the day and into the evening. perhaps the first car would leave at 5:00 a.m., the last car, let's say 11:00 p.m. or midnight. on steam railroads, certain
companies were very proud of their double daily service, maybe not even on sunday, but at least during the weekend -- or the weekdays, and on saturday. so you've got two chances to go east, two chances to go west or whatever direction. and on these main lines like the new york central, the pennsylvania, the illinois central, whatever, you might only have six or seven trains. now, admittedly, these weren't all locals. some of them were through trains or express trains like the 20th century limited or the broadway limited on the pensee. if you were at a smaller station, you might only have three or four trains from which to choose. but just think about this, it's like a c.a.t. bus, there's always one when you want it, correct?
so these cars were operating frequently, and they would stop virtually anywhere. maybe not everywhere, but out in the rural areas. at shelters that were built at trackside or public road crossings. and it was easy to get on these cars. you would use a hand signal during the day, or a lantern, a lighted match, or even burning newspapers at night. and the motorman would stop and pick you up. here is what the lake shore electric told readers of its public timetables in 1911. and the lake shore electric was one of these well-positioned interurban lines that connected cleveland with toledo, a distance of about 100-plus miles. passengers wishing to stop should signal the motorman with
arm extended horizontally across the track by day, i guess i give you the wrong signal, and a light swung across the track by night, at a distance of not less than 1500 feet from approaching cars. i'm not sure i know what 1500 feet is, but whatever. the motorman will answer with two short blasts of the whistle, signifying that he sees and understands you. so there's convenience. we'll see this next time when we look at the interurban era. this is particularly popular with farmers. so in other words, a farmer won't have to make arrangements perhaps for some family member to get a part for a piece of machinery, he can just go on the hour, let's say, to a trackside shelter or public road nearby, signal a car going to town, go to the hardware store or the implement company, get the part,
and come home. it's wonderful. it's not unlike, as we'll see later, taking that automobile whenever you wish. so convenience is certainly there. and a resident of a northern ohio village, seville, said this about a local interurban. quote, shoppers can take advantage of cleveland's sales. farmers can expect their produce, milk, eggs, and the like, to arrive at city markets in good conditions. and everyone can enjoy a show, maybe vaudeville and then a silent picture show. another attractive aspect would be for the traveling salesman, the so-called drummers. again, i want to spend more time talking about them on thursday. but interurbans went from the heart of a community to the heart of a community. and when steam railroads were built, oftentimes they were
forced to build their station on the outskirts or some distance from center city. if you were a traveling salesperson, you may have to walk to the downtown. and if you had your sample cases, you would have to make arrangements, maybe you would ride with your sample cases. the urban car would likely stop in front of the hotel. in fact many hotels served as railroad interurban stations. there would be somebody that would offload that sample case. and in these hotels you had sample rooms where you had shows your wares. so one of the steady sources of traffic for interurban companies would be traveling salesmen. also, cheap. you don't have to be a marxist
to have an economic interpretation for human behavior. in other words, i think that's why today can buy it, if they can get it online, the $1 ticket for megabus, if they're lucky, or maybe they go to spirit airlines, where everything is extra except using the restroom, although transportation is at a low fare, right? have you ridden on spirit? you have not gotten the spirit? well, it's a memorable way to travel, just like mega bus. in fact we'll talk about buses later, although recently in "the new york times"' travel section, they talked about some poor student on a megabus and the bus caught fire outside of milwaukee and the student lost his laptop, his books, his life.
well, property life, whatever. so interurbans tended to charge let's say two cents a mile, where the steam railroad competitors, if there are competitors, would charge maybe three to five cents a mile. and if you're salesman, for example, you could buy these coupon books so the cost of fares might be a penny, a penny and a half per mile. needless to say, the cost of tickets almost always less. and in a few cases where an interurban charged more than a competing steam railroad, we find that traveling salesmen preferred it because they actually saved money and time by going into the heart of a town or city. so they were willing to pay
perhaps a small premium. also, and you may never think of this, and it's not all that important, but i think it's kind of interesting, is that interurban cars that we saw are really benign. and by that i mean, what a traveler said in 1903, quote, there are a good many elderly men and women who are still rather afraid of the locomotive compared with an engine and train of coaches. an interurban car is rather an innocent-looking affair. so there, you don't have to be scared. and then we have real estate appreciation. and i would argue, if we wanted to construct a statue to the most representative american, maybe it would be a politician, maybe it would be a military leader, i think it would be a real estate promoter, seller, whatever.
we've been speculating on real estate since we first stumbled off ships in the 1600s. well, you have an electric line that's clean, that's convenient, that's cheap for passage, right? and wouldn't you want to live alongside or nearby? and this is especially true for agricultural property. here is what an ohio businessman said. quote, real estate along electric lines in northern ohio has nearly doubled in value since interurbans were built. and the first question a prospective buyer of a farm asks, how far is it from an electric line? also, speaking of money, the owners, the promoters of these interurbans saw this as an opportunity to increase their
wealth. and investors believed that these were good investments for them, perhaps to protect those assets of widows and orphans. that in time would not be the case. so there is this opportunity to make money, whether you're actually the owners or you're buying the stock and the bonds. it's also a good job creator. we know that tens of thousands of americans would be employed by interurbans, not only in operations, but in their offices, in their sales departments, so on and so forth. also there would be suppliers. we had this supply industry. now, often these suppliers are producing parts for city trollies. but you found different types of headlights that are needed, for
instance, on interurban cars. and then there is this whole story of urban growth, that communities are wanting to have greater control over their hinterlands. you can expect people from villages, farmers of course, coming into town, probably on saturday, and spending money. also, if your community, and we probably talking about small communities, villages, had been missed by a steam railroad, this is the second chance, just as the building of u.s. highways and interstates would be in some ways a third chance for communities. we're talking a variety of attractive features. that explains interurban madness. when were they built, and how
many miles? we have several boom periods. the first is roughly from the end of the 1890s depression. the technology is being perfected, we have better power supplies, for instance. from 1899 to 1903, there are 5,000 miles of electric interurbans that will be constructed and open. then we have this nasty albeit short recession of 1903 to 1904. and it won't be until 1905 that there is another boom. and that goes into 1907, at the time of a more severe wall street disruption. the bankers panic of 1907. and there's another 4,000 route miles constructed. and we found in this period from
maybe 1908, 1909, to the first world war, really, additional mileage. so the peak comes in 1916, with almost 16,000 route miles. now, that's overshadowed by steam road mileage which is in excess of a quarter million miles. it's interesting, 1916, as you know, historians love dates, that's the peak for interurban mileage. it's the peak for steam railroad mileage, and that's when congress and the president make it possible for the first modern aid to highway building financing program. long sentence. so in other words, 1916 is kind of a watershed year, kind of a tipping point, and in some ways it's going to be downhill for interurbans especially and also for steam railroads.
now, the average length to economists, one from the university of illinois and one from the university of california los angeles, figured out that it's about 45 miles standard length. so we're not talking long interurbans. in some states they averaged greater length. texas, for example, about 70 miles. you know, everything's bigger in texas, as we know. and texas is going to be a state that has the second largest interurban network west of the mississippi. california, more mileage. and iowa is a close third. so just keep in mind, interurbans, unlike steam railroads, are not massive in length. yeah, there are some long ones
like the illinois traction system, and i might note too that piedmont northern had 127 route miles. but we do have a numerous paper interurban story. and this in some ways knocks home the point of this kind of madness, this intensity, this excitement, interurbans are the wave of the future. ohio is the heartland. no state had more mileage than ohio. it's close to 3,000 miles. indiana is the next state in terms of greatest mileage, about 2,000 miles. now, if you take the county seat town of tiffen, which is located in north central ohio, there
were 11 different interurban projects projected to go to or through tiffen. but only one, the tiffen fostoria and eastern, was ever completed. that's not usual. we had these paper railroads, some of them were actually incorporated, and in some cases too there would be some grading, some actual construction. there were a lot of unbuilt projects in texas, in the lonestar state. back in the early 1980s, when i perhaps had too much time on my hands, i did an article on unbuilt railroads in the lonestar state. and after a great deal of guessing and a lot of work, i concluded there were about 22,000 miles of interurbans
projected in texas. but only about 500 built. and most of the 500 were centered in the greater dallas-ft. worth area, although there was an important high speed railroad constructed between houston and galveston. just think of it, come up with 500 miles, and yet you project more than 20,000 miles. so there were a lot of paper interurbans. now, let's deal with the lunatic fringe. there are some examples of grandiose projects, paper interurbans. although the one that i'm selecting this morning, the one that's being highlighted, actually did turn a wheel, although not for many miles. and let's look at the
chicago/new york electric airline. i know you're fascinated with the prospects of learning the daylights of this extreme example of interurban madness. it's not to say there weren't a number of grandiose schemes. in 1895, at the time that that alphabet road, the akron, bedford, and cleveland was opening, there was a serious proposal, i guess it was serious, to build a high speed electric line between chicago and st. louis. but it went nowhere, probably because the technology was still iffy, although admittedly that a, b, and c route did operate, and operated successfully. so at the dawn, at the very dawn of the interurban era, there
were these promoters with hunches, thinking let's have a high speed railroad that will be twice as fast as the chicago and alton, which is the major steam road connector between chicago and st. louis. about the time the chicago/new york electric airline was proposed, it's 1906, 1907, there was an effort to build a long distance interurban known as the minneapolis, kansas city, and gulf, between minneapolis, kansas city, down through dallas, to galveston, on the gulf of mexico. so that's long. so let's look at the chicago/new york electric airline.
there is a sparkplug. and the sparkplug, the creator, is a man by the name of alexander miller. just think, we're the only people in the world now even remotely considering alexander miller. this is part of his 15 minutes of modest fame. so who was alexander miller? alexander miller was a farm boy from ohio who fell in love with railroads. seems like a sensible thing to do. and he got a job as a brakeman for his hometown railroad. and in time he learns that cryptic morse code and becomes a telegrapher for the burlington railroad. he becomes a dispatcher for the burlington. so he's minor railroad official. he also decides his future is
not with the burlington. and with some friends, partners, he organizes a bank. at this time it's not that hard to create a bank. and he will be the president of aurora savings and loan. he also is an inventor at heart. and he comes up with an electric signaling system and will be the founder and president of the miller electric signal company. well, he goes out on the road. i guess the bank can operate on its own. and what he does is to spend considerable time in new york city trying to interest investors and trying to interest corporate executives in the big apple to buy his system. he doesn't have a lot of success, although back home, the
chicago and eastern illinois railroad does buy his signaling for the protection of about 50 miles of its main line. the point is that miller is commuting between new york and chicago, maybe not commuting, but he makes frequent trips. and one day i guess he's just bored. he boards a new york central passenger train in the city and realizes that the first 150 miles or so, essentially in the wrong direction, he's going north to albany along the hudson river. you've seen "north by northwest," it's beautiful scenery. but when he's in albany, he's actually further from the windy city than when he left gotham. got it? then the new york central heads west along the old erie canal to buffalo and then through cleveland and eventually to
chicago. so i guess it doesn't take a genius to think, maybe there's going to be a shorter route or a better route. and the big competitor to pennsylvania goes from new york down to philadelphia, and then it has to go over the spine of the appalachians, and it slows you down. by the time it gets to ohio, it has more or less a straight shot to chicago. so the time of the fastest trains in 1903, 1904, 1905, is about 18 to 19 hours between those two destinations. so light bulbs are going on. i think electricity is an apt analogy here. miller's idea is to build a high speed electric railroad between these two cities. and it's going to be as the crow flies.
it's going to be a direct route. it's not going to have much in the way of grades. all grades are going to be less than a half of one percent, which is essentially level. now, you've got to deal with the appalachians. yes, building across indiana and ohio, at least most of ohio, is relatively flat. that will make it possible to have these low grades. but when you get beyond the ohio river, you've got some challenges. but miller and his associates are convinced that what they can do is to have these deep cuts, huge fills, numerous steel trestles like you would find in switzerland, and keep the grade at 1% or less. now, it's a straight line. but you're going to miss places like toledo and cleveland and
pittsburgh, potentially sources of a lot of passenger revenue. so what does miller suggest? you're going to have these feeder or shuttle trains operating let's say between cleveland and where it slices through the buckeye state. doesn't this sound like a great idea? and we're going to have a powerful locomotive, electric of course. and the cars are not going to look like regular railroad cars. this is a little fuzzy, but here is -- well, you had an instant of -- oh, it's coming back. it's thinking.
electricity is not what it's -- well, whatever. look at this locomotive. it's what we call a steeple jack locomotive. it's called the electroloco. miller is optimistic, we're going to have this locomotive. notice we'll have this conventional steam rolling stock, but it's going fast, and i mean fast. this is really exciting. here's what a writer for the "chicago sunday tribune" in 1906. i think he was essentially rewriting promotional copy from miller's road. chicago to new york in ten hours, fare $10. new direct line startles the transportation world. route 160 miles shorter than the shortest.
time, ten hours, quicker than the quickest. fares $10, cheaper than the cheapest. and this bluster continued, that this fancy, yet to be invented locomotive would pull trains for, quote, high passenger speed and for mail and express service. now, the electric airline will turn its first shovel of dirt in the summer of 1906, in northwestern indiana. and there's a great deal of optimism. what miller and his associates plan to do is to use a different kind of interurban financing. most interurbans were like steam railroads in that that issued debt, bonds, as well as stock equity.
but this railroad was going to be owned totally by stockholders. no bonds. so if we don't have any interest payments to deal with, and the economy goes to hell in a hand basket, we're not going to go into bankruptcy. also miller and his associates, sort of like bernie sanders, didn't trust wall street. and it was thought that those evil capitalists won't be manipulating our incredibly in-the-future profitable railroad. it's going to be the people's railroad. and they will be the investors, they will call the shots. in fact investors were given priority when the railroad opened for jobs. so you had some shares in the airline, wow, you're going to get one of those great jobs.
a typical promotional statement was this: don't sit around and growl at standard oil company when the airline with no bondholders earns 15% on your money. the stock for which you paid $25 a share will be worth $300. so if you have extra money, let's see it, and i can guarantee a wonderful return. and you're a smart investor. and what is fascinating, at least from my perspective, is that there were investor clubs that were organized. first in illinois, and then throughout the midwest and chicago was a center, as well as new york and even los angeles and san francisco. so there is this grassroots support for the airline.
and within a relatively short period of time, about spring 1907, there were more than $2 million that had been raised that were in a chicago bank. fortunately one that didn't fail during the panic of 1907. so there's a lot of money. and the idea that the backers had was to build in sections. so we would build 100 miles at a time, and we would get the railroad started, and then these fabulous profits would roll in, and then we would build the next hundred miles, and there would be more investors who were interested, whatever. so gosh, it looks like a wonderful business proposition. kind of like a perpetual motion machine, if you will. in other words, we're going to build this in sections, and
eventually we'll get to new york city. well, some of the railroad would be built. so it's more than just a paper or hot air good-idea project. so in northern western indiana, about 20 miles would be completed. it's going to be double track. at first they thought, well, we'll just use a single track. it was going to have a third rail operation. there was a new third rail scheme that was being introduced. but the first construction actually used that conventional trolley overhead with poles and brackets. and several cars were purchased. i love it, one car said new york at one end, chicago at the other, fancy cars. what the company did after it completed 20 miles would be to
invite potential or actual investors to come and ride on it. and people were just anxious to buy more stock or buy stock for the first time. then there's the problem of coffee creek. the idea was to keep these grades to a minimum if at all. and at coffee creek, we find sort of the downfall of this project. it's a minor stream outside of a new city called gary, which is the home of a u.s. steel plant, a model city, if you will. and the railroad uses this money in the bank to buy a bunch of construction equipment. and here we have a colossal field that's 180 feet wide at the base and two miles long to go over this dinky creek. well, they put in the wooden structures that are needed for the fill, dirt, gravel to be
dumped. it's well-done. well, this does it in. they're now experiencing the bank panic of 1907. and yes, they don't have any bonded debt, but stockholders don't appear. and the company more or less decides that it will become a conventional interurban. so it builds a branch line that will go into gary and eventually make connections with some electric trollies, small interurbans that go into chicago or at least connect with the chicago commuter system. so they got lucky because of gary. and gary was thought to be the great metropolis of the midwest. but the poor old airline, almost all of it will be abandoned in 1917.
so not a long history, needless to say. although that feeder line that was built will be part of the gary street railways until the late 1930s. several historians have looked at the airline, although i don't think they've all done the greatest research. and the argument is, this is a fraud. but it's not a fraud. miller was sincere. his investor friends were sincere. they perhaps just had an idea that was beyond anybody's reach at that time, at least in terms of a grass root financial arrangement. yes, if you had big money coming from, let's say, the rockefellers or someone else, yeah, this might have been happened. in fact about the same time, there was a proposal to build a high speed freight line between
philadelphia and chicago. and it actually was financed by some major capitalists, although it was no more really than a paper proposition. so here we have the failure of the airline. but i think it's just a wonderful illustration of this interurban madness. when you look at any technology, folks, you can see that there is that excitement at times. we think about the dot-com bust in the 1990s. not every company turned out to be microsoft or ebay or amazon. there were a lot of companies that folded relatively quickly, although there were investors who were convinced that, you know, this is the wave of the future. so the interurban industry, as we will see in the next two presentations, certainly in the
latter one, was a kind of dot-com proposition. and keep this in mind. make a mental notation. there has not been any other industry in the history of the united states that grew so rapidly and collapsed almost so completely as electric interurbans. and again, if we dealt with counterfactual history, we could say that maybe if the automobile had been invented earlier and we had good roads, we wouldn't even have the interurban era. or the opposite, that the automobile hadn't been invented until the 1930s, let's say, or the 1940s, we would have had many more than 15 to 16,000 route miles of electric interurbans. any questions? don't go out and buy interurban stock. this is a useful pointer that knowledge of the past can provide. so time is up.
and if there are no questions, you can pick up your tests sometime after 12:15. some of you will be happy. thank you for being good listeners. and i will see you on thursday. suddenly becoming engaged in fighting for their works and working conditions but also mobilizing for politicians. we'll talk about this later. some of you mentioned this in your oral history. one of the best friends of the ch