When the electric streetcar first became popular in the 1890's, they were at the time among the most major users of electricity. And it became economically practical for streetcar systems and electrical generation to be all part of the same companies. Thus, many streetcar systems were eventually owned by the electric power companies.

And throughout the United States, several large utility holding companies eventually emerged, providing a major portion of the of the nation's electrical generation, along with streetcars. Samuel Insull was the one name most often associated with utility ownership, beginning with Chicago's Commonwealth Edison Co. Insull was also well known with his control of the three major electric interurban railways entering Chicago. And by the 1930's, several other large utility holding companies emerged.


Listed are only those companies associated with the operation of streetcars or buses or interurban railways. Many city streetcar systems also included suburban or interurban lines, not all of which are mentioned. In addition there were many other electric, gas, and water utility subsidiaries, which are beyond the scope of this Web site, and are not listed.

Insull Empire
Utility companies controlled by Samuel Insull.

American Water Works & Electric Co.
Owned West Penn Electric Co., operating in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

Associated Gas & Electric Co.
Operated mostly in Pennsylvania.

Central Public Service Co.
Owned several properties scattered throughout country.

Cities Service Co.
Company also in petroleum business, evolving to present Citgo gasoline brand.

Commonwealth & Southern Corp.
Operated mostly in Southeast and Ohio, along with earlier operations in Michigan.

Duke Power Co.
Operating in North Carolina and South Carolina, continued to operate buses until 1990's.

Electric Bond & Shares Co.
Controlled by General Electric Co., operated throughout country.

North American Co.
Operated in various Midwest states.

Standard Gas & Electric Co.
Owned several properties scattered throughout country.

Stone & Webster
Operated many properties scattered throughout country.

United Gas Improvement Co.
Owned several properties scattered throughout country.

United Light & Power Co.
Operated mainly in Iowa.


This Act was one component of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal", created to lead America out of the Great Depression. There were many concerns that the utility companies were motivated too much by profit, rather than serving the people. Rural America particularly felt neglected, with many areas still not wired for electricity. It was more economical and profitable for the utilities to focus on serving urban areas.

The Act would require, that the large holding companies break up into smaller companies, more able to be in touch with the area customers' needs. Common ownership of multiple companies would be prohibited, unless the utility company networks actually interconnected, offering certain economic advantages. Most of the required corporate restructuring occurred in the late 1940's, after World War II.

In addition, the Act would generally prohibit utility companies from owning unrelated industries, including public transportation systems. And the utility companies would be required to find new buyers for their streetcar and bus systems.


Several companies in the automobile industry took notice, that many transit systems would be up for sale. So in 1936, General Motors, Firestone Rubber, Standard Oil, and Phillips Petroleum were involved in the formation of National City Lines (NCL). NCL acquired some systems which had already been converted from streetcars to buses. But the biggest controversy involved those transit systems which were still running streetcars when acquired by NCL. Those companies forming NCL naturally had an interest in supplying buses, tires, and fuel. So after acquiring those streetcar systems, NCL was quick to convert them to buses.

In 1949, these various companies were convicted in federal court of collusion and anti-competitive practices, and were fined $5000 each. Because this conspiracy had already netted these companies millions in profits, this was a case where crime did pay.

Many trolley fans feel that the streetcars might have remained, had NCL not existed to acquire them. But it is possible, that the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 is what ultimately killed the streetcars. Suddenly, these streetcar systems became more readily available for takeover by NCL. The conversion to buses might have occurred anyway, but NCL used illegal practices while carrying out this conversion.

In addition to National City Lines, several other bus holding companies emerged after World War II.

National City Lines

American Transit Corp.

ATE (American Transportation Enterprises)

City Coach Lines

Go to Chicago Transit & Railfan Web Site