The earliest street railways used cars pulled by horses, or sometimes mules. And later, some street railways adopted "steam dummy" trains, with would include a small steam locomotive shrouded with a streetcar body. And some street railways introduced cable cars, most famously preserved in San Francisco. By the 1890's, electric streetcars were developed, and subsequently streetcars became the universal public transportation vehicle. Many electric railway systems became owned by the electric power companies, and some streetcar systems became part of interurban railway systems.

Mainly in the 1920's, buses were introduced, which subsequently replaced all of the streetcars, except in a few of the largest cities. Some cities used trolleybuses, also known as trackless trolleys. Rubber tired buses requiring being steered, but powered by electricity from overhead wires. Some bus systems continued to be owned by power companies, other bus systems were owned by various different types of companies of different sizes. And by the end of the 1970's, nearly all transit systems were publicly owned. Although many transit agencies would contract with private transit management companies to operate the transit systems.

Most transit systems became owned by the cities served. Although in certain larger metropolitan areas, regional transit authorities were approved by the states and the voters to develop comprehensive transit systems serving both cities and suburbs.


Brief histories of transit systems in cities throughout the United States, organized by state.

For many of the largest cities, more detailed historical information is provided for the surface transit systems. Including how many of the present individual transit routes evolved from streetcar and bus routes introduced by the private transit companies. Availability of information is usually dependent on how much has been published about the different city transit systems. For some of the Midwest cities, historic streetcar and bus rosters are included. Information is not included for subway and rapid transit lines, which generally are well covered with other web sites.

Major Cities

Direct links to pages, linking to more detailed historical information for large city transit systems.

For many cities, the true histories of bus operations might not be accurately well documented. As many early bus services were unregulated "jitney" operations. This page focuses basically on the official legitimate bus operations.

For Canada, historical information for the streetcar companies is included at this linked web site.

All-Time List of Canadian Transit Systems


Public transportation traditionally serves cities. And when transit systems began needing public support, typically a city would take over the unprofitable transit system. But suburbanization and population shifts now require more regional or county wide transit systems. And innovative rural transit systems have been introduced in many counties throughout the United States.


Many streetcar systems were once actually owned by the electric power companies, some of which in turn were were parts of even larger holding companies. But the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 changed all that. One consequence of so many streetcar systems then being up for sale, was the National City Lines conspiracy, where some transit systems fell under control of automobile interests.


In addition to the traditional city transit systems which mostly started out as streetcar systems, there also existed a number of independent suburban bus lines, whose histories generally are considerably more obscure. And which were more challenging to research.

Information from various sources, including the Moody investment manuals, the McGraw Electric Railway Directories, the McGraw publication Street Railway Journal and its successor Electric Railway Journal, various issues of the magazine "Motor Coach Age", and "The Trolley And Interurban Directory", by Joseph Gross. Information from the more obscure private bus companies is from various state regulatory commission reports and the 1952 "Mass Transportation's Directory". Any additional information on transit systems and Web sites would be appreciated. Bill Vandervoort

Go to Chicago Transit & Railfan Web Site