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Photo Essay: Digging up Milwaukee’s Streetcar Past

The Milwaukee street railway system began construction in 1858 with horse drawn streetcars. It was a celebrated step forward in technology and transportation for the young city. Thirty years later, by 1890, the mass transit system was revolutionized when the first electric car began operation on Wells Street.

However, it was not until 1896 that The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company (TMER&L) was founded. It was the largest electric railway and electric utility system in Wisconsin at that time, combining several of the early horsecar and streetcar lines into one system. Milwaukee streetcar lines soon ran on most major streets and served the entire city, with interurban lines reaching throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

To simplify identification of the routes, in 1927 the Wells Street Line became Route 10. One of the more memorable features of TMER&L’s streetcar system was a ride across the Wells Street Viaduct used by Route 10. The last streetcar revenue run in Milwaukee occurred March 2, 1958 on the former Wells Street line.

Recently the Milwaukee Independent came across construction crews digging up streetcar tracks last used in 1953 by Route 10, along E. Ogden Avenue in the block between N. Van Buren Street and N. Cass Street. The effort was part of the process to install rails for the new Milwaukee Streetcar that will go into service in 2018.

This photo essay and a video interview with transit historian Russell E. Schultz document yet another discovery of Milwaukee’s transit history just below the city streets.

About The Author

Lee Matz

Former Creative Director and Photojournalist for the Milwaukee Business Journal, Lee brings his years of international experience as a foreign correspondent in Asia and Europe, with a background in publishing, advertising, and design, to the Milwaukee Independent. His list of awards include three consecutive top honors from the Milwaukee Press Club. Lee proudly uses MCTS as his exclusive mode of transportation, other than walking, for all the news stories he reports about in Milwaukee.

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