Streetcar History

The rich history of streetcars in Minnesota begins with the expansion of the Twin Cities. As Minneapolis and St. Paul outgrew a comfortably walkable size, only the wealthy could afford horse-drawn carriages for transportation. In the 1830s, railroad technology advanced, offering a smoother ride over rough streets than carriages. In the 1870s, the first horse-drawn streetcars, known as horsecars, appeared in St. Paul.

Soon there were over 100 miles of Horsecar lines in the Twin Cities, installed by the Minneapolis Street Railway and St. Paul City Railway. They extended just two or three miles out of the city center, connecting communities such as Dinkytown, Downtown, and Prospect Park.

Investors in the streetcar system were eager to find a cleaner and more sustainable model for streetcars than horsecars. After a few short lived attempts to bring both steampowered trains and cablecars to these commuter lines, in 1889 the first electric streetcar was introduced to the state. They were a hit, and by 1891 all streetcar lines in the system, with the exception of two cable lines, were electric.

As the cities continued to grow, so did ridership, which peaked in 1920 with 238 million rides. In the 1920s, the invention of the automobile began to threaten the dominance of streetcars as a mode of transportation. In 1949, some lines were converted to busses, and by the end of 1954 all streetcars were gone from the streets. Today many Metro Transit busses travel routes that began as streetcar lines over a century ago.


Publicity photograph contrasting the horse-drawn streetcar with a new 1921 electric streetcar. 

Streetcar History