Term: Mass transportation in Wisconsin
The electric streetcar made its first appearance in Wisconsin on the streets of Appleton in 1886. At the time, Wisconsin's mass transit was limited to a skeletal system of horse drawn streetcars in a few cities, a system rendered obsolete by new technologies before most Wisconsin cities had even established lines. Several years passed before electric streetcars appeared in other Wisconsin cities but with the construction of central power plants across the state, new railways were established in Eau Claire (1889), Merrill (1889), Milwaukee (1890), Superior (1890), Janesville (1892), Madison (1892), La Crosse (1893), Green Bay (1894), Oshkosh (1894), Sheboygan (1895), and Fond du Lac (1899). By 1900, not a single horse car remained on Wisconsin streets. Although other modes of mass transit enjoyed brief favor in the late 19th century (Milwaukee flirted with cable cars and steam powered streetcars), electric streetcars were cheaper, faster, and could travel longer distances. Streetcars enabled the development of new neighborhoods (called "streetcar suburbs") and new shopping districts sprung up at points along the routes. Streetcars also allowed towns to develop interurban service, connecting, for example, people in Milwaukee to West Allis, Hales Corners, and Cudahy. By 1901, 17 electric railway companies operated 446 miles of track in Wisconsin. The interurban lines became so connected that soon, one could travel from Elkhart Lake to Oneonta, New York, the longest single stretch of track in the country. By the 1920s, the automobile and bus posed a clear threat to the continued reign of the streetcar, although streetcar companies had been the ones to pioneer interurban bus service to supplement their network of rail lines. Most companies had begun to replace trolleys with buses by the 1930s, and bus service, not surprisingly, grew. The last streetcar was abandoned in 1953 and the last trolley in 1963. While urban bus lines continued to provide transit service, highly integrated mass transporation systems never regained strength.
[Source: Wisconsin's Cultural Resources Study Units, Wisconsin Historical Society]