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Picture of three of RTA's newest Electric Trolley Buses at Courthouse Square in Downtown Dayton
A Brief History of Electric Transit in Dayton

August 8, 2007 will mark the 119th anniversary of continuous electrically-propelled public transit in Dayton, Ohio. No other city in the USA can make that claim.

Although some cities did start electric transit before Dayton, none have operated continuously as has Dayton. Lima and Cleveland started electric operations earlier, but abandoned them for one reason or another. Only five cities in the USA currently have electric trolleys - Boston, Dayton, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle.

Old Photograph of an Early Electric Streetcar on Rails in Dayton

On August 8, 1888, the new White Line Electric Railway Company of Dayton operated their first electric streetcars from their barn at Washington and Cincinnati streets. Free rides were given the first day, and several fights broke out among those vying to ride that first car.

The White Line was built as a new railway, and was not an electrification of an existing horse-car line. It was an instant success, and the other (horse/mule-car which began in 1870) lines quickly electrified; the last horses/mules were retired by 1892.

The White Line cars from the very beginning used the now-familiar upward-pushing pole against the trolley wire, where before the other cities had an ill-fated troller device riding on top of the trolley wires. (The term trolley came from troller.)

Some interesting situations took place in the summer of 1888, during construction and initial operations of the new White Line Electric Railway.

The line was constructed with all new tracks, except downtown where they shared existing tracks, begrudgingly, with the White Line Electric Railway using the Oakwood Street Railway mule-car tracks.

Shortly after operation of the new electric cars commenced, the mules of the Oakwood line started "tap-dancing" on their tracks whenever a White Line car was running nearby. Sparks often shot out of their tails, too! After the Oakwood line hauled the White Line into court with a stop order, it was soon resolved by electrically bonding the mule-car tracks together. This stopped the electric current from leaking into the surrounding moist earth, and into the mule's iron shoes, through their belly, and out their tails. No more tap-dancing!

In 1896, the White Line became one of the major components of the new Peoples' Street Railway Co. The White Line/Peoples was most prosperous in those days. They built public amusement parks at each end of their line, Fairview on the North end, and Lakeside at the West end.

On Sundays, they had to haul trailer cars to handle the crowds. The big event each Sunday afternoon was to watch an elk jump into the Fairview Lake from a platform. Everybody went home happy, on the electric White Line streetcars.

Photograph of final on-track street car in operation in Dayton
Cincinnati and Valley Street Trolley in Downtown Dayton (Old Photograph)

The first electric trolley bus (ETB) operation in Ohio was on April 23, 1933 when the Linden-Salem line converted from rail to rubber-tired trackless trolleys as we know them today.

In 1941 City Railway Company purchased Dayton Street Railway. The Peoples' Street Railway Co. merged into City Railway in 1945. The final running of street (rail) cars took place in September 1947, when electric trolley buses (ETBs) replaced the rail cars on the 3rd Street line.

City Railway became City Transit Co. in 1955, and the new Miami Valley Regional Transit Authority (now the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority, or RTA) took over public transit operations in November 1972. The RTA renewed its commitment to electric transit with a Board of Trustees vote to continue the Electric Trolley Bus service in 1991, and the purchase of a new fleet of ETBs in 1998. Older Route 2 Trolley travelling South on Wayne Ave..
Current (and Newest) Electric Trolley Bus in Dayton