In 1883 a trio of entrepreneurs, William Kemble, Peter A. B. Widener, and William Lukens Elkins, formed the Philadelphia Traction Company to acquire existing streetcar lines and convert them to cable operation. The higher costs of the cable car infrastructure started the consolidation of the various routes into larger concerns despite restrictions on mergers and cross-ownership (usually avoided by the use of long-term leases and holding companies).

By the mid-1880s, however, the electric trolley was invented and it was clearly the technology of the future. Unfortunately Philadelphia Traction’s investment in cable cars and the small size of most other companies contributed to Philadelphia’s slow adoption of trolleys (as did safety and aesthetic concerns among the public). Following the conservative Kemble’s death in 1891, Widener decided to abandon cable operation for electrification. The first electric line on Bainbridge and Catharine streets opened in 1892, and the horse cars made their final runs in Philadelphia just five years later. In 1895 Widener and Elkins formed the Union Traction Company and within three years it controlled nearly all the lines in the city. To help increase off-peak ridership, the company built a large amusement park at Willow Grove in the northern suburbs in 1895.

Union Traction Company of Philadelphia

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