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Washington, Alexandria, and Mount Vernon Electric Railway, Photograph, n.d.

CONTENT WARNING

Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 

Context

This photograph depicts a trolley conductor standing on the observation deck of one of the trolleys owned by the Washington, Alexandria, and Mount Vernon Electric Railway. Standing close to him is a man wearing a suit and hat, presumably one of the trolley passengers.

Trolleys were a very popular way for people to travel. Earlier versions of the trolley, or tram, were drawn by horses; however, by the late 1800s people began riding in trolleys that were powered by steam, steel cables, or electricity. These trolleys were a boon for passengers, as it allowed them a safe and relatively inexpensive way to travel long distances fairly quickly. This also allowed for workers to more easily obtain jobs at places that they would not have been able to reach if they had to rely on providing their own transportation.

The Washington, Alexandria, and Mount Vernon Electric Railway served the populace of northern Virginia and began transporting people in 1892 between Alexandria and Mount Vernon. By 1896 the company had completed its line into Washington, D.C., where it shared the tracks owned by the Belt Line Street Railway Company. Soon after railways began to expand into other portions of northern Virginia, allowing for more travel. However their expansion was threatened in the 1920s when patronage declined due to the availability of other options such as buses and personal automobiles, forcing many companies out of business.

Citation: Washington, Alexandria, and Mount Vernon Electric Railway, n.d., Visual Studies Collection, Fairfax County Public Library Historical Photographs, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

Standards

Social Studies: VS.1, VS.8, USII.1, USII.4, VUS.1, VUS.8, VUS.9
English: 4.7, 5.7

Suggested Questions

Analyze: Why do you think people began riding buses as opposed to trolleys? Do you think that they were more reliable or inexpensive, or were there also other reasons?

In Their Shoes: What do you think it must have been like for people to have ridden an electric railway? Write a paragraph from the perspective of someone riding the railway for the first time.