Milwaukee Electric Lines

Brief History:
It served the total mass transportation needs of metropolitan Milwaukee with a well-coordinated network of streetcars, city buses, trackless trolleys, suburban electric railways, interurban trains and interurban buses. It was also the electric utility until 1938 when the power business went to the Wisconsin Electric Power Company. By various corporate titles it was The Milwaukee Electric; by tradition the "T" for "The" was part of it.

The streetcars, remarkably uniform, were built as late as 1929. Some interurbans were thoroughly remade from old cars. Its newest (1930) cars were ten trains for suburban service. Many units were "duplex" trains--two-body, three-truck articulateds.

In 1926-32 the interurban lines were extensively relocated for rapid transit, but a change in economic policy saw them abandoned, in part by sale to outside interests. City transit, not municipalized until 1975, changed ownership in 1952 while a railway at the Lakeside Power Plant remained "in the family."

Quick Facts:

When rail cars ran:

  • horse cars, 1860-94
  • suburban steam dummies, 1875-79 and 1888-98
  • electric streetcars, 1890-1958
  • interurbans, 1897- 1951

Portions surviving later than above:

  • Mukwonago-East Troy (freight), still operating in 1996
  • Port Washington (freight), until circa 1970
  • Lakeside (freight and employees), until circa 1973

Miles of line (1923): 245

Number of city car routes (1933):

  • Milwaukee, 17
  • Racine, 4

Number of cars (1923): 1,125

Revenue passengers (1923): 153,600,000

Principal companies in system:

  • 1890-96: Milwaukee Street Railway Co.
  • 1896-1938: The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Co.
  • 1938-63: The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Transport Co.
  • 1953-75: Milwaukee & Suburban Transport Corp.

Surviving equipment (cars and locomotives):

Major books (all are out of print):

  • Speedrail, Milwaukee's Last Rapid Transit? by Larry Sakar (Interurbans Special 117. 1991)
  • A Milwaukee Transport Era: the Trackless Trolley Years, by Russell E. Schultz (Interurbans Special 74. 1980)
  • TM, by Joseph M. Canfield (Central Electric Railfans' Assn. Bulletin 112. 1972)
  • Electric Railways of Wisconsin, by James P. Harper (Central Electric Railfans' Assn. Bulletin 97. 1953)

More Reading in First & Fastest:

  • "Rocking and Reading" by Glen R. Gray, Winter 1995-96
  • "A Tale of Two Towns--Mukwonago and East Troy" by Don Idarius, Summer 1994
  • "A Traction Date" by William E. Robertson, Summer 1992.
    For back issues of First & Fastest, click here.

More Reading on the internet:


Contributing to this report: Roy G. Benedict, Herb Danneman, Don L. Leistikow, William F. Nedden, Art Peterson and Russ Schultz.


Map of the Milwaukee Electric system. Map by Roy G. Benedict Publishers' Services
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Perfectly exemplifying the coordination of electric power, city and interurban service, on their way downtown streetcar 853 and interurban "duplex" 1184-1185 converge at Milwaukee's North Side Station and substation (center of photo) on August 10, 1947. –Gordon E. Lloyd
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