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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Transportation in America before 1876 Community Dreams: Santa Cruz, California, 1876 Delivering the Goods: Watsonville, California, 1895 People on the Move The Connected City: New York, New York, 1920s Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming, 1903 Americans Adopt the Auto Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927 The People's Highway: Route 66, 1930s-1940s Roadside Communities: Ring's Rest, Muirkirk, Maryland, 1930s Family Camping: York Beach, Maine, 1930s On the School Bus: Martinsburg, Indiana, 1939 Suburban Strip: Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, 1949 City and Suburb: Chicago and Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s On the Interstate: I-10, 1956-1990 Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960-1970 Going Global: Los Angeles Introduction Center Market The New Market System Farm to Market City Streetscapes Fares, Please! Growth of the Capital's Suburbs
A  Streetcar City

Washington, D.C., 1900

Going through the boxcar, the scene changes. You are transplanted to the East Coast, and to a winter morning in Washington, D.C. in 1900. As you stand in Center Market, surrounded by produce from near and far, a dramatic mural shows the hustle and bustle of the city streets. Traffic—bicycles, hansom cabs, delivery wagons, a knife-grinder’s cart—fills out the street. In front of you sits a gleaming yellow 1898 electric streetcar, one that ran right outside the market and through the city. Cast figures stand waiting to board the trolley. As you walk from one end of the streetcar to the other, you move from the city center to the suburbs.

View from the exhibition
View from the exhibition

The Trolley and Daily Life

American cities in the 19th century were walking cities—most residents worked and shopped close to where they lived. But as electric streetcar (trolley) systems were built in the 1880s, 1890s, and early 1900s, cities expanded. Many white city dwellers moved to new trolley suburbs; streetcars made it easy to travel greater distances to work, shop, and socialize in town. City streets and the patterns of people’s daily lives changed.

In Washington, streetcars turned outlying areas into new neighborhoods. Real estate developers often built streetcar lines to promote new suburban communities. Their success in selling the suburbs to middle-class workers changed neighborhood life and the rhythms of the city. The trolley also connected Washingtonians to the city’s largest public market. There, shoppers could find produce and meat from regional farms, fruits and vegetables from across the country, as well as a few products—such as bananas—from overseas.

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