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September 11, 1882: Work begins on Duluth’s streetcar system

On this day in Duluth in 1882, work began on Duluth’s streetcar system. Although the streetcar system itself was authorized in 1870, the Duluth Street Railway Company incorporated in 1881 and its first segment ran along Superior Street from Eighth Avenue West to Third Avenue East. According to records, small trolley cars or “dinkies” pulled by mules began service on July 6, 1883. But newspaper accounts indicate that the streetcar line, or at least one car, was operating sooner than that. The November 29, 1882 edition of the Duluth News Tribune includes this brief item of sarcasm regarding the line: “There is no danger of being run over by the street car. The company is slower than the Brainerd board of canvassers.” (A board of canvassers oversees election results; the folks in Brainerd must have struggled during a recent state election.) Four days later the paper taunted the streetcar company again, printing that “the streetcar company ought to put runners on their street car and lend it to the small boys to slide down the hill in.” During the streetcar system’s early years the mules sometimes pulled the cars off the tracks, and passengers had to help lift the cars back on track before the trolley could proceed. Horses replaced mules by 1889, and a year later the system was electrified. The streetcar system was replaced by buses and shut down in 1939. Read more about the history of the Duluth Street Railway Company here.

A horse-drawn streetcar of the Duluth Street Railway Company, ca. 1889. (Image: Duluth Transit Authority)