I got hip to this a year or so ago from the show Cities of the Underworld where they showed the defunct and rotting subway system under Los Angeles. I
did a search here, didn't come across this so I thought I would share this little bit if history that has been hidden.
The Great American streetcar scandal (also known as the General Motors streetcar conspiracy and the National City Lines conspiracy) is a conspiracy in
which streetcar systems throughout the United States were dismantled and replaced with buses in the mid-20th century as a result of illegal actions by
a number of prominent companies, acting through National City Lines (NCL), Pacific City Lines (on the West Coast, starting in 1938), and American City
Lines (in large cities, starting in 1943).
National, which had been in operation since 1920, was organized into a holding company, and General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of
California, Phillips Petroleum, Mack, and the Federal Engineering Corporation made investments in the City Lines companies in return for exclusive
supply contracts. Between 1936 and 1950, National City Lines bought out more than 100 electric surface-traction systems in 45 cities, including
Detroit, New York City, Oakland, Philadelphia, Phoenix, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, Tulsa, Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles, and replaced them
with GM buses. American City Lines merged with National in 1946
This gave rise to the car culture we now have today. Whereas in those days one could walk down a street and walk directly into a business now they
have to build huge parking lots to accommodate the cars and has limited the access for those without cars, the elderly and the handicapped.
Why did this happen? Interesting question.
In the late 19th century, rail based systems were becoming commonplace in the cities of the U.S. Of course, they required power, so the companies also
went into the electric business. They had enough excess power to sell to the consumer and soon the electric companies outgrew their trolley and
subway businesses. Problems with labor, increasing difficulties in routing and competition from the automobile soon came into play and the increasing
were and tear on systems that weren't making as much money as the companies wanted made for the death knell of the streetcar.
Indeed, in the 1920s automaker General Motors (GM) began a covert campaign to undermine the popular rail-based public transit systems that were
ubiquitous in and around the country’s bustling urban areas. At the time, only one in 10 Americans owned cars and most people traveled by trolley
Within three decades, GM, with help from Standard Oil, Firestone Tire, Mack Truck and Phillips Petroleum, succeeded in decimating the nation’s
trolley systems, while seeing to the creation of the federal highway system and the ensuing dominance of the automobile as America’s preferred mode
They just couldn't make enough money, those poor companies, so they had to do something.
GM began by funding a company called National City Lines (NCL), which by 1946 controlled streetcar operations in 80 American cities.
“Despite public opinion polls that showed 88 percent of the public favoring expansion of the rail lines after World War II, NCL systematically
closed its streetcars down until, by 1955, only a few remained,” writes author Jim Motavalli in his 2001 book, Forward Drive.
Seems the public was happy with what it had, for the most part. Irregardless, the subways and streetcars kept disappearing.
The idea was simple. Starting in 1936, National City (in the East and South) and its subsidiaries American City Lines (Midwest) and Pacific City Lines
(West) bought controlling interests in 146 trolley systems in the U.S. and Canada, using money laundered through several finance companies that were
in on the scheme. The new managers were directed to abandon streetcar service and replace the trolleys with GM buses. Contracts were then signed
ensuring the exclusive use of Firestone tires and rubber products, and Standard Oil fuels and lubricants. Vendors who had held contracts for decades
were frozen out. GM, Firestone and Standard Oil sales zoomed, and profits went through the roof.
Many of those trolley systems were already in poor financial shape, some of them about to collapse, in the wake of 1935 federal anti-trust legislation
(which, ironically, had mortally wounded many trolley companies by severing their connections to power companies – and their access to cheap
electricity). But others, particularly in the bigger cities, were healthy – and getting healthier with the delivery of brand-new, ultramodern
trolleys called "PCC cars" (small fleets of which are still operating in some American cities, providing comfortable, fast, safe service to
thousands of commuters every day.)
Corporate greed and cronyism at it's finest.
GM first replaced trolleys with free-roaming buses, eliminating the need for tracks embedded in the street and clearing the way for cars. As
dramatized in a 1996 PBS docudrama, Taken for a Ride, Alfred P. Sloan, GM’s president at the time, said, “We’ve got 90 percent of the market out
there that we can…turn into automobile users. If we can eliminate the rail alternatives, we will create a new market for our cars.” And they did
just that, with the help of GM subsidiaries Yellow Coach and Greyhound Bus. Sloan predicted that the jolting rides of buses would soon lead people to
not want them and to buy GM’s cars instead.
They forced us to buy their cars, use their oil, tires and other such items as were needed for the making and upkeep of the automobile.
This would have gone unknown by the public if not for the actions of a Naval officer E. Jay Quinby, stationed in Florida.
Quinby, a longtime trolley advocate from New Jersey, had shocked his wealthy parents by taking a blue-collar job operating a huge, interurban trolley
between Paterson, N.J., and Ridgewood, N.Y., as his first job after college. When World War II came, he enlisted in the Navy and was stationed in Key
West, Fla. He was still there when, in 1945, the conspirators resumed their temporarily delayed program.
Among the first to recognize the devastation that was taking place, Quinby prepared a detailed manifesto, which he sent to every mayor, city manager
and member of Congress – to everyone and anyone, in short, who had anything to do with governance, regulation, politics or transportation.
Good on him, I say. Too bad these types of tactics are useless today as our leaders can't be bothered to listen to anything the American people
On April 9, 1947, nine corporations and seven individuals were indicted in Los Angeles Federal District Court on two counts of anti-trust violations:
"conspiracy to acquire control of a number of transit companies to form a transportation monopoly, and conspiring to monopolize sales of buses and
supplies to companies owned by the City Lines."
Continues in next post. I didn't expect this to be this long but I guess there's a little more info than I thought.
EDIT: Spelling errors
[edit on 9/30/2009 by TheLoony]