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The Great American Streetcar Scandal

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posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 02:22 AM
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 and streetcar.

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 of transport.

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 say.

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]

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 02:39 AM
The Seventh Circuit Court had this to say about the deal:

"National City Lines, organized in 1936, as a holding company to acquire and operate local transit companies, had brought, up to the time when the contracts were executed, its necessary equipment and fuel products from different suppliers, with no long-term contract with any of them. Pacific City Lines was organized for the purpose of acquiring local transit companies on the Pacific Coast and commenced doing business in January 1938. American was organized to acquire local transportation systems in the larger metropolitan areas in various parts of the country in 1943. It merged with National in 1946."

"Additional facts, while not largely in dispute, are partially controverted, at least in so far as inferences are concerned; however, we think the evidence adequately justified the jury in finding affirmatively that they existed. In 1938, National conceived the idea of purchasing transportation systems in cities where street cars were no longer practicable and supplanting the latter with passenger busses. Its capital was limited and its earlier experience in public financing convinced it that it could not successfully finance the purchase of an increasing number of operating companies in various parts of the United States by such means. Accordingly it devised the plan of procuring funds from manufacturing companies whose products its operating companies were using constantly in their business. National approached General Motors, which manufactures busses and delivers them to the various sections of the United States. It approached Firestone, whose business of manufacturing and supplying tires extends likewise throughout the nation. In the middle west, where a large part of its operating subsidiaries were to be located, it solicited investment of funds from Phillips, which operates throughout that section but not on the east or west coast. Pacific undertook the procurement of funds from General Motors and Firestone and also from Standard Oil of California, which operates on the Pacific coast. Mack Truck Company was also solicited. Eventually each of the suppliers entered into a contract with City Lines defendants of the character we have described whereby City Lines companies agreed that they would buy their exclusive requirements from the contracting supplier and from no one else. We think the evidence is clear that when any one of these suppliers was approached, its attitude was that it would be interested in helping finance City Lines, provided it should receive a contract for the exclusive use of its products in all of the operating companies of the City Lines, so far as busses and tires were concerned, and, as to the oil companies, in the territory served by the respective petroleum companies. It may be of little importance, but it seems to be the fact, at least we think the jury was justified in inferring it to be the fact, that the proposal for financing came from City Lines but that proposal of exclusive contracts came from the suppliers. At any rate, it is clear that eventually each supplier entered into a written contract of long duration whereby City Lines, in consideration of suppliers' help in financing City Lines, agreed that all of their operating subsidiaries should use only the suppliers' products. These were not joint contracts; each supplier entered into a separate agreement. Whether the action of the suppliers in this connection was so concerted as to justify the jury in finding that defendants conspired to monopolize that segment of interstate commerce reflected by the purchase and shipment in commerce of busses, tires and petroleum products to the operating companies, we shall discuss more fully later. The facts related present only a sketchy outline of the setup as it was presented to the jury.

Also from the court, how Firestone, Standard, Phillips, General Motors and Mack got in on the deal:

"Although defendants insist that each supplier merely obtained business from the City Lines defendants through separate negotiations, the documentary evidence referred to above and other circumstances in evidence seem to us clearly sufficient to justify the jury in finding that the contrary was true. It is clear that representatives of two or more supplier defendants were in attendance in Chicago and New York at meetings and conferences, out of which grew the investment and requirements contracts. And the fact that copies of a memorandum of discussions held between one of the supplier defendants and one of the City Lines defendants, as well as copies of many of the letters which passed between the contracting parties prior to the execution of the contracts, were sent to representatives of other supplier defendants, coupled with the fact that the latter corresponded with one another relative to the provisions of the contracts, is hardly reconcilable with defendants' contention that their several contracts were negotiated independently of one another but is, rather, convincing that each of the contracts was regarded by the parties as but a part of a 'larger deal' or 'proposition', to use the words of certain of the defendants, in which all of the supplier defendants were involved."

in 1949, after a change of venue in the trial, the companies were found not guilty of monopolizing the transportation industry but were found guilty of monopolizing providing parts and supplies to the industry. The companies were fined $5,000 each and the directors were fined $1 each. Ridiculous. But it didn't end there.

GM was later instrumental in the creation of the National Highway Users Conference, which became the most powerful lobby in Washington. Highway lobbyists worked directly with lawmakers to craft highway-friendly legislation, and GM’s promotional films were showcasing America’s burgeoning interstate highway system as the realization of the so-called “American dream of freedom on wheels.”

When GM President Charles Wilson became Secretary of Defense in 1953, he worked with Congress to craft the $25 billion Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. Referred to at the time as the “greatest public works project in the history of the world,” the federally funded race to build roads from coast-to-coast was on.

Many claim that the trolley car would have died anyway. I don't know about this, it may or may not be true.

But the controversy persists to this day. GM apologists insist that there was no deliberate attempt to sabotage the electric-railway industry, or to dismantle U.S. trolley systems, yet that was the undeniable result.

And, though some maintain that the trolley systems would have died, anyway, extensive FBI files recently obtained by this writer under the Freedom of Information Act prove that the conspiracy was even more widespread than is generally known.

The wife of the U.S. postmaster general was investigated in St. Louis, as co-owner of a finance company that laundered money passing from GM to National City Lines. Commissioners in a Florida city each received a brand-new Cadillac – and, the very next week, voted to scrap their trolley system, replacing the abandoned cars with GM buses. There is even suspicion of jury tampering, but none of this evidence was made public, either during or after the trial.

Who knows how deep this particular tunnel of the rabbit hole goes. It seems to me that this was a terrible way to force us into using the car as our main mode of transportation. We were never really given a choice IMHO. I wonder if less gasoline and oil might have been used over the years, making our skies cleaner and our air more breathable. Certainly these trolleys and subways would have consumed much energy, but as much as all the cars we have used over the years?

Continued, again.

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 02:46 AM
How about all the dead cars sitting in junkyards. As posted above, some of these trolley cars or subway cars are still in use today. All the natural resources used to make the cars that could have possibly been saved?

And they got off with a ONE DOLLAR FINE?!?!?!?! How sad is that. The corruption in our government hasn't just been going on recently, it's been going on much longer than any of our lifetimes.

Well, there you have it. If anyone out there had any info to add, I gladly appreciate any input you could add to the subject. I didn't do the most extensive search, I just found a little to make this up. I wouldn't be surprised if there is more to this story than I have presented. Hope you enjoyed this little tidbit of hidden history. I got the idea from a post I made in the Atlantis/Lemuria thread(Thanks for kicking the idea into gear for me, Slayer69!) and since I didn't see a proper thread here I thought what the hell, I'll do it. It can't be that hard, right. I tell ya, these threads like this are some work and I didn't do a whole heck of a lot on this one.




EDIT: Took out a useless word.

[edit on 9/30/2009 by TheLoony]

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 04:24 AM
Thanks S & F. This is actually quite interesting as we have an abandoned subway system in my little city and I have never been able to get a good explanation as to why it was shut down. Downtown was NOT designed with parking in mind at all here and unfortunately, all they have done to make it better is build pay lots every time some building gets too old.

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 04:50 AM
reply to post by Lillydale

Well, they bought up 146 systems, so I would put good money on this being the reason you don't have that system. Of course, I have no idea where you live, could be the other side of the world for all I know, but I wouldn't be surprised if this is the reason if you are over here.

Went a looking and came across this about the Pacific Electric Subway:

Decades before Southern California was known for its freeways, it had the largest trolley system in the world -- the Pacific Electric Railway. "The Big Red Cars," as the locals called the trolleys, spanned 1,100 miles throughout Southern California and was the primary means of transportation in the pre-freeway age. Back then, Downtown Los Angeles was a highly active, bustling city center, and a typical street would be indistinguishable from those in New York or Chicago at the time. Downtown was also the hub of the Pacific Electric.

Another site with some cool photos and history of the PES:

And another link with a really cool map of the whole system but it's huge and not worth putting up here.

Dead rail cars from L.A.

What it looks like to day.

EDIT: Trying to get that last image in there correctly. Maybe I got it right on the second try, if not then oh well, it's at the link. Added some pics also.

[edit on 9/30/2009 by TheLoony]

[edit on 9/30/2009 by TheLoony]

[edit on 9/30/2009 by TheLoony]

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 05:07 AM
reply to post by TheLoony

I don't live there but the closest city is Rochester, NY. That last picture about sums it up. I was down there as a teen and there was some really interesting things to see but I doubt that I would brave it as an adult. One part goes under the road and over the river and has all these openings to let sunlight in but going the other way it just disappears into a big dark emptiness. I never went that way but it was obvious that people were living in there.

There was some talk about bringing it back a few years back but I think that got scrapped when we bought the Ferry to Toronto that we have since sold because it was a huge waste of money. This city knows how to make bad decisions. I think there is talk now though of a light rail system from Buffalo to Syracuse that would cut through Rochester.

The number one reason I go into the city maybe 2 times a year is because there is no place to park unless you want to pay too much or walk too far.

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 05:09 AM
oh and thanks for the pictures. I really like the first two. If you find more, keep them coming. I am going to check out the links now.

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 07:28 AM
Interestingly, this was the background story in the film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 07:38 AM
reply to post by TheLoony

That picture of the stacked up railcars just turns my stomach, what a waste. My grandfather was a railcar operator in Philadelphia when my mother was a child. My grandfather loved trains, and seeing things like this, I know would turn his stomach as well.

Rail cars have not disappeared totally, you can still se them operating in some cities, unfortunately not in the capacity they once were, and most people see them as a novelty more than anything else. Some have been taken out of the rails and been given tires, but still use electric power from cables above them (technically not railcars anymore.) which has helped to keep the companies that make them in business.

What most people don’t understand is that the government puts stricter and stricter regulations on the Companies that operate trains and railcars. The government has also raised the taxes they levy on the companies that run the rail systems as well. This is why the fair prices are regularly raised to compensate. Overtime this could lead to the total demise of the rail lines.

[edit on 9/30/2009 by AlienCarnage]

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 07:43 AM
reply to post by larphillips

Yes it was, now you see where they got the idea from.

Makes you wonder if the person who wrote the story for that film, had an ulterior motive in trying to get people to look into the history of what really happened to the street cars and rail lines or if he just thought it would be good for the plot of the story.

[edit on 9/30/2009 by AlienCarnage]

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 09:17 AM
I live just outside Chicago and work in the city. I don't know a single person who actually enjoys driving their car into downtown for work or pleasure. It is an unmitigated headache and often ridiculously expensive. And yet, the CTA seems to be falling to pieces.

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 10:02 AM
Thank you TheLooney. I can't believe how the city manages to waste money.
They really should revive the streetcars if only for product delivery-Hey, better than a semi.
The subway not so much-earthquakes you know but they could use it for the public officials that no one would miss if they were buried in a quake Villarigosa, Boxer, Feinstein, Arnold, you know, the bought off slime which is pretty much all of them but we could put it in a way that makes them feel as though we care about their safety- "It's better than any Bomb shelter we could make sir!!! all the amemities are ther now Water, Phones, Electricity, Toilets etc and best off all you will be safe... Till the Big One hits.

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 11:45 AM

Who knows how deep this particular tunnel of the rabbit hole goes. It seems to me that this was a terrible way to force us into using the car as our main mode of transportation. We were never really given a choice IMHO. I wonder if less gasoline and oil might have been used over the years, making our skies cleaner and our air more breathable

I think the rabbit hole is the ***key*** for People understanding wtf is going on. Most People want a nice, clean, and tidy little none offensive conspiracy; they do this so they can have a simple "gripe", and not have to face the real problems, or issues.

Should most really open their eyes, and consciously comprehend what they are seeing then they'd be forced to take action. Whey? there are real "ties that bind", and groups who use subversive methods, and covet means in order to carry out their evil deeds. When the "ties that bind" are taken into account it becomes self evident that the coincidences are to great for simple chance, but together equate to a beautifully orchestrated plan.

I am short on time, and will be back later, but there are so many examples of the infrastructure of the 19th, and 20th centuries being wiped out for no real reason. Things that We can look at today, and say,"huh, that was a good idea, and would make the city run better, why isn't it still around?" Anyone who has been in a city which thrived around the 19th to early 20th century has these things which are abandoned, but look like ghosts from time.

Many cities have the old railroad viaducts that connect up with buildings in the town. To look at what now is simply a decaying bridge for the occasional train, but once served as a transport mechanism for every business in town is sad


posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 11:56 AM
Nice work in compiling this thread.
This is a fascinating subject when you realize just how common street car networks were back in their prime. If these networks were maintained and improved over the years there wouldn't be such a rush to construct brand new light rail systems around the country. We would be in a much different world. Imagine if the lines grew along with the suburban sprawl of Post WWII.

The tree lawns of small city I used to live in formerly contained the tracks for the trolleys into Cleveland.

Thanks for sharing this info. I have never heard anything about this before.

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 12:06 PM
reply to post by jibeho

My father works for a light rail line that was put in a few years back in NJ. They actually used the old Rail Car rails for part of the light rail railway. I thought that was interesting, but I would have rather seen it used again for the railcars instead, but that is just me.

[edit on 9/30/2009 by AlienCarnage]

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 12:13 PM

Originally posted by Toromos
I live just outside Chicago and work in the city. I don't know a single person who actually enjoys driving their car into downtown for work or pleasure. It is an unmitigated headache and often ridiculously expensive. And yet, the CTA seems to be falling to pieces.

As much as I do avoid going into the city, I do have to take the expressway through it each day and that traffic sucks too. All I have to do is go straight through and out the other side and it regularly slows to a crawl. This is not a real big city either. I have to wonder if these taxes and levies are being raised as favors to the auto industry. These days nothing is done in government that does not benefit some rich industry somewhere.

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 01:32 PM
reply to post by TheLoony

My history teacher was a streetcar enthusiast and taught us about this sad chapter. It is strange they are now spending billions on building systems that once already existed.

It was the car, bus and tire industry that banded together.

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 01:33 PM
It really makes me sad. My grandfather drove an electric trolley here in Vancouver BC. The lines are still there, but the trolley is long since gone and replaced with horribly crowded diesel buses and the Skytrain.

I thought this image appropriate for the topic at hand:

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 02:03 PM
What strange is that the 'future' as described at Disneyland from the late 1950s through the 1970s has been that of sleek monorail transit and/or small 'people mover' cars to carry the masses to and from work. Of course, the materials and parts for all of this would come from some of the competitors of the street car and subway killers; Goodyear, Monsanto & General Electric. Hmm…

Now that the MTA mass transit system has finally taken hold in Los Angeles and we seem to be headed back towards mass transit again, yet our cities' infrastructure is not set up for it. I hardly know anyone who has actually used MTA that I've worked with since its inception. After years of building around automobile transpiration in L.A., and in order to accommodate this 'new' mass transit, we have things like 'park and ride'. Isn't that wonderful? So, you have to buy a car, pay all the registration, taxes, insurance, fees and fuel to drive it to a parking lot so you can pay again to ride mass transit! Talk about getting you coming and going!

Now, the 'future fantasy' is to turn our cars and trucks into trolley cars or people movers by using radar and LDAR (sp.?) systems which work similarly to cruise control only with braking and steering to keep distance from other vehicles on heavily congested freeways during rush hour. This is supposed to greatly reduce traffic and increase fuel efficiency. Yet, I see it as making each person buy and maintain their own 'people mover' so the city won't have to. Oh, and of course one would have to pay an extra fee in order to grant their vehicle 'access' to the computer network and traffic lanes that controls their it. Who's to say that all this wasn't planned a long time ago? Good cop, bad cop?

posted on Sep, 30 2009 @ 02:20 PM
reply to post by Lillydale

That is what happened here in Roanoke....the street car company was bought and shut down...the tracks still exist though just under the pavement.

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