The Saint Louis Car Company

If you have been anywhere near The Loop in the last two years, you cannot help but have heard about the Delmar Loop Trolley that is planned to begin operations in early 2018.  The project broke ground in March of 2015 and plans to restore the historic Delmar streetcar line that has been out of operation since 1964.

The 10 Delmar Line, 1939. Photo from the Washington University in St Louis Local History Archives

The section of Delmar known as The Loop originally got its name from the streetcar turnaround that occupied the two blocks east from Kingsland Ave, but this is not the only place that streetcars ran. Before they were replaced by buses in the mid 1960s, streetcars were the main mode of public transportation in St Louis. Many of the cars that ran throughout the city were standardized PCC streetcars manufactured by our city’s own St Louis Car Company. Above is a St Louis Car Company streetcar that would have run down Delmar in 1939. For more information on PCC cars, you can check out this PCC Car booklet produced by the St Louis Car Company and digitized by Special Collections.

The St Louis Car Company Collection

Special Collection’s Local History Archive has an extensive collection of materials from the now-defunct St Louis Car Company, which operated from 1887-1972. The company made streetcars and passenger trains for cities around the world, and at various times in their history even tried their hand at making private planes and automobiles. The collection includes both photos and technical drawings from nearly a century of the company’s history.

Interior of a St Louis Car Company streetcar running in St Louis. Photo from Washington University in St Louis Local History Archives.

Decline of the Streetcar and the St Louis Car Company

Beginning in the 1920s, buses began to replace streetcars in St Louis. By the mid-sixties, streetcars had disappeared from the city entirely, but many of the new bus lines maintained the original numbering that they had under the trolley system. The photo below shows two St Louis Car Company streetcars for the 70 Grand and 40 Broadway lines, the same numbering that those bus lines use today.

Two streetcars manufactured by the St Louis Car Company. Photo from Washington University in St Louis Local History Archives.

As streetcars declined, the St Louis Car Company shifted to producing other mass transit vehicles, including subway and MU cars for the New York City Subway (NYCT), Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH), the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), and others in the 1960s. Unfortunately, even these large orders were not enough to keep the company afloat as it struggled to keep up with changing transportation needs, and after nearly a century of manufacturing, the St Louis Car Company went out of business in 1972. Some of the cars they made outlived the company itself, and engineers have used the University archive to restore older cars after the company went out of business. Below is a technical drawing of the outside of a St Louis Car Company streetcar.

Technical drawing of a St Louis Car Company streetcar. Photo from Washington University in St Louis Local History Archives.

Explore the Archive

The Washington Unversity in St Louis Local History Archive has thousands more pictures and technical drawings of streetcars, buses, trains, early automobiles, and even planes built by the St Louis Car Company. You can view a small percentage of these photos online here and browse through the holdings records of the complete collection here.

A photo of a St Louis streetcar with restored color. Photo from Washington University in St Louis Local History Archives.

About the author

Rose is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St Louis. Her focus is on 20th and 21st century American literature and disability studies.