Patriarch Streetcar Turns 120

578S 2nd and Mission, 1904, SFMTA Archives

Car 578 at 2nd and Mission, 1904, SFMTA Archives

According to our historian, the redoubtable Emiliano Echeverria, 120 years ago, August 10, 1896 (give or take a day), a new streetcar was delivered for service in San Francisco. Streetcars themselves had only become a viable transit technology eight years before in Richmond, Virginia. San Francisco got its first streetcar line only four years before, in 1892, but transit companies led by Market Street Railway Company were replacing cable car lines with streetcars and building new lines with the electric vehicles.

The first streetcars that appeared in San Francisco looked a lot like cable cars, except for the trolley pole on the roof that conducted electricity from the overhead wire. That wasn’t surprising. The standard cable car design of the time, the “California Car” (named after the California Street cable car design still used today), was popular with riders, with open end sections and a closed center section. And many of the early San Francisco streetcars were built by cable car builders.

That new streetcar delivered in August 1896 still operates today. Built by Hammond, which later built today’s fleet of California Street cable cars, No. 578 is the oldest passenger transit vehicle in America still on the operating roster of a public transit agency. It survived because it was turned into a work car after the 1906 earthquake and was kept around in that capacity before being restored by Muni’s crafts workers for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the earthquake in 1956.

We’re going to run a special feature to celebrate Car 578‘s 120th birthday in the next issue of our member newsletter, Inside Track, with many more historic photos of this patriarch of San Francisco’s streetcar fleet. Join Market Street Railway now so you don’t miss it!

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And you’ll be able to actually ride this unique streetcar on Muni Heritage Weekend, September 24-25, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Come to our San Francisco Railway Museum to get your seat!

Happy 120th Birthday, Car 578!!