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Interpreting the Evidence

Battery-Powered Streetcar, New York City, 1913

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Era:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    New York City
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Battery-Powered Streetcar, New York City, 1913 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
A battery-powered streetcar in New York City, 1913.
Historical Context
The electric-powered streetcar, which ran on batteries, began operating in New York City in 1874, replacing the horse-drawn cars that had been introduced in 1832.  This new form of passenger transport was called “light rail.”  The streetcars were an effective form of transport because they ran short routes with frequent service.  For example, they could carry people from one neighborhood to the next.  But, the batteries that powered these streetcars needed constant recharging, and as a result this was not an effective means of transportation.  

The streetcars remained popular until World War I, when prices rose for materials such as copper for electric wires and steel for rails.

Essential Question
How does the availability of transportation affect the economic and cultural aspects of a society?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and evaluate the impact of this technology on the local community.
Historical Challenges
Who designed New York City's electric streetcar system?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Science: A battery is a device that converts chemical energy into electrical energy. Investigate the different components of a battery to understand how it works.
English Language Arts: Write an essay about why organized transportation in cities was necessary.