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On This Day: Railway First Appeared in MKE

Milwaukee's first street railway

Rail cars first popped up in Milwaukee about 1.5 centuries ago, but in a way you might not recognize. They were basically horse and buggies pulled on a track but still the first major public transportation infrastructure in the city.

America has come a long way in public transportation since then. Well, maybe not.

On May 30th, 1860, the first ever railway cars ran in Milwaukee. They were each drawn by two horses and ran from East Water Street north to Division Street. The service was paid for with $50,000 in stock subscriptions that were sold to the public.

Believe it or not, those same horse-drawn rail cars are still used in Milwaukee today! It must’ve been futuristic technology at the time. Just kidding.

Now, the Milwaukee street car (nicknamed “The Hop”) connects Downtown to the Lower East Side and Third Ward historic neighborhoods. The Hop is set to add a second “L-Line” that will add two extensions: one runs North into Bronzeville and the other connects the Third Ward south to Walker’s Point.

The service is also free and runs from 7 am to 9 pm with cars arriving every 20 minutes. That’s a lot better than a $15 Uber XL, and without the awkward “Getting much business tonight?” conversation in the car.

However, high speed rail is still nonexistent in Wisconsin. Despite an opportunity to build a line with Obama Administration funding, there is no rail network linking major cities like Milwaukee and Madison. There is now a plan to build one by 2030 that would connect Milwaukee to Madison and Minneapolis.

Now the question is, what do you think was more popular, the two railway cars drawn by horses or today’s modern loop? I’ll let you decide.


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