Sep 18, 2011

Trolley Demise in Allentown

A fellow blogger, a younger urbanist sort, speculated that automobiles put the end to trolleys in the Lehigh Valley. He was half right, actually it was the Mad Men from General Motors. In the early 1950's, Americans were still a one car family, even in the prosperous Lehigh Valley. The mass transit system was still full of the other family members, still using the system for work, shopping and school. Between the late 1940's and 1953, Hamilton Street had both trolleys and buses. In the late 40's, General Motors wined and dined transit officials all over the country, exhorting the benefits of their buses. Shown above is a Lehigh Valley Transit work car, towing a trolley to Bethlehem Steel to be scrapped. The photograph was taken in 1952 on St. John Street, heading toward the Fountain Hill route. In June of 1953, the last trolley would run on Hamilton Street.


Anonymous said...

Were these mad men the same group that killed the railroads by pushing semi trucks?
Great picture and history snapshot.

binzley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
binzley said...

Imagine how different Allentown would be if GM had not killed the trolley business. Downtown would be thriving with shops, businesses and, dare I say, a hess department store. There likely would be no Lehigh Valley Mall. Housing in the city would be very desirable with the affluent vying for houses within walking distance to the trolley.

Many of the readers here, including MM, seem to think that national economic policy has little to do with the problems of the city. Many readers dream of the old days, but see no connection of its demise to the decisions made by the corporate leaders who really run this country. Charles Wilson, the former head of General Motors, said, "What is good for GM is good for America." Let the rich run the country if you want, but don't complain when they make decisions that harm our community.

michael molovinsky said...

downtown might be more charming with a trolley, but otherwise, everything else would be the same. personally, i have more faith in someone who become CEO of an industry giant, that a one term senator with a good speech reading voice.

binzley said... shot at our president MM. I guess you prefer credit-default swaps, wars in the middle east, vouchers for medicare, the privatization of social security and cutting classroom teachers. Wait until President Perry lets Merck and other corporations loose in this country.

michael molovinsky said...

gary, you can't have it both ways. if the charlie wilson's really run america, yes, then obama is just a teleprompter reader

binzley said...

69,456,897 votes in the last election. Not bad for a teleprompter reader. How many did you get when you ran for office?

Anonymous said...

Charles Wilson, the former head of General Motors, said, "What is good for GM is good for America."
Are you sure he said that and not: "what's good for America is good for GM"?

AuH20 said...

General Motors didn't kill trolleys. Freedom did. GM and other manufacturers were able to build quality cars (at least then) at a price affordable to much of post-war America. Those former GI's deserved the economic freedom and the freedom to transport themselves and families the the way they thought best. Overwhelmingly the wanted cars: first one...then a second for their wives...and finally additional for their kids. And liberals still hate America for this. But they still love GM for their bloated union pay scales and their new-found socialism.

michael molovinsky said...

gary, GM successfully lobbied the small city transit authorities to switch from trolleys to buses. in allentown's case, that transition had nothing to do with the demise of hamilton street. it continued to do well for over another decade, before the suburban mall. your assignment of the hamilton's demise to charles wilson is part of your views on politics, not history. yes obama did well in the election; he also won the nobel prize, before serving office, on the same expectations created by his speech giving, instead of his accomplishments.
i received very few votes, but have remained consistent in my actions and advocacy for allentown.

Anonymous said...

"...automobiles put the end to trolleys in the Lehigh Valley."

That's a little like saying the attack on Pearl Harbor put the USA into WWII. It was probably inevitable.

Cars, busses, trolley's and people might have been able to co-exist in the downtown but leaders at that time could not see it that way. Sort of the way current A-Town leaders really believe that an arena displacing stores will rejuvinate the downtown shopping district.


Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see if 69,456,897 people are ready to be hustled --- again ...

... I, for one, will be interested to see if any demographic groups have had their opinion of Obama changed in any way over the past three years.

For example, will Obama be able to count on the same percentage of Jewish voters this time, what with the President making such bold public statements as his demand that Israel return to pre-1967 borders and all?

That would be, of course, just one group - there are many others who may have cause to re-think their choice from 2008, particularly after this moring's latest proclamations from Dear Supreme Leader.


Bethlehem Native said...

Some people like to paint up GM and the tire manufactures as bad guys in the "Great American Steetcar Scandal" or whatever they want to call it. But the fact is, for urban mass transit, buses have far too many advantages over rail-running trolleys:
- They can be rerouted as warranted for detours or as demographics change.
- They don't require any extra infrastructure investments or maintance. i.e., Tracks, signals and power distribution lines.
- Buses can pull to the side of the street and safely discharge passengers curbside.
By the 1950's, buses were being manufactured, but not streetcars.
The demise of streetcars began in the 20's and accelerated in the 30's due to the depression. All of this long before captains of industry took a more active role. The development of streetcar and interurban lines occurred in the 1890's/1900's because there was no reliable internal combustion engine that could propel a vehicle of such size. That and few taxpayer maintained paved roads.

Anonymous said...

"i received very few votes, but have remained consistent in my actions and advocacy for allentown."

MM, maybe you didn't make enough promises you knew you couldn't keep. In other words, you didn't buy enough votes!

Anonymous said...

"Let the rich run the country if you want, but don't complain when they make decisions that harm our community."

GL, is this to assume that the "poor" don't harm the community and that they really create prosperity? I thought it was politicians that run the country with the help of Soros and GE's ceo Immelt, one of Obama's best friends! Maybe you are referring only to rich conservatives and that all democrats are poor! Wow, you must be one miserable person!