The Tramways of
M A N A U S
Amazonas is the largest state in Brazil, 1,564,445 square kilometers, larger than Western Europe or Alaska. Because, like Alaska, it has a forsaken location the population of Amazonas has always been relatively small. Its 400,000 inhabitants in 1900 earned it only 14th place in the union. Three million residents today rank Amazonas 18th of 23 states. Two-thirds of the inhabitants of Amazonas live in its capital city, Manaus, which had the state's only known tram system [see map].
Manaus has one of the world's most exotic locations: 1,500 km up the Amazon River, 3° south of the Equator, in the middle of the world's largest rain forest, inaccessible until 1972 by automobile and never reached by railroad. The city was a product of the 19th century rubber boom: foreigners flocked to the Equatorial region, grew fabulously rich and built a lavish jungle metropolis that compared architecturally and culturally with capitals in Europe. However, in the early 1900s rubber seeds were smuggled to Ceylon and boom turned to bust: exports slipped to one-third, the foreigners fled and the city fell into a half-century of stagnation. In 1965 the Brazilian government made Manaus a free port and today the avenues are lined with skyscrapers and duty-free shops selling Japanese cameras and automobiles. The city's name was written Manáos until 1937.
Proposals for a street railway began in the 1880s, but it was not until 1895 that a franchise for construction was awarded to an Englishman named Frank Hebblethwaite. The Englishman acquired three 0-4-2ST steam locomotives from Hudswell, Clarke & Co. in Leeds and laid 16 km of 610 mm gauge track down the avenues of the city. An 1895 map shows five tram routes, identified by Roman numerals. The Viação Suburbana began operation in February 1896 and within a year had 10 passenger coaches and 25 freight cars, numbered 1-35.
The steam tramway was short-lived. Charles Ranlett Flint, one of the directors of United States Rubber Company, installed electric street lights in Manaus in 1896 and began building a meter-gauge electric streetcar system in 1898. Flint, Hebblethwaite and 13 other Americans founded the Manáos Railway Company in New York on 24 February 1898, purchased the Viação Suburbana and opened the first electric line on 1 August 1899. Manaus was the third city in Brazil and fourth in South America to have an electric tramway – preceded only by Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Buenos Aires.
The origin of Flint's electric equipment is uncertain. A 1908 survey of the tram system by J. H. White & Co. of London says that the ten single-truck l0-bench cars, four double-truck 12-bench cars and two double-truck locomotives that inaugurated the line in 1899 had bodies, motors, controllers and DuPont trucks built by the Johnson Company of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The Johnson Company built motors and was one of several builders of DuPont trucks, but did not build car bodies. Tom Johnson, its president, designed and supervised construction of streetcars at the John Stephenson plant in New York, and the latter was probably the source of the tram bodies.
On 24 July 1902 the tramway company was federalized and the English inscription on the front of the cars was changed to Serviços Eléctricos do Estado. Through its agent, American Trading Company, the new operator purchased two more single-truck cars from American Car & Foundry in 1904 and ten double-truck 12-bench cars from St. Louis Car Company in 1905. The original 2-axle 10-bench cars, which had been numbered 50-59, were renumbered 3-12.
In 1909 a new English inscription appeared: Manáos Tramways & Light Company, registered in London on 12 January 1909. The British firm hired J. G. White to rebuild the lines, constructed a new tram depot at Cachoeirinha and ordered ten 8-bench trail cars (which were later motorized) from United Electric in Preston, England. In 1911 MT&L ordered four double-truck 12-bench cars from UE and later acquired motors and controllers from Preston and built its own cars. James Mitchell, the Canadian-born American who installed the pioneer trolley lines in Rio de Janeiro in the 1890s, was one of the early directors of the English company.
Manaus is hilly, and the circular route to the north climbed a steep grade on right-of-way – Rua Belém today – to the water tower and cemetery at Mocó [see map]. The Flores route went straight out into the jungle, to a park and new residential tracts that were never developed. Riding these suburban lines for breezes on hot afternoons was a favorite pasttime of local residents. The tram system reached its peak in the 1930s and seems to have operated essentially unchanged for the next four decades: 45 passenger motor cars, six work cars and two electric locomotives on 38 km of 1000 mm gauge track. Manaus trolleys carried trolley poles.
Most photographs and postcards that show two-way streets in Manaus show left-hand operation of trams. It is believed that the practice continued until about 1940, when the first gasoline buses appeared.
The tram system returned to the Estado in 1951 and was closed by power problems in 1954, but reopened in 1956. Passenger service officially ended on 28 February 1957, but track and wire were left intact, on Rua 10 de Julho and Avenida 7 de Setembro, for freight movements between the Plano Inclinado and the Cachoeirinha depot [see map]. The Companhia de Eletricidade de Manaus took over all utilities in 1962 and pulled down the trolley wire, ending 63 years of electric railway service.
A travel brochure issued by Braniff International Airways in 1978 advertised "picturesque trolley cars" in Manaus and suggested that the Manaus visitor "take a ride on the trolley, the oldest in South America." But the claim was false and the author found no trams during his visit in 1980. However, 25 years later, after this website was uploaded, the Manaus government announced plans to build a heritage tramway line. A section of 106-year-old track was dug up next to Teatro Amazonas and a design for a new vehicle was revealed. But the line was never built. In 1906 a homemade tram body was placed on display. It was numbered 51 . . .
Administração do Dr. Eduardo Gonçalves Ribeiro. Carta Cadastral da Cidade e Arrabaldes de Manáos. levantada pelo engenheiro militar João Miguel Ribas. Manáos, 10 Janeiro 1895. Large map at scale 1:8,000 shows tram routes identified by Roman numerals. But the map was published in 1895, two years before operation began, so may not show the precise lines that were built.
New York (State). Secretary of State. Certificate of Incorporation of Manáos Railway Company. Book 21, Page 33/12. New York (City), 25/2/1898. Details of the company, terms of its franchise and signatures of its founders.
Street Railway Review (Chicago). News items about the Manaus tramway in issues of 3/1898, p. 204; 8/1899, p. 562; and 15/4/1900, p. 229.
"Manaos (Amazonas)" in The Electrician (New York), 13/7/1900, p. 457. Three paragraphs about the new tramway and electric plant.
Frederico José de Santa-Anna Nery. The Land of the Amazons. New York, 1901. Translation of French text published in 1897. Brief description of both the steam and electric lines, pp. 136-139.
Estado do Amazonas. Mensagem e Annexos. Manáos, 1901. Detailed description of Manáos Railway Company, its lines, vehicles and electric plant, pp. 117-118.
Album do Amazonas. Manáos, 1901-1902. Picture album that is the source of several tram views reproduced on this website. Text in Portuguese, French and English.
Charles S. Seibert. "Electricity in Manaos, Brazil" in Electrical World and Engineer (New York), 5/7/1902, pp. 5-6. Very detailed description of the electric installation and street railway. Two photos of the electric plant (but not of the trams).
J. G. White & Company, Ltd. Manáos Tramways & Lighting: Report. London, 11/1908. A 60-page typewritten description of the tramway and electricity installation that the new English company has acquired in Manaus – and its plans to improve it. Extraordinary details of the existing tramcars and lines, pp. 21-22 and 27-35. A large fold-out map shows existing track and new track to be laid. [The author acquired this document from the heirs of James Mitchell, one of the directors of the English company; see text above.]
Annuario de Manáos. Planta da Cidade de Manáos. Lisboa, 1913. Street map at scale 1:16,000 shows electric tram routes.
"Manaos Tramways & Light Company, Ltd." in Moody's Manual of Investments (New York), 1928. Brief description on p. 898 of the company's operations and finances.
Carlos Pimentel Mendes. Bondes no Brasil: Manaus/Amazonas. A (strange and irrelevant) poem, followed by a Portuguese translation of the text above, three illustrations.
Soraia Magalhães. Bondes em Manaus. Webpage with tramway history, photograph and bibliography. A good presentation, except that the author says the Manáos Railway Company was English.
Rosa Clement. Manaus de Antigamente. Tram painting and poem.
Valeria Aleksandrova. Tramwaje z Manaus. Text above in Polish.
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