Tramway History in 70 Photographs
from the collection of

Allen Morrison

This is an illustrated survey of tramway development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, showing images that did not appear in my book The Tramways of Brazil or on the pages indexed at Electric Transport in Latin America.

Part 1 (of 3): 1859-1890

Rio de Janeiro was the test ground for tramways in Brazil: it had its first animal-powered line in 1859, first steam-powered line in 1862, first electric line in 1892, etc. It ultimately had more tramway companies, trams, types of trams, tram gauges and kilometers of tram track than any other city.

Early development was international. Thomas Cochrane was a homeopathic physician from Scotland (and cousin of the naval hero of the same name). Irineu Evangelista de Souza, the "Baron of Mauá", was an entrepreneur, industrialist, banker, politician and the richest man in Brazil. Charles Greenough was the former chief engineer and manager of a streetcar line in the United States.

The Baron of Mauá built and inaugurated the first section of Brazil's first intercity railroad in 1854. Thomas Cochrane founded the Companhia de Carris de Ferro da Cidade á Boa-Vista na Tijuca in 1856 and built Brazil's first urban railway: a 7 km line that ran from Praça Tiradentes west along Ruas da Constituição, Visconde de Itaúna, Machado Coelho, Haddock Lobo and Conde de Bonfim to the suburb of Tijuca [see map]. Track gauge was 1676 mm/66 in, the same that Mauá used on his railroad. The illustration below comes from a stock certificate [col. C. J. Dunlop]:

Tests began in 1858, revenue service started on 30 January 1859, and Emperor Dom Pedro II christened Brazil's first street railway the following 26 March. However, two horse trams on a 7 km route did not provide good service and meager revenues did not keep the line in working order. The Baron of Mauá took over the company in 1861 and replaced the mules with steam power in 1862. But the vehicles derailed frequently and the line closed – temporarily – on 28 November 1866.

Builder of the Tijuca trams is unknown, but it is doubtful that they looked like the vehicle shown above. One possibility was a German carriage maker in Rio named Röhe Irmãos, whose factory was located on the line. Röhe's ad, which appeared annually in the Almanak Laemmert, showed a John Stephenson tram [see below] on which Röhe wrote its name...

Meanwhile, Mauá acquired a franchise for a tram route to the Botanical Garden and formed the Companhia de Caminho de Carris de Ferro do Jardim Botânico in 1862. But the banks were disillusioned by the failure of the Tijuca line and investors were scarce. Brazil's tramway development might have remained stymied for many years had it not been for the enthusiasn and adventurous spirit of Charles Greenough, engineer and manager of the Bleecker Street & Fulton Ferry Rail Road in New York.

Greenough learned of opportunities in Brazil, traveled to Rio de Janeiro, purchased Mauá's contract, and founded the Botanical Garden Rail Road Co. in 1866. The Brazilian government was reluctant to allow another foreigner to build another street railway in its capital, but permission was finally granted and on 9 October 1868, in the midst of Brazil's war with Paraguay, Emperor Dom Pedro II presided at the inauguration of Rio de Janeiro's second street railway: a 3 km line that ran from Rua do Ouvidor south along Ruas Gonçalves Dias, Guarda Velha (13 de Maio), Ajuda,  Passeio, Lapa, Glória and Catete to Largo do Machado [see map]. Track gauge was 1435 mm/56.5 in, which was used by Greenough's tramway in New York, and later became the world standard.

Unlike Cochrane, Greenough had tramway experience, 17 stockholders and $500,000, and his line was a great success. Within six weeks the route was extended to Botafogo and by July 1869 there were 19 streetcars running in Rio de Janeiro, all built by John Stephenson Co. in New York:

The photograph above is one of two preserved at the Museum of the City of New York that show vehicles which Stephenson built for the Botanical Garden Rail Road. The tram is numbered "1", so is presumably the first car that it built for Rio. The photograph is also the oldest known view of a tram built for Brazil. (An engraving based on the image, seen in the Röhe ad above, replaced Dom Pedro with the numeral "15".) The other photograph in the New York collection shows a parlor car that Dom Pedro commissioned in 1878. That vehicle, unfortunately, went down with the ship that was taking it to Brazil during a storm near Cape Hatteras.

The B.G.R.R. introduced open trams in 1870 that established the design for later tram companies in Rio de Janeiro and most other cities in Brazil. On 1 January 1871 the line reached the Jardim Botânico, 10 km from the city [see map], and by 1875 it had 600 animals pulling 71 trams – 36 open, 33 closed and 2 combo passenger and baggage cars. In 1879 the company introduced telephone communication between its tram stations. Because it was well built, well managed and served the affluent neighborhoods on the city's south side, it became the prestige tramway system in Brazil. Here is one of its tickets [col. C. J. Dunlop]:

Subsequently, another American, Albert Hager, founded the Rio de Janeiro Street Railway in New York and opened Rio's third line, between the city and the palace grounds at Quinta da Boa Vista, on 25 November 1869. Its track gauge was an odd 1372 mm/54 in, but was later changed to 1435 mm/56.5 in to match the Botanical Garden line. Hager renamed his tramway Companhia de São Cristóvão in 1870 and reopened Cochrane's line to Tijuca, which had been closed for three years.

A Brazilian, João Batista Viana Drummond, inaugurated the fourth system, the Ferro-Carril da Vila Isabel, track gauge 1435 mm/56.5 in, on 29 November 1873 [see map]. Builder of Vila Isabel's first trams is unknown, but the vehicle shown below was made in the 1880s by J. G. Brill Co. in Philadelphia [col. AM]:

Four other street railways began operation in the 1870s: Companhia Locomotora in 1872, Companhia Ferro Carril Fluminense in 1873, Empreza de Carris de Ferro de Santa Theresa in 1875, and Companhia Ferro Carril Carioca e Riachuelo in 1877. The Fluminense line had 26 trams built by Röhe Irmãos [see above]. All these tramways used the same 820 mm/32.3 in track gauge and were consolidated as Companhia Carris Urbanos in 1879. (The 1875 Santa Teresa line ran only in the flat downtown area of the city. The 1877 Carioca line built a funicular and a separate, isolated, tram line atop the hill, which evolved into the tramway system that survives today.)

Here are two Stephenson open trams operated by the narrow-gauge Companhia Carris Urbanos (note initials) [col. C. J. Dunlop]:

It was time to change the horses pulling this Stephenson car of the C.V.I. (Companhia Vila Isabel). The steeds on the right seemed very aware of the camera [col. AM]:

A structure of the "BONDS DA VILLA GUARANY", built in 1883, has been preserved because of this frieze – which has recently been restored: see article. Location, at Rua Pedro Alves 210, is not far from the Praia Formosa terminus of today's new "VLT" (light rail line) [see map] [AM]:

It is not exactly a tram – but it is not really a train, either. The Estrada de Ferro do Corcovado opened the first section of its meter-gauge rack railway, which climbs to a peak at 670 m/2,198 ft, on 9 October 1884 [see map]. The first  locomotives came from Maschinenfabrik Esslingen in Germany. It was the first tourist railway in South America and still runs today [AM]:

The emperor ordered another parlor car in 1887, this time from Gilbert Car Works in Troy, New York. Its ancestor, Eaton, Gilbert & Co., had built the first trams for Mexico City in 1857, Santiago de Chile in 1858 and Havana, Cuba, in 1859. EG may also have built the first trams for Rio de Janeiro, but no photographic or written evidence has been found [col. AM]:

The vehicle above was lengthened and rebuilt as an electric "Luxo Car" in 1912 [col. AM]:

The trams that the public rode in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, were quite different. Avenida Central opened in 1905 and was renamed Avenida Rio Branco in 1912, so this postcard was made between 1905 and 1912. The view is south. The tram is traveling east: Sugar Loaf mountain is visible in the distance [see map] [col. AM]:

One of the cruzado notes used in the 1980s showed a group of such trams on Rua Primeiro de Março in 1905. This was the commercial center of the city at that time and the terminus of several horse tram lines [col. AM]:

This postcard shows a special "bagagem" tram, which carried baggage and barefoot passengers [col. AM]:

Here is another type of baggage car, which Jardim Botânico called a "caradura" (hard face, tough guy). John Stephenson built the first ones in 1884. This photo was taken in 1907 [Augusto Malta, col. C. J. Dunlop]:

The photograph below shows the open crossbench design that John Stephenson Co. introduced in 1870 and which became the standard design for open trams throughout Brazil during the 19th century [col. AM]:

This specimen was still running in 1908. The last horse trams in Rio de "Jenerio" were replaced by electric trams in 1910. Why did the sailors want this pose? Were they horse tram enthusiasts? [postcard, col. AM]:

Continue to  Part 2  of Rio de Janeiro Tramway History