Tramway History in 75 Photographs
from the collection of

Allen Morrison

[ esta página em português ]

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 2 (of 3): 1890-1910

Like the horse tram era many years before, the electric tram era in Brazil began in the Tijuca district of Rio de Janeiro. The project in 1890 was an extension of the tram line from Tijuca up the mountain to Alto da Boa Vista (alt. 385 m/1,263 ft) [see map]. Plans for both a cog railway and a cable-powered line were rejected in the 1880s. Finally, the Companhia Estrada de Ferro da Tijuca, founded in October 1890, acquired a franchise to build a narrow-gauge electric line and signed a contract in May 1891 with Thomson-Houston Electric Co. (later renamed General Electric Co.) in New York. T-H sent a Canadian-born engineer to Rio named James Mitchell, who not only helped build the Alto da Boa Vista electric line but also assisted in the electrification of the Jardim Botânico tram system and the Ferro-Carril Carioca. Mitchell became G.E.'s chief sales representative in Brazil [photo courtesy of his great-grandson, John Stancioff]:

Mitchell and EFT director Adolfo Aschoff ordered boilers, generators, steam engines and 12 John Stephenson electric trams from the U.S.A., then began laying 600 mm/23.6 in gauge track along what today is called Estrada Nova da Tijuca [see map]. They built their usina (power plant) and tram garage on the north side of  Av. Edson Passos at the end of Rua Conde de Bonfim. Because of its prominence, the entire area became known as Usina, and is still called that today [postcard, col. AM]:

The new electric trams – the first in Latin America – began arriving in late 1891. Number 53 was one of three mixtos – combination passenger & baggage cars. All were painted wine red and were bidirectional – had controls at both ends and ran both ways [col. Alfredo Spinelli, via AM]:

This 10-bench passenger car (fleet number unknown) is about to leave the company yard and turn onto Av. Edson Passos, which led to Estrada Nova da Tijuca [see map] [col. Alfredo Spinelli]:

Unfortunately, EFT overextended itself and could not pay its bills. Construction stopped in 1893 and the new electric trams, which might have been the first to run in South America, gathered dust in the carbarn for seven years. After wire was strung and track was relaid to 1435 mm/56.5 in gauge, the line finally began regular service on 14 September 1898. Like the Corcovado cog railway nearby, the Estrada de Ferro da Tijuca became a popular tourist attraction [col. AM]:

A ticket (enlarged) [Julio Meili, Das Brasilianische Geldwesen, 1903]:

Meanwhile, in 1891, while he was working on the Tijuca line, Mitchell was engaged by José de Cupertino Coelho Cintra, director of the Ferro-Carril do Jardim Botânico (ex-Botanical Garden Rail Road), to help him electrify that system, which had grown to considerable size. In August 1891 Coelho and Mitchell ordered materials from General Electric that were similar to those acquired for Tijuca, but with only three John Stephenson trams. The latter resembled the new Tijuca electrics, but were wider for Jardim Botânico's 1435 mm/56.5 in track gauge. The first trials took place on 12 August 1892, and on 8 October 1892 Brazilian president Floriano Peixoto presided at the inauguration of the first electric tramway to carry passengers in South America [col. C. J. Dunlop]:

James Mitchell is 2nd from left. José de Cupertino Coelho Cintra is 3rd from left. Brazilian president Floriano Peixoto is 3rd from right, and his legs – and the white trousers adjacent – are hiding the center axle of a "Robinson Radial" 6-wheel truck, the only example on the continent. Note initials of the Companhia Ferro-Carril do Jardim Botânico above.

CFCJB director Coelho Cintra heads the poster below, which includes a  different view of the inauguration ceremony, with a U.S. flag hanging from the trolley pole. The tram is on Rua 13 de Maio [Noronha Santos, Meios de Transporte no Rio de Janeiro, v. 1, p. 343]:

CFCJB ordered five more electric trams from Stephenson and five from Companhia Forjas e Estaleiros (in Niterói) in 1893. It had a fleet of 25 by 1896 and starting building its own in 1897. It ran 85 electric trams in 1903.

The route of the 1892 electric line was from Largo da Carioca to Largo do Machado, approximately duplicating the Botanical Garden horsecar route of 1868 [see map]. Pictures of these first CFCJB electric cars are rare. This one appeared on a cigarette package [col. AM]:

Apparently the public had concerns about the safety of the new "Stephen Company" electric cars [col. C. J. Dunlop]:

Meanwhile, the management of the Ferro-Carril Carioca hired James Mitchell and General Electric Co. to electrify the tramway system on Santa Teresa hill. The postcard view below shows the route that they laid atop the 18th century aqueduct. For 81 more illustrations of this line see The Santa Teresa Tramway and Santa Teresa Tramway Vehicles [col. AM]:

This postcard shows the terminus of  Jardim Botânico trams in front of the fountain on Largo da Carioca (which was also the terminus of the water brought by the aqueduct) [see map]. The terminal station of Ferro-Carril Carioca trams was behind the fountain structure [col.AM]:

The 10-bench motor tram is pulling two 8-bench trailers. Note the ad for "Manteiga Lepelletier". Rio trams rarely carried advertising. Except in the earliest days, they also rarely displayed the name – or even the initials – of the companies that operated them [col. AM]:

The postcard view below shows Jardim Botânico trams running left-hand – English style – on Rua 13 de Maio. The image is poorly framed but may explain the odd clockwise  loop on Largo da Carioca [col. AM]:

This announcement was posted next to the entrance to Jardim Botânico's offices on Largo do Machado [see map] [detail of postcard, col. AM]:

CFCJB horsecars tunneled under the mountain to Copacabana Beach in 1892 [see map]. The first electric trams followed in 1901. This postcard shows a second tunnel that opened in 1906. The Atlantic Ocean was behind the photographer [Marc Ferrez, col. AM]:

An electric tram and trailer leaving Ipanema Beach about 1905 [see map]. This is today's Rua Francisco Otaviano. A whole new world – and market – opened for the Jardim Botânico tramway company [postcard, col. AM]:

Meanwhile, the Vila Isabel tramway system [see Part 1] had been purchased by Brasilianische Elektricitäts Gesellschaft of Berlin, which built this large power plant and tramway facility at the west end of Av. Presidente Vargas. It set about to electrify the lines on the city's north side [col. AM]:

The new owners imported 50 electric trams from Van der Zypen & Charlier in Köln, Germany [col. AM]:

The new German trams introduced Siemens bow collectors to the city (Tijuca, Jardim Botânico and Ferro-Carril Carioca all used trolley poles).  The Ferro-Carril da Vila Isabel inaugurated its first electric tram line on Rua Matoso on 1 July 1905. Tram 49 in the photo below is turning north from Rua São Francisco Xavier onto Rua General Canabarro [col. AM]:

Some of Vila Isabel's new trams were built by a carbuilder in Rio de Janeiro named Trajano de Medeiros. It wasn't long before the new model climbed the mountain to Alto da Boa Vista [see map]. The schoolgirls wait at the terminus for an excursion into the city [postcard, col. AM]:

Continue to  Part 3 of Rio de Janeiro Tramway History

Return to  Part 1 of Rio de Janeiro Tramway History