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What became the classic interurban all began in the 1870's with two key developments; in 1870 Zenobe Gramme unveiled a generator for commercial use while Werner von Siemens showcased the world's first electric locomotive at an exhibition in Berlin, Germany during 1879.
As these technologies found their way to the United States the first examples appeared in the 1880's; in 1880 Thomas Edison tested an experimental electric locomotive, powered by a dynamo, which was operated on a stretch of track in Menlo Park, New Jersey. George Hilton and John Due's authoritative piece, "," points out the birth of the true American interurban began when Frank Sprague developed an electric motorcar in 1886 for the New York Elevated Railway whereby the motor(s) were situated between the axle, along with a trolley pole and multiple-unit control stand.
However, in some cases third-rail was utilized and the electricity greater.
To produce the needed power either substations were built or it was purchased directly from energy companies.
As interubans expanded they did indeed initially prove popular offering quick service, multiple schedules daily (the large Illinois Traction system, for instance, was dispatching 106 trains out of Springfield, Illinois everyday by 1906), and with fares only a few cents each way.
Depending upon cost an interurban's route either followed its own dedicated right-of-way or, with permission from the state/county, could be laid right next to a rural road.
In an era before automobiles, when steel rails handled nearly all interstate and intercity travel, the interurban concept seemed viable, in theory.
There was also the added perk of providing some freight business.
For power, most interurbans used overhead catenary (energized electric lines attached to line-side poles), usually rated at around 600 volts.The latter alternative was cheaper but the resulting grades and curves were less than ideal, a problem only compounded when freight movements were involved.Visually, the interurban was classic Americana as a car sped along a grass-covered right-of-way with its trolley pole extended high.Best of all, this Sound Kit is 100% Royalty-Free, meaning you can use them in personal or commercial compositions at no extra cost.
Interurbans, and their suburban counterparts (the streetcar), were once common throughout the country. The mania began during the late 19th century and spilled over into the early 1900's as thousands of miles were laid down from New England to California.
As William Middleton notes in his book, " The interurban was conceived as a transit system, developed from the basic streetcars of the era.