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The Enchanting Journey of Lisbon’s Trams: A Ride Through History

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The Dawn of the ‘Americanos’ and the Advent of Electric Trams

Lisbon’s love affair with trams dates back to the late 19th century, a period marked by the introduction of the “Americanos” – horse-drawn trams that were the city’s lifeline. The journey began on November 17, 1873, when the first line, procured from a New York firm, connected Sta. Apolónia to the western end of Boa Vista (Santos). This network, initially granted to Luciano Cordeiro and his brother Francisco, later passed to Brazilian investors who oversaw the transformation of Lisbon’s public transportation.

By the turn of the century, the landscape of Lisbon’s transport began to change. In 1900, Eduardo Jorge, a former stable boy for the “Americanos,” emerged as a significant player with his transport company. Known as “Chora” for his frequent laments about small earnings, his service operated at economical fares, making it a popular choice among Lisboetas.

The Electrification Era and Expansion

However, 1901 heralded a new era with the introduction of Lisbon’s first electric trams, famously known as the “eléctricos.” The inaugural fleet consisted of 80 small open cars, manufactured by J.G. Brill in the USA, which remained in circulation until the 1940s. This electrification marked the beginning of the end for horse-drawn trams in Lisbon. By 1905, the entire network had been electrified, leading to the gradual disappearance of the “Americanos.”

During this electrification phase, several important tram models were introduced. In 1902, the “almanjarras,” large cars also manufactured by J.G. Brill, became a staple of Lisbon streets. By 1910, the “São Luiz” series (numbered 400-474) was introduced, showcasing the evolving design and functionality of the trams. The network’s reach extended significantly in the early 20th century, with lines expanding into the Avenidas Novas area by 1904 and further into Lapa, Campo de Ourique, and Campolide in subsequent years.

The 1920s witnessed another expansion phase, extending the network to newly developed areas like Bairro Andrade and Boa-Hora. The network’s growth was characterized by three distinct phases: rapid evolution until 1906, a period of stability until 1925, and a phase of expansion and restructuring thereafter, including notable route changes and the integration of different tram models.

The Competitors: “Chora” and Others

Amidst this expansion, Eduardo Jorge’s “Chora” continued to operate. Despite the electrification wave, Jorge remained steadfast, refusing to sell his company to Carris, the primary operator of the electric trams. He even proudly displayed “This Company Is Not For Sale” signs on his trams. By 1910, “Chora” had grown to 38 cars, earning recognition and tax reductions from the Republic’s government. Despite hardships during the war, “Chora” continued operations until 1917, ultimately ending with a dramatic act of defiance – Jorge set fire to all his cars rather than cede them to Carris.

The Decline and Revival

The mid-20th century marked the zenith of Lisbon’s tram network, with 27 lines and a fleet of 405 trams by 1959. However, the subsequent decades saw a gradual decline due to the expansion of bus services and the construction of the Lisbon Metro. By the late 20th century, the network had significantly reduced, with many trams either destroyed or sold off.

Yet, the 21st century brought about a renewed interest in trams. Key routes like 15 and 16 between Cais do Sodré and Algés/Belém were modernized, and in 2018, the historic Tram 24 was revived after a 23-year hiatus. Today, six tram lines, including the iconic Tram 28, serve as not only a nostalgic nod to Lisbon’s history but also as an essential part of the city’s modern transportation network.

Conclusion

The history of Lisbon’s trams is a testament to the city’s evolution, mirroring its growth and modernization. From the horse-drawn “Americanos” to the electric “eléctricos,” these trams have been more than just a means of transport – they are a beloved part of Lisbon’s soul, a connection to its past, and a symbol of its resilient spirit. Riding a Lisbon tram is not just a journey through the city’s streets; it’s a ride through its rich, vibrant history.

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