A Trailblazing Trolleybus System Begins Its Longtime Service in Dayton

Photo Credit: Steve Morgan (licensed under Creative Commons)

April 23, 1933

The first electric trolleybus system in Ohio began regular operations in Dayton. These trackless trolleybuses — powered by overhead electric wires rather than gasoline – started their initial runs early that Sunday morning.

The day’s edition of the Dayton Daily News outlined one of the key activities undertaken by the Dayton Street Railway Company (DSR) to help promote its trolleybuses. “The company will usher in its new service with a charitable slant, in that all of the fares and contributions received in exchange for transportation between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. will be donated to the Babies Milk Fund,” reported the newspaper. “Almost a score of young women will be in charge of the collections and all monies which they receive will be given to this charitable purpose.”

The trolleybuses replaced DSR’s streetcars that had been serving passengers along the Salem Avenue-Lorain Avenue line in Dayton. This change in transit options was due to a fire the previous year at DSR’s maintenance and storage facility. The fire destroyed not only that building but also 16 streetcars and two gasoline-powered buses housed there.

DSR president Philip H. Worman and general manager William L. Smith, seeking to come up with a viable alternative to those now-decimated vehicles, led a months-long effort to closely examine various trolleybus systems. This extensive research resulted in DSR placing an order with the J.G. Brill Company for a dozen trolleybuses for a new electrically operated public transportation network within Dayton.

This network of trolleybuses became the latest incarnation of electric transit service that has been available in one form or another continuously in Dayton longer than any other city in the nation. (The city’s first electric streetcar service had started back in 1888.)

A dedication ceremony was held for the trolleybuses on the day before they officially went into service. About 80 invited guests were on hand for the event, and one of the highlights was when Worman’s wife Kathleen performed a role more commonly associated with ship launches. She broke a bottle on one of the new vehicles while proclaiming, “I christen this railless electric trolley and inaugurate this new system of transportation in the name of and for the city of Dayton.”

DSR, which was renamed the Dayton Street Transit Company sometime around 1935 and acquired by the City Railway Company in 1941, was just the first of several private companies to provide trolleybus service in Dayton throughout the years. In 1972, the Miami Valley Regional Transit Authority (the present-day Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority) took over public transit services in Dayton and continues to operate all of the city’s trolleybuses. At present, this system encompasses seven lines altogether and a fleet of 54 trolleybuses.

Dayton’s trolleybus system is one of only five still in existence in the United States. The other systems can be found in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Philadelphia; San Francisco; and Seattle. In addition, Dayton’s network of trolleybuses has the distinction of being second only to the one in Philadelphia as the oldest still around in the entire Western Hemisphere.

For more information on the trolleybus system in Dayton, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolleybuses_in_Dayton.

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