1907: Italy Gets One of Its First Trolleybus Systems

March 24, 1907

After a few trial runs, one of Italy’s earliest trolleybus systems was officially inaugurated in the vicinity of Siena in the central region of the country. These trolleybuses were the first means of public transportation for that city and its surrounding area that did not rely on horses for operation. The source of electrical power for the trolleybuses was developed by Eugenio Cantono, a native of Rome who had served in what was then known as the Royal Italian Army.

In terms of the quality of his technical expertise and enhancements, Cantono has been likened to other Italian inventors such as Guiglielmo Marconi, the famous pioneer of long-distance radio transmission; and Alessandro Cruto, creator of one of the first light bulbs to be made incandescent by a synthetic fiber. Cantono, in working out his plans for powering trolleybuses, combined innovations already developed by German electrical engineers Werner von Siemens and Max Schiemann.

Siemens introduced the Electromote, the world’s first functional trolleybus, in 1882. Schiemann, when launching one of his own trolleybuses into service in 1901, demonstrated the first public use of sliding contact shoes that were pressed by springs against the overhead wires. Cantono brought together the contributions of both men to come up with an electrical power supply for trackless trolleybuses. These vehicles each had two wires that were located about 20 inches (50 centimeters) apart and linked to a four-wheeled collector on a single trolley pole.

The first line for these trolleybuses was opened in the city of Pescara in southern Italy in 1903. Cantono further established the momentum for his trolleybus system when he showcased it at the Milan International world’s fair (also called the Great Expo of Work) in 1906.

In setting up his trolleybus systems throughout Italy, Cantono was aided by the companies Fabbrica Rotabili Avantreni Motori, which he founded in Genoa; and Società Imprese Elettriche Senesi (eventually renamed Società Anonima Filovie Senesi), which was based in Milan. Since the latter of these companies also helped manufacture Frigerio automobiles, Cantono’s type of trolleybus system became widely known as the Cantono Frigerio system. By 1916, there were more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) of lines for these trolleybuses in Italy.

The line established in the Siena area in 1907 covered approximately 4.5 miles (7 kilometers) and connected both Piazza Indipendenza (Independence Square) and a railway station in the city with the nearby communities of Fontebecci and Valli. Over time, though, this transit service lost much of its local appeal due to the logistical challenges of maneuvering trolleybuses along the city’s narrow and steep streets and around sharp curves. By 1920, the operations of this particular trolleybus line had ceased altogether.

During the next several years, the other Cantono Frigerio systems in Italy were phased out in favor of more modern types of public transportation. The last of these trolleybus lines, which was located between the town and comune of Ivrea and the comune of Cuorgnè in northwestern Italy, went out of service in 1935.

For more information on the Cantono Frigerio trolleybus systems in Italy, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cantono_Frigerio_system.

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