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29 September 2010

On this day in history: Blackpool tramway opened, 1885

From the early nineteenth century, various towns and cities around the world introduced trams (streetcars) as a means of public transport. First horses and then steam engines provided the power for the trams until Werner von Siemens demonstrated his electric motor at the 1881 International Exposition of Electricity in Paris. A British engineer called Michael Holroyd Smith became aware of electric traction and began experimenting with narrow-gauge electric tramways in 1883.

Spurred on by the success of these experiments, Smith demonstrated standard-gauge versions of his invention in Manchester and then in the seaside town of Blackpool. This latter demonstration led to the formation of the Blackpool Electric Tramway Company in 1885, which commissioned Smith to construct a two-mile long tramway along the Promenade from Claremont Park to South Shore. Most of the directors of the company hailed from Smith's home-town of Halifax, as were the engineers that built the track.

The grand opening of the world's first effective electric tramway took place on 29th September, 1885, presided over by Smith and the Mayor of Manchester, Alderman Harwood. The company operated the trams until 1892 when the Blackpool Corporation took them over and extended the network and installed overhead cables to supply the power rather than use a conduit in the track. The trams continue to operate to this day, managing to avoid the replacement of tramways in other cities by becoming a tourist attraction.

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