Today we take more photos than ever before. But fifty years ago, photography was much less common. Even rarer were photos of ordinary parts of cities. One exception to this were the photos taken by trolley and tram enthusiasts. In an attempt to capture these vehicles on film, they ventured into urban neighbourhoods, distant suburbs and gritty industrial districts in big cities and small towns. While doing this, they unintentionally recorded the buildings, activities and day-to-day life of these places the way no one else did.

Their photos offer a power record of how cities have changed. Far from being confined to the world of nostalgia, they portray American life and cities that are very different today. They show us a unique insight into a world before suburbanization, deindustrialization, superhighways, and the rise of shopping malls. They help us to understand the impact that big shifts in society have had on buildings, businesses, neighbourhoods and daily urban life.


Click on the links below for a series of photo tours covering different places and different aspects of America's urban geography.

Accidental Archivists: how trolley fans documented urban America

Pittsburgh: the trolley's last stand

America in the age of the trolley

Deindustrialisation and decline in Philadelphia

Brian Doucet

Urban Geographer