Birthday of the San Francisco Cable Car

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On this date in 1873, Andrew S. Hallidie successfully tested a cable car he had promoted for the city of San Francisco.

The first cable car installation in operation was the West Side and Yonkers Patent Railway in New York, which ran from 1 July 1868 to 1870. The cable technology used in this elevated railway involved collar-equipped cables together with claw-equipped cars, and proved cumbersome. The line was closed, rebuilt and reopened with steam locomotives.

The cable car begins moving when a clamping device, called a grip, is connected to the moving cable. Conversely the car is stopped by detaching it from the cable, and then applying brakes. This gripping and ungripping action may be manual, as was the case in all early cable car systems, or automatic, as is the case in some recent cable operated people mover type systems.

One claimed advantage of the cable car is its relative energy efficiency, because of the economy of centrally located power stations, and the ability for cars going down hill to transfer energy to cars going up. Cable cars rapidly spread to other cities, although the major attraction for most was the ability to displace horse-drawn (or other animal-drawn) systems rather than the ability to climb hills. Many people at the time viewed horse-drawn transit as unnecessarily cruel, and the fact that a typical horse could work only 4 or 5 hours per day necessitated the maintenance of large stables of draft animals that had to be fed (typically ~30 lbs. (~14 kg) of feed each day), housed, groomed, medicated and rested. Thus for a period economics worked in favour of cable cars even in relatively flat cities.

Although cable cars were used in over 40 cites around the world they were gradually replaced by the less expensive systems. Now there are three systems in operations: Laon France; San Francisco; Memphis


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