Amazonas is the largest state in Brazil, 1,564,445 square kilometers, larger than Western Europe or Alaska. Because, like Alaska, it has a forsaken location the population of Amazonas has always been relatively small: its 400,000 inhabitants in 1900 earned it only 14th place in the union; a million residents in 1980 rank Amazonas even lower - 20th, the third least populous state in Brazil. One half of the inhabitants of Amazonas live in its capital city, Manaus, which had the state's only known tram system.
Manaus has one of the world's most exotic locations: 1,500 km up the Amazon River, 3° south of the Equator, in the middle of the world's largest rain forest, inaccessible until 1972 by automobile and never reached by railroad. The city was a product of the 19th century rubber boom: foreigners flocked to the Equatorial region, grew fabulously rich and built a lavish jungle metropolis that compared architecturally and culturally with capitals in Europe. However, in the early 1900s rubber seeds were smuggled to Ceylon and boom turned to bust: exports slipped to one-third, the foreigners fled and the city fell into a half-century of stagnation. In 1965 the Brazilian government made Manaus a free port and today the avenues are lined with skyscrapers and duty-free shops selling Japanese cameras and automobiles.
Information about the first tramways is sketchy. The South American Handbook, published annually in London, repeats each year that "Manaus was the first city in South America to install trams" [1987 edition, p. 351.]. But this is incorrect: when the first horsecars ran in Santiago in 1857 Manaus had only a few thatched-roof huts; Rio de Janeiro had South America's first steam trams in 1862 and first electric trams in 1892, long before Manaus. The first franchise for construction of a tramway in Manaus seems to have been awarded to an English engineer named Frank Hebblethwaite in 1895. Hebblethwaite acquired three 0-4-2ST steam locomotives from Hudswell Clarke of Leeds, England, and laid 16 km of 610 mm gauge track down the avenues of the city; an 1895 map shows five tram routes, identified by Roman numerals. The Viação Suburbana began revenue service in February 1896. An 1897 text says that there were ten passenger coaches and 25 freight cars.
The steam tramway was short-lived. Charles Ranlett Flint, one of the directors of the United States Rubber Company, installed electric street lights in Manaus in 1896 and began building a meter-gauge electric streetcar system in 1898. Flint, Hebblethwaite and 13 other Americans founded the Manáos Railway Company in New York on 24 February 1898 and opened the Manaus trolley system for revenue service on 1 August 1899. [Petrobrás, p. 28. See also news item in Street Railway Review (Chicago), 1899/8, 562.] Manaus was the third city in Brazil, the fourth in South America, to have an electric tramway. [By 1899 Rio de Janeiro already had three electric tram systems. Electric cars were also running in Salvador, Brazil, and in Buenos Aires, Argentina.]
The origin of Flint's electric equipment is mysterious. A 1908 survey of the tram system by J. H. White & Co. of London says that the ten single-truck l0-bench cars, four double-truck 12-bench cars and two double-truck locomotives that inaugurated the line in 1899 had bodies, motors, controllers and DuPont trucks built by the Johnson Company of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The Johnson Company built motors and was one of several builders of DuPont trucks, but did not build car bodies. Tom Johnson, its president, designed and supervised construction of streetcars at the John Stephenson plant in New York, and it is probable that the latter was the source of the tram bodies.
On 24 July 1902 the tramway company was federalized and the English inscription on the front of the cars was changed to Serviços Electricos do Estado. Through its agent, American Trading Company, the new operator purchased two more single-truck cars from American Car & Foundry in 1904 and ten double-truck 12-bench cars from St. Louis Car Company (o.n. 576) in 1905. In 1909 a new English inscription appeared: Manáos Tramways & Light Company, registered in London on 12 January 1909. The British firm hired J. G. White to rebuild the lines, constructed a new tram depot at Cachoeirinha and ordered six 8-bench cars from United Electric in Preston, England. MT&L later acquired motors and controllers from Preston and built its own cars. James Mitchell, the Canadian-born American who installed the pioneer trolley lines in Rio de Janeiro in the 1890s, was one of the early directors of the English company.
Manaus is hilly, and the circular route to the north climbed a steep grade on right-of-way - Rua Belém today - to the water tower and cemetery at Mocó. The Flores route went straight out into the jungle, to new residential tracts that were never developed. Riding these suburban lines for breezes on hot afternoons became a favorite pasttime of Manausers, who had not much else to do after 1912. The tram system reached its peak in that year and operated essentially unchanged for the next four decades: 45 passenger motor cars, ten passenger trailers (from the steam tramway), six work cars and two electric locomotives on 38 km of 1000 mm gauge track. Manaus trolleys carried trolley poles.
Most photographs and postcards that show two-way streets in Manaus show left-hand operation of trams. It is believed that the practice continued until the late 1930s, when the photograph showing car 21 was taken.
The first bus ran in 1939. The tram system was closed by power problems in 1954, but reopened in 1956. Passenger service officially ended on 28 February 1957 [Stiel, Brasil, 199.] but track and wire were left intact, on Rua 10 de Julho and Avenida 7 de Setembro, for freight movements between the Plano Inclinado and the Cachoeirinha depot. The Companhia de Eletricidade de Manaus took over all utilities in 1962 and pulled down the trolley wire, ending 70 years of traction service in the Amazon jungle.
A rumor circulated during the 1970s that several trolleys had been preserved in Manaus for use on a proposed tourist line. But none could be found during the author's visit to the city in 1980.
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