Cable cars enter service in Seattle on September 28, 1887.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 10/02/2000
  • Essay 2690
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On September 28, 1887, the Lake Washington Cable Railway inaugurates cable-car service between Pioneer Square and Leschi Park. The cars travel east on Yesler Way and return west on Jackson Street. The line is the brainchild of Jesse Murdock Thompson and Fred Sander.

Jesse Murdock Thompson had helped to develop San Francisco's first cable car lines and thought the technology was a natural to help people navigate Seattle's steep ridges and hills. He joined with Seattle developer Fred Sander to solve numerous engineering problems, including construction of large trestles and a pleasant park at Leschi, where riders could visit a menagerie (later moved to the Woodland Park Zoo), picnic, swim, or connect with cross-lake ferries.

Based on the success of the Lake Washington line, Thompson and Sander built a Front Street cable railway in 1888, which ran from Pioneer Square to Pike Street on today's 1st Avenue and returned along 2nd Avenue. Their North Seattle Cable Railway extended service to the top of Queen Anne Hill in 1891. This line was electrified in 1901, and a counterbalance system was added to help streetcars up and down Queen Anne Avenue's steep grade.

Other cable car lines were built on Madison and James streets. The latter operated until 1940, when Seattle began replacing all of its street railways with buses and trackless trolleys.


Leslie Blanchard, The Street Railway Era in Seattle: A Chronicle of Six Decades (Forty Fort, PA: Harold E. Cox, 1968; Walt Crowley, Routes: A Brief History of Public Transportation in Metropolitan Seattle (Seattle: Metro Transit, 1993).
Note: The name of J. M. Thompson was corrected on May 27, 2009.

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