Then Again Podcast

Streetcars / ep. 2


Welcome to Then Again, the podcast that takes a deeper look at urban histories. This season, we’ll be unpacking the coming and going of Washington residents by exploring the history of the city’s many forms of transportation. Join us as we uncover the stories and dramas of D.C.’s rivers, streetcars, highways, and airports.

photo of streetcars

Streetcars in front of Union Station. National Photo Company, c. 1920. (Library of Congress)

In the second episode of Then Again, we uncover the history of D.C. streetcars and examine the electric railway that once took Washingtonians all the way to the Chesapeake Bay.

photo of streetcar

Capital Traction Company mail carrier streetcar. (Smithsonian)

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Production Details

Then Again is produced by Allison Arlotta, Melissa Wadley, Erika Rydberg, Victoria Riechers, David Ramos, and Elena Goukassian, in association with Knowledge Commons DC. Recorded at the DC Public Library’s Studio Lab.

Music: “Rain Stops Play” and “Thought Projection” by Ketsa.


Drawing of an omnibus. (British Library)

Further Research

photo of streetcar rider

“Riding on a streetcar.” Esther Bubley for FSA/OWI, 1943. (Library of Congress)

Extra Random Facts

Origin of the Word Omnibus

In 1830, the first omnibuses were introduced in Washington. The word omnibus was coined by French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, and it comes from the Latin word meaning “for all.” You may recognize Pascal’s name from high school math and chemistry classes — he is the eponym of Pascal’s triangle and the SI unit of pressure, pascals.

Alternate origin: The name was said to come from the first station in Nantes, in front of the store of a hat-maker named Omnes, who had a large sign on his building saying “Omnes Omnibus” (“All for all” in Latin). This whole story is unconfirmed.

Velvet Streetcars

The Evening Sun described the new streetcars in 1862:

The seats on the side are covered in fine silk velvet, and the windows, which are stained and plain glass combined, are furnished with cherry sash and poplar blinds, beside handsome damask curtains. The top of the car is rounded permitting persons to stand upright without inconveniences…The car is handsomely painted, both inside and out, the prevailing color being white, while the outside is cream color and white, with a fine painting in the center and the words ‘Washington and Georgetown R.R.’ at the bottom. The wheels are of different colors, contrasting well with the body of the car, and giving it a picturesque appearance.

The luxurious details offer evidence that streetcars were initially designed for a high-class clientele, but they quickly became popular with residents of all strata.

More from Then Again

Steamboats (Episode 1)

Allison Arlotta grew up in Takoma Park, and no matter how many times she tries to leave the D.C. area, it keeps sucking her back in. It looks like she’ll finally break free this fall when she joins the Historic Preservation program at Columbia University. Besides shedding a tear when old buildings are demolished, her hobbies include flying trapeze, yelling at the TV, and celebrity gossip.