Seattle has a rich public transportation history. This page features links to a few online resources for learning more about the development of transit in Seattle. This page includes:
- A transit timeline from King County Metro
- Historic transit maps
- A sample of transit related articles on historylink.org
- A film on the Seattle-Tacoma interurban railway from the Seattle Channel
Timeline of Seattle Public Transportation Milestones
Created by King County Metro, this timeline provides an overview of Seattle’s transit history. Read about each decade’s major changes from streetcars to trolleybuses to light rail.
Left: Seattle's first streetcar, Sept. 20, 1884.
Photo courtesy Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI).
Historic Seattle Transit Maps
These maps show how Seattle’s electric transit has changed over the years. Seattle’s streetcar history started with a horse drawn line in 1884 and grew to a comprehensive, electric network covering much of the city. In 1941 it shut down after many years of financial difficulties. The system was partially replaced with electric buses on a trackless trolley network that continues today. Although trolley bus technology was widely used in the 1940s and 1950s, most electric systems were decommissioned by the late 1960s and replaced with shiny new diesel buses. Metro completed an evaluation of trolley bus technology on May 27, 2011, which addresses the question of how to replace the current, aging fleet of trackless trolleys.
Streetcar Maps from 1896 to 1933
Trolleybus Maps from 1963 to present
Seattle transit on Historylink
Historylink is an online encyclopedia of Washington State history with over 5000 articles. Here are a few of their entries which detail the development of public transportation in Seattle:
- Mosquito Fleet: The fleet of steam powered ferries that ran from the 1850s to the 1930s.
- Building Seattle: A slideshow of major capital projects that helped form the city, including major transportation decisions.
- Coleman Dock: This major dock for passenger ships and ferries was originally built in 1882.
- Original Westlake Streetcar in 1890: The modern South Lake Union Trolley runs along a similar route as the original Westlake Streetcar.
- Introduction of Trackless trolleys in 1941: The introduction of trolleybuses in Seattle, as a replacement for streetcars, dramatically changed Seattle’s transit system.
- Evolution of Railroad Stations in Seattle: Train stations in Seattle grew from humble depots to grand gateways. This article looks at the rise and eventual decline of King Street and Union Stations. Recently, these stations have been refurbished and restored after years of neglect.
- History of Metro: The development of the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle which integrated the urban and suburban bus systems in 1972.
- Bus Tunnel Groundbreaking in 1987: Seattle’s downtown bus tunnel is one of the most innovative features of Metro’s bus system.
History in Motion: The Seattle-Tacoma Interurban Railway
Seattle Channel’s History in Motion is a series of documentaries and archival footage. This 2007 documentary, by local filmmaker Stephen Sadis, tells the story of the electric interurban railway. The interurban ran regularly between Seattle and Tacoma during the first half of the twentieth century.