No. 1 cable tram
On Monday 11 November 1885, the No. 1 cable tram inaugurated Melbourne’s first tram service, running along Bridge Road, Richmond, and Flinders Street, terminating at Spencer Street.
It was the beginning of a new era in public transport. By 1891, Melbourne had built one of the world’s largest cable-tramway networks, with 17 routes extending over 75 kilometres of track and powered by large steam engines in 12 coal-fired engine houses.
The No. 1 cable tram was one of 20 tramcar sets imported from New York. Later sets were built in Melbourne to a similar design. Each cable tram set consisted of a ‘dummy’ engine or grip car, with open bench seating and an enclosed trailer or saloon car, where women and non-smoking passengers could sit out of the weather.
The system was operated by continuously moving steel cables that ran in tunnels beneath the tracks. A grip mechanism from the dummy car extended through a slot in the centre of set of tracks to engage the cable.
The No. 1 cable tram made its final run on 30 June 1927, when the Richmond route closed for conversion to electric trams. In 1940, following the closure of the final cable route, the No. 1 tram set was donated by the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board to the Historical Collection of the Public Library.
The tram spent the next 24 years gathering dust under a corrugated-iron lean-to against the southern wall of the museum’s Swanston Street site. In 1974, the No. 1 tram was finally restored at the Preston Tramway Workshops and installed in its own purpose-built, glazed display building on the corner of Russell and Little Lonsdale streets.