Milwaukee streetcar

The streetcar heist

The Wells Street trolley replaced horse-drawn railcars.
Electrified streetcars like this one replaced Milwaukee’s horse-drawn railcars in 1890. In 1902, armed men robbed a trolley crew—then stole their streetcar. Photo courtesy Milwaukee County Historical Society

In a 1902 robbery described as “one of the boldest that has been accomplished in Milwaukee for some time,” two armed men boarded a late-night streetcar, robbed the crew, then made good their getaway—by stealing their streetcar.

The crew of the Greenfield Avenue trolley, Conductor Curtis Neydis and Motorman Edward Kane, were completing the final run of the night as they reached the end of the line at 26th Street at 1 a.m. on November 25th, 1902.

Out of the darkness appeared two men armed with revolvers who ordered the conductor to hand over the collected fares plus the unused tickets and transfers. The theft amounted to $30, the equivalent of about $900 today.

The Milwaukee Journal reported, “Keeping their men covered with the revolvers the robbers ordered them from the car, and while one of the robbers kept his gun trained on the men, his partner turned on the current and ran the car back towards the city.”

The robbers traveled two blocks, leaving the trolley at Orchard Street. In the meantime, the crew rushed to the streetcar company’s nearby phone box, where they found the robbers had stuffed the keyhole. “The robbery was evidently well planned,” the Journal noted.

Running after their now-abandoned streetcar, the crew jumped aboard and sped down the tracks to the next phone box, where they were finally able to report the crime.

The streetcar crew supplied police with detailed descriptions of the robbers and three detectives spent much of the following day at the scene.

A police inspector told the Journal he was satisfied that the men they were seeking were “tough characters” and vowed to spare no effort in apprehending them.

But just 24 hours after the theft, the police force’s attention would instead be turned to solving one of the city’s most sensational murders. You can read about it here.

Interested in learning more about Milwaukee’s fascinating (and occasionally odd) history? Check out my book. (Paid link)

A postcard dated 1909 shows a streetcar crossing the 1892 Wells Street viaduct.

Thrills on the Wells Street Viaduct

A postcard, dated 1909, shows a streetcar crossing the viaduct. The 2,085-foot-long Wells Street viaduct was the Milwaukee streetcar system's greatest engineering feat. Built in 1892, it remained in service until the end of trolley service in 1958. Carl A. Swanson collection
A postcard, dated 1909, shows a streetcar crossing the viaduct. The 2,085-foot-long Wells Street viaduct was the Milwaukee streetcar system’s greatest engineering feat. Built in 1892, it remained in service until the end of trolley service in 1958. Carl A. Swanson collection

Enjoy this sample chapter from the book, Lost Milwaukee, by Carl Swanson, published by the History Press.


Nothing remains today, but for 60 years, the Wells Street viaduct was a Milwaukee landmark and the single greatest engineering achievement of the city’s once-vast streetcar and interurban empire.

As a thrill ride, albeit an unintentional one, the viaduct had few equals – especially when high winds buffeted the cars. Even veteran riders felt apprehensive as their streetcars rattled and swayed across the rickety-looking 2,085-foot-long bridge, 90 feet above the Menomonee River valley.

(more…)

Surprising facts about Milwaukee

Also zombie-proof. Carl Swanson photo
Also zombie-proof. Carl Swanson photo

We can still water our lawns after a nuclear war

The North Point pumping station was built in the early 1960s with roof and walls two-feet-thick to protect the city’s vital water pumps from a nuclear blast. Arthur Rynders, superintendent of waterworks at the time, felt this was a reasonable precaution because survivors of World War III would need water to fight fires and “to wash atomic contamination into the sewers.” Source: The Milwaukee Journal, Aug. 11, 1960


(more…)

Milwaukee’s deadly transit strike

A brief strike in 1934 paralyzed the city's transit network and triggered mass rioting. Carl Swanson illustration

A brief strike in 1934 paralyzed the city’s transit network and triggered mass rioting. Carl Swanson illustration

A Milwaukee transit strike 81 years ago resulted in three successive nights of rioting, massive property damage, scores of arrests, widespread injuries, and the death of a young man. It is one of the most significant labor disputes in Milwaukee history.

At stake was union representation for 4,700 employees of the Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Co., the giant utility supplying the city with both electric power and mass transit. It ended with a union victory that helped pave the way for further labor inroads in the city. (more…)