Saturday, May 9, 2015

Steam Dummy, Frankford Dummy Depot, Frankford Ave and Arrott St., 1894

Steam dummy, with crowd, near Frankford Dummy Depot, Frankford Avenue and Arrott Street, Philadelphia 1894

Depicts two men attired in three-piece suits and hats standing in front of the number 7 steam dummy belonging to the Fifth & Sixth Street line, which operated between Frankford and Southwark. A group of men, including a conductor, stand in the back, near the attached trailer. The distinctive shingled, pyramidal roof of the Dummy Depot clock tower is visible in the background.


In the mid-1800s in American cities, horses and mules pulled streetcars for transportation. But they were too expensive to run, unreliable and unsanitary. When companies tried using steam locomotives, horses got  spooked.

Companies responded by inventing the steam dummy. The dummy used a lower-pressure condensing engine which did not make as much noise releasing steam. And the steam dummy was disguised to look like a passenger car.

It's possible that the name "steam dummy" was a play on words. Dummy meant both noiseless, and (if I look it up in a 1913 Webster's dictionary): "A sham package in a shop, or one which does not contain what its exterior indicates."

There were two types of steam dummies. Either the engine was a separate car which looked like a passenger car and worked like a typical train that pulled passengers in another car, or the engine and passenger car were combined into one car.

But the horses still got scared. It turns out it was the noise of the steam engine, and not what it looked like, that frightened the horses. By the beginning of the 1900s a new technology almost completely replaced the steam dummy: electric streetcars.


Dummy Outside Dummy Shed - Arrott Street Depot - No Date
Temple Digital - Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Photographs


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