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To celebrate National Museum Day this month, the James Hall Museum of Transport is highlighting the innovative transition transport has undergone by staging exhibits at the Workers Museum in Newtown. 

This revolutionary timeline reveals the shifts from the gold-rush era in Witwatersrand in 1886 where horse-drawn trams were used, to the introduction of overhead wire cables and trams which were electrically powered. 

This is the story of Johannesburg:

1866 – After the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand and the opening of the town of Johannesburg, the Transvaal Government granted a concession for the operation of trams in the streets.

1891 – The Johannesburg and Suburban Tramway Co. Ltd was formed, opening up its first four miles of horse Tramways. The company was granted a 30-year concession to work tramways by animal power.

1906 – Early horse-drawn trams had rubber-banded wheels, but later ran on tram tracks. They were drawn by two to six horses, and some of them comprised of two coaches. The last of these trams were withdrawn on the 14th July 1906 when electrically powered double-deckers were introduced.

1925 – The overhead tram lines reached a distance of 136km and were serviced by 191 cars.

1936 – With the increase of traffic, negotiations began to look at lowering the railway lines starting with Jeppe Street. The Main Street subway was eliminated and bridges built at Nugget Street, Cleveland, Denver, Tooronga, Geldenhuis and 6th Ave, Mayfair.

1954 – It was decided that most of the trams were at the end of their useful life and would be replaced by trolley-buses over a period of seven years. The very last electric tram, a 40 year-old double-decker, was driven by then mayor of Johannesburg, Dave Marais.

1961 – Electrical trams were officially decommissioned. The last trams ran on 18 March 1961, exactly 70 years after the first horse-drawn tram left Market square.
In his farewell remarks on the last day of trams in the streets of Johannesburg, the then Mayor of Johannesburg Cllr Dave Marais reportedly said: “It is sad, that there is no room for trams in a City like Johannesburg”. 

James Hall Museum of Transport Chief Curator Rambau Fhatuwani said: “Transportation is truly a remarkable element in society and has a rich history we are proud to be a part of as James Hall currently houses the last electrical tram as a preservation of this antiquity.” ​​