St. Louis Car was officially founded on April 4, 1887 in its home city as a
means to serve the growing demand for streetcar, and later interurban,
services. Even though the operation postdated the J.G Brill Company by
nearly 20 years it nevertheless became one of the industry leaders.
Like Brill, St. Louis Car started off building small two-axle horse and electric street cars.
To do so it constructed a nearly 50,000 square-foot building very near
the Mississippi River, strategically located to receive shipments of
logs and lumber, used in the construction of its cars.
By August of 1887 the company was in full production and by the end
of the year had either taken orders for or built some 400 cars of various design.
From its outset the St. Louis Car Company focused almost exclusively on
streetcar and interurban equipment, unlike some other competitors
(notably J.G. Brill) that also dabbled in main line railroad equipment
for a time. After less than three years in business the company had to
expand its plant facility in 1890 to keep up with the demand. Expansion
was again needed by later that decade and to do so St. Louis purchased
the newly formed Union Car Company located in Baden, just north of the
city. Still unable to keep up with growing demand new buildings were
constructed constructed around the turn of the century and in 1902 the
company purchased another competitor, the Laclede Car Company also located in St. Louis.
During the company's early years it primarily built cars custom-ordered
for each particular streetcar system or interurban. However, this
changed in later years as St. Louis began cataloging its own line of cars
such as convertibles (which had panels that could be removed allowing
for open-air riding in the warmer months) and freight equipment for
interurbans. The latter was particularly true in the first decade of
the 20th century as the interurban industry began to take off providing
St. Louis, and all car builders at the time another market in which to sell their products.
Of course, it should be noted that in general, car manufacturers focused mostly on streetcar equipment as there was almost always a greater demand for such. The only time in which this was not the case was during the period around 1909. That year, some 1,245 power cars were constructed only for interurbans, which made up a full 50% of all built. However, as the industry began to decline 10 years later new orders quickly fell away and by 1920 interurban sales made up just 10% of all equipment built.
St. Louis Car built a wide range of cars during the 20th century, most of which as aforementioned centered around streetcars. However, the company also made handsome profits through the construction of the popular PCC streetcar (the Presidents' Conference Committee car) and the Birney Safety Car. Its most prominent design was the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee's streamlined Electroliner trainsets of 1941. These beautiful articulated cars remained in use on the North Shore Line for nearly 20 years before being retired and were one of the final orders placed by an interurban for new equipment.
As the streetcar and interurban industry died away by the 1940s St. Louis Car switched to building other equipment including buses, trolley buses, and even some automobiles. During World War II it built gliders, Alligators (also known as a Landing Vehicle
Tracked or LVT), and the flying boat seaplane. In 1960 the company was
purchased by General Steel Industries and during its final years in
business constructed subway and MU cars for agencies such as New York City Subway (NYCT), Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH), and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). With a shrinking market
and demand, the company finally closed its doors in 1973 after nearly
100 years of continuous production.
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