Glasgow's horse tramway system began operation on 19 August 1872. Under the provisions of the Tramway Act of 1870, the Corporation laid, maintained and owned the tramlines, but leased the operation to the Glasgow Tramway & Omnibus Co for twenty-three years. By 1893 there were twenty-three route miles of track stretching from Whiteinch, Kelvinside, Maryhill and Springburn to Pollokshaws, Mount Florida and Oatlands south of the River Clyde. There were around 250 cars and 3,000 horses and in its last year of operation 54 million passengers were carried.
On 1 July 1894 the Corporation assumed full control of the tramways. As the Glasgow Tramway & Omnibus Co had refused to transfer its cars, horses and depots the Corporation was required to build 240 cars, purchase 3,000 horses and erect nine depots and granaries within six months. As most of the Company's employees had been retained to run a competitive omnibus service, a full staff of drivers and conductors had to be appointed and trained. However, as the Corporation offered a superior service with better working conditions and wages, the Company's omnibuses found that they could not compete and were soon withdrawn.
Extensions were made to the system and in 1898 the first electric tram route was opened, the entire system being converted by 14 April 1902. By 1914 the trams were operating well beyond the city boundary to Dalmuir, Bishopbriggs, Uddingston, Cambuslang, Giffnock, Paisley and Renfrew, linking with the independent tram systems of Dumbarton, Lanarkshire and Paisley. The fleet numbered 850 tramcars, most of them built at the Corporation's Coplawhill Works. In 1914 over 5,700 people were employed and 311 million passengers were carried in that year.
Much of the success of these developments can be credited to the work of three men: John Duncan, Manager of the tramways Company throughout its existence, John Young who inaugurated the Corporation undertaking in the face of the transfer difficulties and who masterminded the conversion to electric traction, and James Dalrymple, General Manager from 1904 to 1926, who is credited with making Glasgow Tramways legendary for the level of service provided and for the cheap fares offered to the travelling public.
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