A Birney Trolley Car by Definition
  • As defined by the Trolley Museum of New York; The Birney is an economical single-truck trolley
    developed in the 1910’s. The design included safety features that allowed the car to be operated by a
    single person, acting as both motorman and conductor. The Birney car was very popular, in cities both
    small and large. Small cities used Birney cars because they were economical for a system not needing
    large cars. For large cities, Birneys were used on lightly traveled lines where, large cars, such as the
    Peter Witt, were not justifiable.

  • Defined by the curator of this website, the Birney Car was and still is an electric streetcar
    constructed in accordance with the design  set forth  by Charles O. Birney and which would meet the
    following criteria, including both the single and double-truck unit types, lightweight steel structure,
    safety car designated, one person operated, economical to operate, steel-wheeled, overhead wire
    electric street car with the purpose of easily moving riders efficiently and effectively within and
    between cities.This was a design adhered to by the following Electric Streetcar Manufacturing
    Companies in accordance with Birney Safety Car manufacturing or modification specifications
    required to constitute what was and what still is referred to as a Birney Car by: American Car
    Company, Bradley Company, Cincinnati Car Company, J. G. Brill and Company, McGuire Cummings
    Manufacturing Company, St. Louis Car Company, Sumerset Traction, The Wason Company, and the
    Ottawa Car Manufacturing Company of Canada amongst others local home shop facilities.
View the following advertisement presented by J.G. Brill Company in the 1919 Electric
Railway Journal, highlighting the advantages of Birney Safety Car operations in many
cities during a difficult economical growth period in order to continue providing safe,
dependable, and inexpensive services to both riders and city rail operators.
Two men in particular were responsible for the advent of one-man, single-truck, light-weight "safety cars,"
as they were called. Joseph M. Bosenbury and Charles O. Birney apparently worked both together and
independently on the development of these trolleys. The patents covering the special elements of the cars
were issued to Mr. Bosenbury, who assigned one-half of the patent rights to Mr. Birney. Although applied
for in 1915, the patents were not granted until 1917 and 1919, probably delayed as a result of the war.

Although it was Joseph Bosenbury who applied for and held one-half rights in the patents, as luck (and
good publicity) would have it, Charles Birney tends to get credit for the invention of the one-man single-truck
safety car. One reason for this was that he worked for Stone & Webster, a well-known engineering firm and
holding company that owned many railway properties around the country and, therefore, provided many
outlets for the new cars.

Another reason was that Brill's subsidiary, American Car Company, was the builder chosen to assist in the
development and construction of Mr. Birney's car and went on to become the largest producer of what came
to be called Birney Safety Cars. With the Brill publicity connection, Charles Birney's fame was assured,
although it was not until after World War 1, when automobiles were making real inroads on trolley ridership,
that the cars were produced in large quantities. Few things could illustrate more clearly the importance with
which these cars were regarded than a remarkable Brill advertisement from 1921. Although the Brill name
had always been a very prominent part of the company's advertisements, in this case it was "Stone &
Webster" that was given the attention, with the Brill name appearing almost as an afterthought at the bottom
of the page.
One may observe, in the "History Of The J.G. Brill Company", by author Debra Brill,
the historical relationship between Joseph M. Bosenbury and Charles O. Birney.