The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Transit Historical Society

Group Information

Organization Group Information

The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Transit Historical Society, Inc. is a Wisconsin-chartered historical society, whose objective is to “preserve the memories of electric transit in Milwaukee, and around the world.” Our main focus is on the once vast The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Co. system, including everything from streetcar operations in Milwaukee, Appleton and Racine, to the interurbans that served Sheboygan, Kenosha, Watertown and East Troy. The Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee also served Milwaukee; and is our other major focus. However, Wisconsin also had many other interesting electric operations in such places as Oshkosh, Madison, Green Bay and Marinette, and we are always looking for more information on these other areas.

Half of the membership live in the Chicago-Milwaukee metro corridor. The rest are spread all across the country, with many being former residents of the area. All members of TMER&THS are free to attend the monthly meetings. The Society has no permanent facility or museum, but we hold monthly gatherings at a local bank’s meeting room. The programs start at 7:30 pm, but members are welcome to arrive early and contribute to the monthly Board meeting. New members are welcome, and new Board members especially so. A wide variety of programs are scheduled throughout the year, including local favorites featuring operations in the area. Programs in a given year can be quite varied, ranging from Milwaukee streetcars to North Shore, the radial Railways of Canada, Pacific Electric, or traction in the Deep South in the 1950’s. Presenters use a variety of formats, including slides, digital media (power point, CD) or videotape. Slide programs are most common.

Society members also receive our publication Live Wires, which includes articles and personal remembrances related to electric railways, with a heavy emphasis on local operations. We encourage manuscripts of all types from our members for use in Live Wires, as we see this as a primary way to preserve this information for future generations. A selection of Live Wires stories over the past few years includes: Madison streetcars, Milwaukee’s Dinky line, the Racine Gas plant, the Speedrail wreck, fan trips to Port Washington and a look at interurban operations to Watertown.

One of the ways TMER&THS helps to preserve transit history is to educate the public and act as a resource for information; while at the same time finding individuals who share this interest in electric railways and want to help preserve it. In this respect, we attend several shows or events each year, where we typically set up our O scale traction layout, and static displays of photos and memorabilia. The O scale layout always draws a lot of attention, and fascinates young and old, and serves as a good conversation starter. You may have seen our display at Trainfest or Traintime or in Kenosha. Our displays have also been coordinated with other organization’s fundraising and education efforts: helping to spread the word during Interurban Car 26’s restoration, participating in Opening Day ceremonies for Kenosha’s streetcars, and the fundraising displays, and dedication ceremonies for the Ozaukee County Historical Society’s Cedarburg Depot. In 2011, the Board of Directors approved an annual Scholarship of $1000 to an Electrical Engineering student attending Milwaukee School of Engineering.

How did it all start? In 1983, the late Jim Roever, a person passionate about transit, felt the need to start The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Transit Historical Society. Former employees and fans of the TMER&L. were beginning to fade away, and there needed to be a group dedicated specifically to the preservation of print, photos and memories of the system before the direct connections were lost. Membership was small and very localized for the early years. This began to change in 1991 after Interurban Press, in conjunction with the Society, published the book “Speedrail: Milwaukee’s Last Rapid Transit?” Written by Society secretary Larry Sakar, the book found a wide audience and exposed a whole new group of people around the country to Milwaukee area transit history.

In 1993, member Kevin Marks began transforming the Society’s newsletter into our publication Live Wires. Presented in a magazine format, Live Wires began to gather together and preserve our members’ personal recollections of and experiences with, the Milwaukee Electric, North Shore and other properties. The Society released the video documentary “Rapid Transit in Milwaukee: From TMER&L to Speedrail” in 1996. As with the book, it reached another whole group of people who had been looking for information on Milwaukee, and remained in production for the next 10 years. A steady increase in membership began with the book, and continued through to the video. In fact, our entire membership doubled in only a few years. Since then, the Society has introduced other new products, while continuing our mission of “preserving the memories.” These include two historic maps, a booklet, and a TMER&L lapel pin, as well as back issues of Live Wires.

The Society celebrated its 25th anniversary on August 16, 2008. To commemorate the event, TMER&THS held a day of festivities that centered around the East Troy Electric Railroad Museum. Three chartered cars operated special roundtrips on what is the last remnant of the once vast Milwaukee Electric system. The day concluded with a banquet, speeches and a special presentation on the history of the East Troy interurban line.

The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Transit Historical Society continues in its mission to educate the public, and “preserve the memories of electric transit in Milwaukee and around the world.” We hope that you will join us on this journey.

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