American Public Transportation Association Records Now Available!

After several years of reprocessing, the American Public Transportation (APTA) records are once again open to research with a new and improved finding aid.  The records document a pivotal time in the history of mass transportation in the 20th century.  Private companies operated nearly all of the mass transportation systems in the United States prior to World War II.  However, the owners of those private companies struggled to compete with private automobiles, perform proper maintenance on the vehicles, and meet the payroll for workers, and most companies ceased operations or sold the systems to public transit authorities in the decades following World War II.

The organization that would eventually become APTA first organized as the American Street Railway Association on December 12, 1882, in Boston, Massachusetts. The initial meetings focused on the price of oats for the horses that pulled omnibuses, but that focus evolved as more transit companies built electric systems for streetcars. In 1905, the group met in New York and reorganized as the American Street and Interurban Railway Transportation and Traffic Association. To encompass even more modes of electric transit, the group changed its name once again to the American Electric Railway Transportation and Traffic Association in 1910. By 1932, many of the transit systems relied on motor buses and trolley buses in addition to electric streetcars, so the organization executives chose to be known as the American Transit Association (ATA). In 1966 the ATA relocated from New York City to Washington, D.C., as a result of the transit industry’s increasing reliance on federal funding sparked by the passage of the Urban Mass Transportation Act and the creation of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (now the Federal Transit Administration) in 1964. The American Public Transit Association (APTA) was created in 1974 when the American Transit Association and the Institute for Rapid Transit (IRT) merged.

Some of the most interesting items in the collection can be found in the local transit series that consists of clippings, public relations information, reports, brochures, and maps sent in from transit systems around the country.  The maps, such as the one below, are particularly popular with researchers because they show the development of transit systems over time as well as interesting representations of the cities.  A small selection of other maps is available through this online collection.

A color map of the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) elevated and subway lines in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, July 1, 1932. American Public Transportation records C0051. Box 169, Folder 47.Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries. This work may be protected by copyright laws and is provided for educational and research purposes only. Any infringing use may be subject to disciplinary action and/or civil or criminal liability as provided by law. If you believe that you are the rights-holder and object to Mason's use of this image, please contact