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Special Exhibition

The Trams of Seoul
Title The Trams of Seoul
Period 2019-12-20 ~ 2020-04-26
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The Trams of Seoul


The Rush into the Modern Age

The tram brought various changes to the city. The urban landscape changed, and people’s perception and lives were incorporated into the new order. Trams rushing down the streets represented the rush into the modern age

In 1899, 120 years ago, trams started to run in Hanseong (now Seoul). It was in 1881 that the world’s first commercially successful electric trams began to operate, and with its own introduction of the tram, Hanseong was praised for taking on the character of a modern city.

The introduction of the tram came out of King Gojong’s determination for modernization. He began adopting new products and ideas of Western civilization in the 1880s, one of which was the tram. Tram tracks were laid over major traffic routes into Hanseong.


Tracks and Wheels Serve as New Feet

What numbered just four lines during the Korean Empire continued to increase, and the tram lines amounted to sixteen by 1943.

With the construction of tracks, the fortress gates and walls were torn down, drastically changing the cityscape. In 1909, Imperial Japan’s Japan-Korea Gas Electric Company took over the American Korean Electric Corporation, and the subsequent tram lines were laid entirely based on the needs of the Japanese people.

Nevertheless, trams connecting all over Gyeongseong (Seoul) became a daily mode of transportation. Trams that connected downtown and the suburbs expanded people’s spheres of life. However, as the city limits of Gyeongseong spread and the population increased, the trams were packed full, and people had to wait more than thirty minutes to board. The problem of overcrowding was never solved, even by the time tram services were discontinued.


Tram Service Come to an End

After the independence of Korea, the population of Seoul surpassed one million, and the problem of overcrowded trams aggravated, which made it difficult for them to serve as a major form of transportation. As a means to resolve the traffic issue, Seoul chose to add more bus lines, and the transportation system switched to orient around buses to adapt to the gradually expanding city limits.

An increase of bus passengers led to a decrease of tram passengers. Gyeongseong Electric Corporation, which was in charge of running the trams, merged with Joseon Electric Corporation and Namseon Electric to solve the deficit and established the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), but it was unable to stop the decline of the trams. The Seoul Metropolitan Government took charge of bidding farewell to the golden age of trams when it decided to discontinue tram service in 1968, after KEPCO had taken over.


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