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Special Exhibition

The Trams of Seoul
Title The Trams of Seoul
Period 2019-12-20 ~ 2020-09-27
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Contents

The Trams of Seoul

IN CELEBR ATION OF T HE E XHIBITION OPENING

On Buddha's birthday(8th of the lunar April), 120 years ago, the first tram in Korea set out on a journey from Donuimun Gate to Heunginjimun Gate. On the tracks laid along the streets of Jongno ran the first tram. In 1887, electric lights were first lit in the Geoncheonggung Residence of Gyeongbokgung Palace; in 1897, the Korean Empire was proclaimed at Junghwajeon Hall in Deoksugung Palace. It wasn't long after, in 1989, that trams began running in Hanseong, marking the capital as a modern city equipped with all the latest infrastructure.
Until 1968, when the last tram stopped running, trams were an essential means of transportation of Hanseong, even as it became Gyeongseong and then Seoul. But trams were not merely a new form of public transportation—they were also what motivated the destruction of the fortress walls that had long enveloped the city center of Hanseong. They reorganized perception of time and space within the city and served as the modern channel through which people, culture, and products flowed.
We feel the exhibition The Trams of Seoul, jointly hosted by the Seoul Museum of History and Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), to be especially meaningful as we commemorate the opening of trams 120 years ago and recollect the memories of the city and the daily lives of the people along the tramways. The photo albums of the late Harry Bostwick, general manager of Hanseong Electric (now KEPCO), shared in this exhibition will provide our visitors with a peek into the forgotten stories of the early trams.

 

THE R USH I NTO THE M ODERN A GE

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.
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.

 

TR ACKS AND W HEELS AS N EW F EET

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 took over the American Korean Electric Corporation, and the subsequent tram lines were laid entirely based on the needs of the Japanese people.
This reflected the degrading reality of Hanseong relegated from being the capital of Joseon and the Korean Empire to Gyeongseong-bu, the colonial city of Imperial Japan. Nevertheless, trams connecting all over Gyeongseong (now 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.

 

TR AM S ERVICE COME T O A N E ND

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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