The Bonde of Belém

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(Source – Praça do Relógio, 1905)

The first bonde (tram) company in the capital of Pará was organized in 1868 by the American Consulate in Belém and a businessman named James Bond. Because of this, local historians attribute the origin of the Brazilian term for ‘tram’. Interesting to note that most tram systems in Brazil were originally built by foreigners, principally Americans and Western Europeans.

The steam-powered tramways of Belém, one of the first in all of Brazil, connected the Largo da Sé with the Largo do Nazaré. They were inaugurated on the 1st of September in 1869, using three locomotives and two passenger cars, according to the American researcher Allen Morrison.

Bond sold his system in 1870 to Manoel Bueno, who formed the Companhia Urbana de Estrada de Ferro Paraense (Urban Railyway Company of Pará), and during the same year, the Bonds Company of Pará inaugurated its first line of animal-drawn trams (using mules).

By 1883, there were already  18.5 miles of lines, between steam-powered trams and animal-drawn trams. By 1907, the British had installed their own electric tram system in Belém and one year later, the mule lines ceased to operate. The Brits operated the system during its entire existence, even while observing strict rules such as not stopping its first class tram for underdressed passengers.

Later on, in the midst of the second World War, parts became scarce and the tramways began to fall apart, despite increased ridership in part due to 1909 fare prices not having changed. By 1947, the popular English tramway in Belém closed shop, and with it, one of the largest tramways in Brazil to go out of business first.

For some great shots of these trams, check out the slideshow here, with photos by Allen Morrison.

In recent years, there was a revival of the tramway system within Belém, which you can read about on Mr. Morrison’s site (which also contains writings titled “Part 1” on the history of the tram systems in Belém.).

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