While waiting for the next subway or trolley, ride the city's forgotten rails with the scrapbooks of George A. Foreman (1881-1950), a conductor, motorman, and depot dispatcher for nearly four decades.
Before the consolidation brought about by SEPTA in the 1960s, the city's rail network was a tangled mess of independent operators and track owners. Foreman spent his career with two of these now-shuttered entities: the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Co. and its successor, the Philadelphia Transportation Co.
Each of Foreman's 18 scrapbooks is as crowded with photographs, newspaper clippings, and ephemera as an 8:50 a.m. trolley is with hurried commuters.
Unlike most archival collections - many of which are in various stages of two-dimensional chaos - Foreman took the time to caption a majority of the images, each of which he neatly pasted into the hand-assembled books.
A coworker, perennially armed with a camera and gifted eye, snapped many of the photographs Foreman collected. To flip through them is to take a trip through a midcentury Philadelphia that looks oddly familiar, yet strangely different.
"Processing a collection can be a fascinating experience," said Mark Carnesi, an HSP volunteer who recently digitized the scrapbooks. "As you work your way through it, it gradually reveals itself to you, including the many gems it contains."
These images and the other materials Foreman preserved offer insight into working conditions, social customs, men's and women's fashions, life during World War II, urban living, and advertising. They are - of course - also filled with glamorous shots of the city from the privileged vantage atop the Market-Frankford El.
"These photographs also show us what is not there or, better yet, there only in small numbers," Carnesi said.
A majority of Foreman's conductor and motorman peers in the 1940s were, like him, male and white. However, it was at this time that the Philadelphia Transportation Co. began to employ more women and minorities, and Foreman's scrapbooks reflect these changes.
"Furious Tempo of Passing Throng Leaves Miss Emily Rinnert Unruffled," ran the 1941 Public Ledger headline. In it, Rinnert discusses her 29 years as a cashier on the Market Street El. The author of the article seemed primarily interested in the number of marriage proposals Rinnert had received from customers. Rinnert appeared unruffled.
"I always told them I had work to do," she rejoined. "And so I did."
Foreman's collection also contains photos and newspaper clippings regarding Dorothy E. Williams, described by the Evening Bulletin in 1943 as the "first woman El motorman in the history of the Philadelphia Transportation Co." A former grocery store clerk, Williams was 23 when she joined the company in 1943, first as a platform guard and then as a motorwoman. Foreman seems to have known her well, and pays her a high compliment in his notes: She was a "quiet, efficient operator with a splendid record." Such a description would hold for Foreman himself, in all senses of the word record.
To learn more about volunteering at HSP, visit hsp.org/volunteer.