On 25 May 1873, the first horse tram ran out in Antwerp, between the Meir Bridge and Berchem-Kerk. At that time, the city was in full expansion and in great need of 'city transport'. The horse tram, popularly known as 'den Americaine', offered the best answer.
Horse-drawn trams brought about a true revolution: travellers now reached their destinations safely, comfortably and quickly. Several tram companies saw the light of day and the tram soon became an integral part of the Antwerp street scene.
The birth of the wattman
By the beginning of the 20ste century, the role of the horse was over. To make trams run faster, cheaper and more reliably, electric-powered trams were resolutely chosen. Tram drivers henceforth had to control the electricity supply: the wattman was born.
The various small tram companies were taken over by a unified company: the Compagnie Général des Tramways d'Anvers (CGTA). Under the CGTA, the Antwerp tram continued its advance ... until World War I broke out.
High tide despite competition
The harsh economic realities of the interwar period made investment in the tram network difficult. For the first time, social unrest broke out among tram personnel. Dreadful competitors also appeared on the scene: the car and the bus. The tram came under severe pressure.
Yet not all was doom and gloom. Driven by the 1920 Olympics and the 1930 World Expo, passenger numbers were booming. To manage these, the Tramways d'Anvers, the successor of the CGTA, expanded its services significantly.
Bibberg money in wartime
During World War II, Antwerp once again became an occupied city. To avoid being targeted by night-time bombings, all tram carriages had to ride around darkened. This uncomfortable marriage between tram and darkness would last until the end of the war.
All precautions notwithstanding, the tram and tram staff also suffered badly - even after liberation, in August 1944. German V-bombs ravaged the city and created hellish living and working conditions. The wattmen who had to work in these were given a special supplement: bibbergeld.
The PCC brings salvation
The postwar period marked the final breakthrough of the car and bus. Tram lines were 'retrofitted' at a rapid pace; passenger numbers dropped year on year. The tram increasingly disappeared from the streetscape; what remained carried with it a severely outdated image.
Salvation came from the United States. On 18 October 1960, a PCC passed through Antwerp for the first time - a revolutionary tram carriage that fully fitted the spirit of the times: fast, stylish and comfortable. A new era dawned, in which the PCC became the reference tram.
Into the pre-metro with the MIVA
In 1963 the MIVA made its appearance, the Maatschappij voor het Intercommunaal Vervoer in Antwerp. From the outset, MIVA made great efforts to further modernise the remaining tram network. The most important modernisation took place underground: on 25 March 1975, the first pre-metro tunnel opened.
For the trams of the Neighbourhood Railways, which linked the city with the surrounding countryside, these innovations came too late. They had run their last runs by the end of the 1960s and were completely replaced by bus services.
On the road to tomorrow with De Lijn
From 1991, a new era dawned. Together with its Ghent counterpart and the Flemish part of NMVB, MIVA merged into the Vlaamse Vervoersmaatschappij, better known as De Lijn. After years of downsizing, the Antwerp tram network expanded again for the first time.
With the introduction of several generations of low-floor trams - Hermelijn, Albatros and Stadslijner - trams became increasingly accessible. The tram, which has become indispensable in the Antwerp street scene, has secured its place in today's ... and tomorrow's mobility.