The first electric streetcar was invented by Frank Sprague, an electrical engineer who worked for Thomas Edison. Sprague installed the first large-scale electric streetcar system in Richmond, Virginia in 1888.
Most streetcars prior to 1888 were drawn by horses. Attempts were made in 1873 to replace horse-drawn cars with cable cars that ran on cables hidden underneath the streets. Most cities, however, converted to electric cars that ran on overhead wires. Electric cars were powered by long poles that extended from the roof to the wires. These cars became known as trolleys, named after the trawler device connecting the cars to the overhead wires.