From the San Diego (CA) Union, 9/4/1919, p. 7, c. 6
San Diegan Saw First Electric Street Car Make Its Trial Trop; Curious Throng Watched Sight
The first attempt to run an electric street car in the United States in 1887 was witnessed by Robert E. Masters of La Mesa, who saw the car fail to make a turn and crash into the old St. James hotel at Richmond, Va., and the next day rode on the street car that made the first successful trip.
Masters was manager of the foundry department of the Tredegar Iron works in Richmond at the time. His firm did much work for Frank J. Sprague who was directing the building of the road. He said that the street car company decided to make the first attempt a 2 o’clock in the morning to avoid the crowds of sightseers which the novelty would attract.
The St. James hotel was at the head of Capitol street, down which the street car tracks ran, making a sharp turn to the right directly in front of the hotel. The city of Richmond, according to Masters, refused to permit the street car company to change the grade of the street at the point where the tracks turned so as to make a slight bank for the cars to turn against.
Even as early as 2 o’clock in the morning there were great crowds of people out to watch the unusual sight. The car started off in great style, Masters said, to the amazement and delight of the onlookers. All went well until it hit the turn in front of the St. James hotel which had not been properly banked. Here it left the rails and crashed squarely into the entrance of the hotel nearly wrecking the structure.
The next day at noon a second and successful trip was made, Masters being one of those to ride on the car.
In 1889 Masters was present when the first electric street car was run in St. Louis. The people, he said, crowded the house tops, windows, balconies and every possible vantage point from which they could watch the sight. For a long time they were afraid to ride on the cars preferring to take chances on the old horse cars. Many strange things are said and believed of the electric cars, one of the most prevalent notions being that the electric current would ruin a watch if it were carried on the car. Of course when the people became accustomed to them they were heavily patronized but at first they attracted bigger crowds than a circus parade.