In the quarter century from 1872 to 1896 the population just about doubled in the kingdom from 57,000 to 109,000; Honolulu doubled from 15,000 to 30,000.
The increase of the population of Honolulu was taken care of in two ways: (1) more people crowded into Chinatown (the area between Fort Street and Nuʻuanu stream makai (seaward) of Beretania Street and (2) area of settlement was pushed outward and “downtown” enlarged. (Kuykendall)
This extension of settlement combined with the growing attraction and popular resort use in Waikīkī meant transportation became more of a problem.
People who could afford them had horses and buggies; independent buggy served as available on a limited basis and mass production of the gas automobiles didn’t get underway until the turn of the century, so a more organized public transportation system was needed.
The earliest public transit was the Pioneer Omnibus Line, with a horse-pulled vehicle serving parts of Honolulu for a few years beginning in the spring of 1868. (Schmitt)
In 1884, the legislature passed a law “granting to William R. Austin and his associates the right to construct and operate a street railroad upon certain streets of the city of Honolulu.” Later amended, the law granted authority the Hawaiian Tramways Company, Limited (from England.) (Kuykendall)
An April 14 1888 London public offering prospectus to raise £130,000 by selling 26,000 shares at £5 each noted, “The following are the routes of the proposed lines of Tramway, viz.;
(1) From Nuuanu Street, the chief residential quarter, through the business part of the City skirting the Docks and Custom House, to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and thence along Beretania Street, touching the extensive Portuguese quarter, to a point where at several closely populated Avenues converge.
(2) Starting from the densely-populated Chinese quarter, past the King’s Palace, the Legislative Chambers, the Opera House, and the Native Church, to the principal pleasure resorts and residential district of the well to-do classes in the southern suburbs.
The total length of the above lines, including sidings and crossings will be about 12 miles.”
On May 19, 1888, ground was broken and track laying started for a street railway system. On New Year’s Day 1889, a mule or horse-drawn tram along King Street between Pālama and Pawaʻa became the first streetcar in Honolulu with four open cars, bringing what was later described as “Honolulu’s first real transit service.” (Schmitt)
The Pacific Commercial Advertiser grumbled that it was “a very unsatisfactory service for the public, however, as hundreds waited at the corners for the belated cars …. The company should have had double the cars on the line that it had.” (Kuykendall)
The tramcars were well patronized, first as a novelty and then as a proven convenience. The speed limit for the cars was eight miles per hour. By July 1889, the trams speeded along King Street from Kalihi to Waikīkī, Beretania from Nuʻuanu to Punahou.
The streetcar tracks added to the traffic problem on Honolulu’s main streets, none of which were wide enough. As far back as 1880, a newspaper article gave an entertaining description of traffic conditions then existing.
“The traffic in ours streets has increased five-fold within the last three or four years, but the streets are no wider than before. It therefore behooves the police to keep a sharp lookout. … In all great cities which we have visited, it is held to be a most important function of the police, to render locomotion as easy and safe as possible, by forbidding unnecessary stoppages, keeping drivers on their own side of the street, seeing that no heavy drays or wagons are allowed to move unless the drivers have sufficient control over their beast.” (Kuykendall)
The animal-powered service was short-lived, making its last run on December 23, 1903; Hawaiian Tramways, Ltd. was taken over in 1900 by the Honolulu Rapid Transit & Land Co.
Honolulu Rapid Transit operated electrically powered buses on Honolulu streets. Power came from overhead wires. Ten new buses began service on August 31, 1901, replacing the horse and mule drawn cars which had in service 33 horse cars, 113 horses and 194 mules.
Eventually more comfortable, speedy gasoline-powered buses replaced other means of mass transit for Honolulu and rural Oʻahu.
The image shows a mule-drawn streetcar on King Street in front of Aliʻiolani Hale. In addition, I have added related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.