Fine photos of America's first monorail, 1910


Burbank, California, was the site of America's first monorail. In the upper left of this picture, you can see the "Aerial Swallow" or Aerial Trolley Car, running on a line across the ranch owned by its inventor, Joseph Wesley Fawkes.

Fawkes built the experimental line—which ran between what is now Lake and Flower Streets in Burbank—in hopes that the city would adopt it as the new, local form of public transportation. But, the next year, Burbank chose to invest in an electric streetcar line, instead. The Aerial Swallow never made it off of Fawkes' ranch.

You can see some great up-close shots of the Swallow at the How To Be a Retronaut blog. That blog dates the monorail to 1911. I'm using the date given by the University of Southern California digital library.


  1. From the closer pictures it looks like it runs about 3 feet off the ground, and is pulled (or pushed) along by a spinning propeller. What could go wrong?

      1. Why shor there is! But in the photos, I saw the track bends left and right, but it doesn’t show in bending upwards. :D

  2. Well, sir, there’s nothing on earth
    Like a genuine,
    Bona fide,
    What’d I say?


  3. As construction continues for a 2nd summer on our only link of Bus Rapid Transit here in Winnipeg. It leads from (almost)
    Downtown to an area about half-way where it SHOULD go (our large university). The Mayor had blank cheques from the province and Feds, but he’s pissed that away on his own pet projects. Then he says rail is what we should be building, not Bus roads. We had such an opportunity here and now not even City planners know what comes next.

    Good for Burbank, at least they had something tangible.

  4. Seems to me that’s a hanging gondola car, not a monorail. Monorails, well they ride on a big single rail, don’t they?

  5. 1910? First? Third, maybe.

    Boynton ran “bicycle railroads” in Coney Island and Patchogue in the 1890s.

  6. As others have noted, monorails predated this example. In fact the May 29, 1910 edition of the New York Times Sunday Magazine ran an article about the world’s existing “monorail-roads” which they describe as falling into four classes:

    1) Cars in single file suspended from a single overhead rail
    2) Pairs of cars suspended side-by-side over a single rail like saddlebags
    3) Cars run on a single rail on the ground, like half a railroad, and have wide arms attached to horses for power and stability
    4) Cars run on a single rail on the ground, and are stabilized by gyroscopes

    You can find the article at

  7. As others have noted this is far from the first monorail. For the first I submit the Meigs Elevated Railway which was an experimental steam-powered monorail invented by Joe V. Meigs of Lowell, Massachusetts, built in 1886 in East Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was built on land abutting Bridge Street, now Monsignor O’Brien Highway. A nice image on Wikipedia here:

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