J. G. Brill Company

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J. G. Brill Company
Privately held company
Industry Rail transport
Genre Public transport
Founded 1868
Founder John George Brill
Defunct 1954
Headquarters Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Products Streetcars (trams), interurban railcars, motor buses, and trolleybuses
A 1903 Brill-built streetcar on a heritage streetcar line in Sintra, Portugal in 2010.

The J. G. Brill Company manufactured streetcars, interurban coaches, and buses in the United States for almost ninety years. The company was founded by John George Brill in 1868 as a horsecar manufacturing firm in Philadelphia. Over the years, it absorbed numerous other trolley-interurban manufacturers such as Kuhlman in Cleveland and Jewett in Indiana. With business diminishing, in 1944 it merged with the American Car and Foundry Company (ACF) to become ACF-Brill. It ceased trolley and bus production in 1954, though some of their interurbans served the Philadelphia area till the 1980s. Brill was the longest lasting of the nation's trolley and interurban manufacturers. It manufactured over 45,000 streetcars, trams (also known as trolleys or trolley cars in the U.S.),[1] motor buses, trolleybuses and railroad cars. At its height, it was the largest manufacturer of streetcars and interurbans in the U.S. and produced more streetcars and interurbans and gas electrics than any other manufacturer.


In 1868, the Brill company was founded as J.G. Brill and Sons. After James Rawle joins the firm in 1872, it is renamed J.G. Brill & Company.[2]


In 1926, ACF Motors Company obtained a controlling interest in Brill, and in 1944 the two companies merged, forming the ACF-Brill Motors Company.[3] ACF-Brill announced in 1944 that Canadian Car and Foundry of Montreal, Quebec were licensed to manufacture and sell throughout Canada motor buses and trolley coaches of their design as Canadian Car-Brill. The firm built about 1,100 trolley buses and a few thousand buses under the name.

On January 31, 1946, a controlling interest in ACF-Brill was acquired by Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation for $7.5 million. Consolidated Vultee was sold on November 6, 1947, to the Nashville Corporation, which sold its share to investment firm Allen & Co., headed by Charles Allen, Jr., on June 11, 1951. In early 1954, the Brill name disappeared when ACF-Brill ceased production and subcontracted remaining orders.[4]


The American Car & Foundry Co. controlled, as of January 26, 1926:

  • The Brill Corporation, which controlled:[5]
    1. American Car & Foundry Motors Co: owned Hall-Scott Motor Car Co (owned 100%) and Fageol Motors (Ohio) (controlled 90%)
    2. The J. G Brill Company, 62nd and Woodland Streets, Philadelphia. Absorbed and owned American Car Company (1902) (not American Car and Foundry), Kuhlman Car Co. (1904) of Cleveland, Wason Manufacturing Company (1907) of Springfield, MA., Stephenson Car Co. (1904) of Elizabeth, NJ, and the stock of Hall-Scott of San Francisco (1926).Obtained a controlling share of the Danville Car Company (1908) which dissolved in 1911.

In Europe, Cie. J. G. Brill of Gallardon, France (founded 1908) was sold to Electroforge in 1935.[2]

Other companies that built licensed versions of Brill vehicles:

Canadian railway car builder Preston Car Company was acquired in 1921 and operations were closed in 1923.


Model 55 and Model 75 Brill Railcars stand at Adelaide, South Australia, in 1962
  • Steel heavy interurban cars built 1920-1930s. The Brill "Center Door" car was typical of suburban trolleys and interurbans built around 1920. These tended to be large, heavy, double-ended cars, with passengers entering and exiting via doors located at the center of the car. Many rebuilt into one man cars.[Springirth,p86-100]
  • Brill "Master Unit," built 1930s. All-steel; had standard controller stand, capable of 70 mph.[p86-100]
  • Brilliner – Brill's competitor to the PCC (Presidents' Conference Car) looked somewhat like the first PCCs. The Brilliner was not successful when compared to the PCC. Underpowered. Few were sold, whereas PCCs were well sold worldwide. Twenty-four built for Atlantic City's Miss America Fleet.[Springirth p86-100]
  • Brill "Bullet" car. 1929–1932. For suburban/interurban use.[Springirth, p86-100]
A 1947 ACF-Brill trolley bus

The unique Bullet cars[edit]

The streamlined interurban railcar Bullet from the P&W line. With a top speed at 92 mph (148 km/h) it was a forerunner of high-speed rail. No. 206 on display at Steamtown in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The lines that operated interurban passenger cars recognized in the mid-1920s that they needed to build faster, quieter, more power efficient equipment. Up to that time, both the wood and most of the steel interurban cars were large, sat high, and were heavy. Streetcars were slow, noisy, and clumsy to operate using the motor controller "stand" of the time. Car manufacturers such as Cincinnati Car Co. (who already in 1922 made a lightweight, albeit slow, interurban), St. Louis Car Co., Pullman, and Brill worked to design equipment for a better ride at extremely high speed, improved passenger comfort, and reduced power consumption. This particularly involved designing low-level trucks (bogies) able to handle rough track at speed. Brill, in conjunction with Westinghouse and General Electric, worked on a new interurban design and on a new streetcar design. (The PCC). The interurban design result was the aluminum and steel wind tunnel (the first in the railway industry) developed slope roof "Bullet" MU cars, the first of which were purchased in 1931 by the Philadelphia and Western Railroad, a third rail line running from 69th Street Upper Darby to Norristown in the Philadelphia region.[4] This line still runs as SEPTA's Norristown High Speed Line. The Bullets could attain speeds as high as 92 mph (148 km/h).[6] They were very successful and operated until the 1980s, but Brill sold few others. Only the central New York state interurban Fonda, Johnstown, and Gloversville Railroad which terminated at Schenectedy ordered Bullets, albeit a single-ended, single-unit "trolley-ized" version. Five were procured in mid-Depression 1932 for passenger business that was rapidly declining. In 1936, the closing FJ&G sold these Bullets to the Bamberger Railroad in Utah, which ran them in high-speed service between Salt Lake City and Ogden until the mid-1950s.[2] Three of the SEPTA Bullet cars are now at the Seashore Trolley Museum, one is at the Electric City Trolley Museum in Scranton, one is at the Rockhill Trolley Museum in Orbisonia PA, one is at the National Museum of Transportation in St. Louis MO, and one is at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in E. Washington. A Bamberger Bullet is in the Orange Empire Railroad Museum in Perris, Southern California, and another one has been preserved by the Utah State Railroad Museum; a third is a part of a restaurant building in Springville, Utah, but is barely recognizable as a Bullet.

Brill cars in the modern era[edit]

JR Kyushu's Aru Ressha theme train is based on a luxury Brill car ordered by the Kyushu Railway company in 1906. Due to its nationalization (under Japan's Railway Nationalization Act), the car was never put into service.[7]


See also[edit]


  • 1. Middleton, Wm D. "The Interurban Era," Kalmbach Publishing, Milwaukee. List of U.S. interurban car manufacturers, pp 416–417. Bullet design, p 68-70.
  • 2. Volkmer. "Pennsylvania Trolleys in Color." Photographs pf P&W Bullets and SEPTA Bullets. Brilliners, built 1932.
  • 3. Hilton, George. "The Electric Interurban Railways in America," Stanford Univ Press. Development of improved interurban car design. (eight pages)
  • 4. Springirth. Development of Bullet design.
  • 5. Bradford, Francis H. "Hall-Scott: The Untold Story of a Great San Francisco American Engine Maker"


  1. ^ Young, Andrew D. (1997). Veteran & Vintage Transit, p. 101. St. Louis: Archway Publishing. ISBN 0-9647279-2-7.
  2. ^ a b Brill, Debra (21 August 2001). History of the J. G. Brill Company (Series: Railroads Past and Present). Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253339499. 
  3. ^ Sebree, Mac; and Ward, Paul (1973). Transit's Stepchild: The Trolley Coach, p. 127. Los Angeles: Interurbans. LCCN 73-84356.
  4. ^ "The J.G. Brill Company". American-Rails.com. Retrieved 2016-02-23. 
  5. ^ Brill (2001), p 165.
  6. ^ Middleton, p. 72
  7. ^ "Aru Ressha Concept". Aru Ressha Official Website. JR Kyushu. 
  8. ^ Brill Railcars of the South Australian Railways Bird, K Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, October;November;December 1981 pp213-236;237–260;272–282 January 1982 pp1-8

Other Citations[edit]

  • Brill, Debra (2001). History of the J. G. Brill Company. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-33949-9.  The author of this book is a direct descendant of company founder John George Brill of the JG Brill Company of Philadelphia, manufacturer for many years of street cars, interurban cars, the famous "Bullet" cars, and buses. The largest (number produced) manufacturer of such equipment in the world. Over time, absorbed other manufacturers of interurban cars and street cars.
  • Middleton, Wm. D (2000) [1962]. The Interurban Era. Milwaukee, WI: Kalmbach Books. ISBN 978-0-89024-003-8. 
  • Volkmer, Wm. D. Pennsylvania Trolleys in Color, Vol II, Philadelphia Region. 92pp. Morning Sun Books, Scotch Plains, NJ. 1998. ISBN 1-878887-99-8. Photographs of Brilliners and Bullets and other Brill designs on Philadelphia and Westernline and in shops.
  • Hilton, George and Due, John The Interurban Electric Railway in America, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA. Reissue 2000.
  • Springirth, Kenneth. Suburban Philadelphia Trolleys 128pp. Arcadia Publishing, 2007. (ISBN 9780738550435)

External links[edit]