On 9 August 1875, Charles Challenger boarded a tram outside the King David Inn on Perry Road and set off for the Redland terminus at St John's Church on Apsley Road. This was the first horse-drawn-tram journey in Bristol, a landmark event that attracted enormous crowds and Charles was the conductor. Horse-drawn trams were faster than horse-drawn buses, reduced traffic and provided affordable transport to the suburbs. The tram could carry up to 16 passengers inside and 16 outside and their suspension system of vulcanised India rubber provided a smoother ride on Bristol's hills. Each was pulled by two horses (by more on steep routes) and speeds of up to eight miles per hour could be achieved on the flat.
A Bristol Mercury reporter wrote about the new form of transport, 'The interior of the car is lofty, well ventilated and very commodious...The cushions of the seats are stuffed with hair, and covered with Utrecht velvet.' Unfortunately these early trams were not so popular with everyone. Residents of Clifton and Redland were concerned about the prospect of hoards of the 'lower classes' coming into the area, while traders worried about losing business to city centre shops. Others simply felt it was a cruel way to treat horses.
Charles Challenger worked his way up through the ranks, became General Manager of the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Co. Ltd, and invented a hinged seat-cover to keep top-deck seats dry in rainy weather.
In 1895 Bristol became the first British city to install an electric tramway powered by overhead cables.
Electric trams were more cost-effective than horse trams. They could travel faster, climb steeper hills and carry more passengers. The system's electrification resulted from the efforts of businessman Sir George White and engineer Sir James Clifton Robinson,
White was a major figure, not only in the development of Bristol's transport, but also in the development of the country's transport as a whole. At the age of 18, he negotiated parliamentary bills to reform the city's failing horse-drawn tramway and in 1874 became secretary of The Bristol Tramways Co. for the next twenty years. He became managing director in 1894 and chairman from 1900 until his death in 1916. For most of his career, White worked alongside Robinson, an engineer highly skilled in tramway construction and operation. With White's entrepreneurial skills and Robinson's technological know-how, they made a visionary and dynamic team. Despite frequent resistance from local authorities and residents, both men were enthusiastic advocates of technological advancement..
The new system opened on 14 October 1895 and ran from Old Market to Kingswood. Sir George and Sir James ensured that they were riding on top of the first and second trams out of the Old Market terminus. Vast crowds thronged the streets, greeting the men with huge applause whilst buildings were draped with bunting, and church bells rang in the neighbourhoods.