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Despite its reputation as Hong Kong's top tourism attraction, the original role of the Peak Tramway was more functional.
In the 1870s, only a handful of houses existed on the Peak, mainly as summer residences of wealthy expatriates looking to escape the heat in the cooler mountain air. Still, getting to these homes was arduous.
Enter Alexander Findlay Smith. In 1881, the former employee of Scotland's Highland Railway requested the then-governor, John-Pope Hennessy, to build five tram routes along Hong Kong Island's north shore. As an afterthought, Tramway No 6 was also proposed to service the Peak area.
In 1882, Ordinance No 6 was approved authorising the tramways to carry passengers, goods, animals and minerals among other items. Still, the Peak tram project would languish for several years.
When the Peak Hotel opened in 1883, proprietor Findlay Smith, dismayed by the lack of progress on the proposed tram line, acquired the rights to Tramway No 6 for $2,000. He then formed a company to build the line, raising the $125,000 needed through the sale of $100 shares.
Although no progress reports survive, construction of the tramways began on September 20, 1885.
During the 32-month construction period, the engineers and workers had to overcome a host of difficulties transporting huge boilers and winding drums, 2.4 metres in diameter, over rough terrain.
By May 28, 1888, the challenges overcome, the tram was inaugurated. The opening day attracted 600 passengers who marvelled at the service's ability to rise 1,200 feet above sea level in less than 10 minutes. With monthly passes costing $2.50, the service attracted 150,000 customers during its first year.
It also proved to be a good ambassador for Hong Kong as panoramic photographs taken from the tram in 1887 earned glowing reviews in The London Illustrated News, changing the perception of a city known as a 'barren rock'.
In later years, the tramways would be featured prominently in the 1950s Clark Gable film Soldier of Fortune and in the television programmes Panorama and Love Boat.
The service was upgraded in 1926 to include modernisation of the haulage system, switching of the traction system from steam to electricity and the addition of a 52-seat tram car.
When Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong Island in December 1941, the engine room of the tramways was damaged in a mortar attack.
With the fall of British forces imminent, an engineer spent several hours cutting essential wiring in the engine room to disable the service. The Japanese resumed the service six months later, charging 10 times its previous fare.
In 1948, a 62-seat metal car replaced the original wooden design, providing greater capacity for the growing number of tourists. Aluminium cars were adopted in 1959, seating 72.
By the 1980s, tourism had become a major industry and it was clear that the capacity of the tramways, about 600 passengers an hour, was inadequate. As a result, a $50 million overhaul of the system gave the tramways the ability to carry about 1,400 passengers an hour and reduced travelling time from 7.5 minutes to five minutes.
In 1996, the tram carried a record 4.4 million passengers.