Douglas County Historical Society prepares new exhibit on history of cars in Omaha

The Douglas County Historical Society takes us full circle.
Published: May. 30, 2022 at 4:31 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - An upcoming exhibit from the Douglas County Historical Society will take us full circle.

The timing of “Omaha’s Autobiography - A Look at our Love Affair with the Motor Car” comes at a time when Omaha is reimagining the streetcar in the 21st century.

The city has a couple of pages in the history book of the car. In 1916 Ford built a plant on 16th and Cuming where the Model T was built. Historians also say the rental car business began in Omaha.

“Omaha was home of the Saunders Brothers who started the first car rental company,” said Natalie Kammerer with the Douglas County Historical Society. ”They just saw a need, they started with one car and they basically said if you need it for an afternoon here you are. By the end of 1917 they rented more than 100 cars and trucks out within nine years. They were in 56 cities.”

Kammerer says the exhibit will tell the story of Omaha’s obsession with cars and how the automobile helped shape the city.

”Cars have played a vital role in the people’s nostalgia of Omaha. People have grown up here, just so many memories of drive-in theatres, drive-in restaurants, cruising on Dodge Street, races at Sunset Speedway, just all kinds of activities.”

Kammerer says Omaha’s love for automobiles began when the city started to grow.

”Just the way that the city spread out so quickly, it kind of forced people into having cars for their own personal convenience. Then the death of the streetcar in about the 1950′s.”

Over the years Omaha streetcars carried commuters from then suburban Florence, Benson and Dundee. The last streetcar rode through Omaha in march of 1955.

Now there are plans to revive the streetcar system in Omaha.

Officials say the streetcar will help ease the parking problems downtown and spur more development.

Jay Noddle is the president of the Omaha Streetcar Authority, this group will deal with the design and operation of the return to the streetcar.

“Really this is about total mobility plan for the entire region, so that involves cars and other types of public transportation that we already have in place,” Noddle said. “It’s got to all work together, what you ride in, what you drive, where you park, where you park it and how you use public transportation are all going to be woven together here much like it been done in other communities that have done this very successfully in the past.”

The Douglas County Historical Society’s new exhibit opens at the General Crook House located at the Metro Community College’s Fort Omaha campus on June 19

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