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Compañía de Tranvías de México

The current edition of Mexican Paper Money list various items produced by the Mexico Streetcar Company (Compañía de Tranvías de México) but to what extent can these single tickets, season tickets etc be considered paper money?

It is an established fact that during the Revolution the hoarding of coins by banks and individuals and subsequent lack of small change lead to various attempts to produce substitutes from state-sanctioned cartones to privately produced chits (vales). An unused streetcar ticket could always have some residual value, but how far was this institutionalized?

This is a preliminary attempt to list those items that might be considered as “paper money” and to reconstruct the sequence, based on appearance, values, signatories (depending on whether or not Managing Director (Director Gerente) preceded government-imposed Manager (Gerente General Interventor) and any references to dates or currency.

Company tickets

Tickets were sold in perforated strips.

One has the signature as Harro Harrsen as Director Gerente.

Harro HarrsenHarro Harrsen was general superintendent and made acting general manager on 15 June 1907 when the managing director, Robert C. Brown, visited the United StatesThe Mexican Herald, 16 June 1907 and appointed general manager five months later.
“In spite of the fact that he is a young man, Mr. Harrsen, the new general manager of the tramways company, has had a somewhat extended experience with traction concerns of this country and he is the first high official of the company who has had a knowledge of the language which has enabled him to come into real personal contact with his men.
He first came to Mexico about fourteen years ago. While acting as assistant foreman of the Emerson Electric Manufacturing company of St. Louis, Mr. Harrsen received the appointment as assistant superintendent of the Aguascalientes Electric Light company, in the city of that name. After twelve or fourteen months in the employ of that company Mr. Harrsen was appointed private secretary to Thomas H. McLean, president and general manager of the old mule and steam tramways company of this city. He served in this capacity until April, 1898.
He left Mexico at that time, accompanying Mr. McLean to Toledo, Ohio, where Mr. McLean had been appointed general manager and vice president of the traction company which operated both city and interurban lines. After the death of Mr. McLean, Mr. Harrsen continued in the employ of the same company and held successively of the positions of chief dispatcher, division superintendent and superintendent.
Upon severing his connection with the Toledo traction company he undertook the management of the International companies. After about a year in this capacity, Mr. Harrsen was made general superintendent of the Electric Tramways company. When R. C. Brown, managing director of the company, left in June for the United State, the general order was issued making Mr. Harrsen the acting general manager of the company with the heads of departments reporting to him.
Mr. Brown was so well pleased with the manner in which the affairs of the company were conducted in his absence that it was decided to appoint Mr. Harrsen as general manager of the company.
Mr. Harrsen is an experienced street car man and especially in the handling of traffic he is an expert.”The Mexican Herald, Vol. XXV, No. 59, 29 October 1907

When U.S. marines occupied Veracruz in April 1914, the anti-American backlash forced Harrsen and the other gringo officials of the company to leave the country. Harrsen never returned to Mexico and his post was taken over by an interim manager, C. B. Graves.

sig Tranvias Director


Whether these could be classified as “paper money” depends on whether they were used as such in a small “window” in 1914. However, they could predate the scarcity of small change that necessitated emergency measures or, even more likely, date to a later period, after May 1919, when the company had been returned to its shareholders and such measures were no longer necessary.

From 13 April 1914 the company sold vouchers (planillas) in strips (8 at 6c or 5 at 10c) or in booklets (100 at 6c or 50 at 10c) from its offices at Indianilla, its kiosk in the Plaza de la Constitución and other outlets. Conductors were obliged to give a ticket in exchange for the voucherEl Imparcial, 11 April 1914; The Mexican Herald, 17 April 1914. This led to abuses, with the company accused of monopolising any small change and on 14 June the local council petitioned the governor to put a stop to its abusesEl Sol, Núm. 14, 14 June 1914.

In June 1914 the newspaper Veracruz ran a series of articles complaining about the scandalous actions of this Mexico City streetcar company. All passengers who unfortunately have to make use of a tram, necessarily and essentially had to provide themselves with change. Otherwise, the conductor threw the person off the tram, or kept the whole of the note tendered, and sent the passenger to the company’s kiosk. This was despite the fact that the company must have been holding a vast amount of small change. The writer complained that he had been given 90c of boletos as change for one pesoVeracruz, Tomo I, Núm. 5, 6 June 1914; Tomo I, Núm. 7, 9 June 1914. Others got no joy when they claimed a refund from the kioskVeracruz, 19 June 1914. The complaints continuedEl País, 2 August 1914.

By early September the Diario del Hogar could report that for some time almost all the businesses in the city centre, and even a large part of those in the suburbs, were using the company’s planillas to make change of less than a peso. It asked whether the company had the right to sell its planillas in large quantities, like banks did with their banknotes, and if so, surely it should also be obliged to exchange them at its bank (the kiosk) for silver coinEl Diario del Hogar, Año XXXIII, Núm. 11271, 5 September 1914. On 8 September the same newspaper reported that the company had suspended this issue (emisión cuasi forzosa de su “papel moneda particular”) citing the ingratitude of the public, despite the costs of cardboard, printing etc. it had incurredEl Diario del Hogar, 8 September 1914.

Government intervention

troops at Indianilla

On 18 September El Diario del Hogar had an editorial that the company was trying to subvert the government’s restrictions and planning to reissue its own planillas. The company claimed that there was a lack of small change, but the newspaper argued that it should use the coins that it had allegedly hoarded, and that the company was continuing the abuses of the Díaz and Huerta erasEl Diario del Hogar, Año XXXIV, Núm. 11283, Tomo 50, Núm. 2, 18 September 1914. The paper accused the company of hoarding 80% of the fractional coinage in circulation in its strongboxes in favour of issuing planillasEl Diario del Hogar, Año XXXIV, Núm. 11290, Tomo 50, Núm. 9, 25 September 1914. In fact, because of the company’s labour troubles and strategic importance the Constitutionalist government took over (intervened) on 12 October and named Tomas E. Ramos as Interventor. A 1c note has Ramos as Gerente General Interventor and refers to a decree of 20 November[text needed]

  from to total
1c 000001       includes numbers 001548CNBanxico #10801 to 598086CNBanxico #3878


but we do not know the import of that decree. The text states that the ticket should be used only in part payment of a fare, which suggests that they were an attempt to overcome the shortage of 1c coins. A notice of 23 December, referring to the 20 November decree, reminds the public that the 1c boletos should be used to make change on the trams and for no other purpose. The police had been instructed to seize any boletos used for commercial transactionsAHCDMX, caja 80, exp. 9.

When the Conventionists, led by Villa and Zapata, occupied Mexico City in early December, one of the first problems they faced was that of the tram company. Pressured by British and American diplomats, the Zapatistas reinstated C.B. Graves as Director General, who immediately eliminated gains that the unions had achieved, including a 25% increase in wages that Governor Jara had decreed.

On 9 January 1915 the newspaper El Radical reported that the 1c planillas, introduced to facilitate change, were to be withdrawn as the Mexico City mint had produced enough 1c coinsEl Radical, Tomo I, Año 1, Núm. 84, 9 January 1915. In return the company was to be permitted to issue 6c planillasLa Convención, Tomo I, Núm. 38, 13 January 1915.

Known undated 6c notes have Manuel Aguilar as the manager and states that they are valid only on the streetcars and worthless once detached from their strip.

Manuel Aguilar sig Tranvias Aguilar


However, on 25 January 1915 the governor of the Federal District, Vito Alessio Robles, authorised the company to issue 1c planillas solely for use on its carsEl Monitor,Tomo II, Núm. 53, 26 January 1915.

At the end of January 1915 the Constitutionalist forces led by Obregón regained Mexico City and control of the trams. Then, after a Zapatista/Convencionista interlude, the Carrancista general Pablo González retook Mexico City on 2 August 1915 and appointed Teniente Coronel José Morales Hesse Gerente General Interventor. On 7 August González gave Hesse permission to issue five million 5c and five million 10c tickets (planillas). They had to be stamped to ensure that they were not counterfeited. Two days later Hesse reported that because of the dire need for these coupons they had already been printed and put into circulation. As they had been printed on the company’s security paper they could not be counterfeitedAPGonzález, leg. 3, exp. 207) (roll 8) letter Hesse to Pablo González, 9 August 1915; The Mexican Herald, 22 August 1915.

José Morales HesseJosé Morales Hesse was from Coahuila. He was a member of the Partido Liberal Mexicano, in close contact with the Flores Magón brothers, and then in the forces of Pablo González.

In 1916 he was a Constituent Deputy and later he served as Secretary of Communications and Public Works in Adolfo de la Huerta’s cabinet. He was Manager of the Banco Obrero. He was a member of the National Executive Committee of the del Partido Nacional Revolucionario, as Secretario del Exterior y de Acción Obrera.

sig Tranvias Hessesig Tranvias gerente


On 18 August new rules were fixed inside the streetcars, which, inter alia, reiterated that the planillas were exclusively to be used for giving changeThe Mexican Herald, 19 August 1915.

On 28 September the governor of the Federal District decreed that these planillas issued for payment of fares and to facilitate the making of change, should not be used in business transactions as had been general practice. Merchants who received them or paid them out in exchange for merchandise would be punished with 15-30 days’ arrest or a fine of $100 to $500. The same conditions would apply to business houses (among whom were restaurants, cafes, bar-rooms, etc.) who in order to facilitate their patrons with small change, had issued vales for different amounts. The decree pointed out that these vales contravened Carranza’s decree núm. 14 of 28 December 1913 and the Federal District decree of 9 August 1915The Mexican Herald, Año XXI, Núm. 7,315, 30 September 1915.

Here is evidence that whatever the intent these tickets were used in general commerce.

On 11 May the company warned speculators who were hoarding its planillas that they would not be exchanged for infalsificable moneyEl Pueblo, Año III, Tomo I, Núm. 556, 12 May 1916.

On 20 June a new issue of planillas infalsificables appeared, and the old ones were to be retired by the end of the monthEl Pueblo, Año III, Tomo I, Núm. 594, 21 June 1916. These 10c and 20c tickets refer to papel infalsificable.

On 27 July 1916 Carranza re-appointed Tomás E. Ramos as Gerente General interino, to take over from José Morales HesseEl Pueblo, 28 July 1916 and he appears on a 5c note dated 1 December 1916 and referencing National Gold (Oro Nacional).

Two notes have the signature of George Conway as Director Gerente

George ConwayGeorge Robert Graham Conway was the experienced manager of the Monterrey Railway, Light and Power Company (Compañía de Tranvias, Luz y Fuerza Motriz de Monterrey) and the Monterrey Waterworks and Sewer Company (Compañía de Servicio de Agua y Drenaje de Monterrey) that the foreign shareholders chose in 1916 to head their operations in Mexico City.

He joined the company on 9 September 1916 as Director Gerente (Managing Director) and when he retired on 30 December 1947, he held the position of President of the company and its subsidiaries.

He died on 20 May 1951. In an obituary, Alberto María Carreñó wrote: “To many who knew him superficially he was only a skilled businessman, who had taken a very important part in the industrial electrification of Mexico, but for those of us who saw him up close he was a fervent propagator of general culture; for those of us who honoured himself with his friendship, he was a devoted lover of history, especially the Colonial history of Mexico. And that love and devotion impelled him to seek and gather the most valuable manuscripts and the most valuable books related to its history, and he sought them not only in Mexico, where he made a second homeland, but abroad. … [Conway’s] own work as a selfless and generous auxiliary of the history of Mexico will make his name and his work cannot be forgotten.”

sig Tranvias Conway


In July 1917 the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas authorised the company to issue 6c planillas, again solely for the use of passengers, as tickets and not, for any reason, as vales or paper moneyEl Pueblo, Año III, Núm. 968, 6 July 1917.

Three years later, in 1920, the problem still persisted. On 21 April Charles Blackmore, the American Bank Note Company’s Resident Agent in Mexico City, sent his head offices a clipping from the Excelsior and samples of strips of 5c and 8c ticketsABNC. All the tickets in a single strip had the same serial number and an ordinal number: thus the larger images illustrated the tenth on a strip of 5c tickets (numbered 002611) and the fourth in a strip of 8c tickets (numbered 374642). The Excelsior article stated that the planillas had been used in the absence of small change but that the mint had recently produced enough bronze coinsExcelsior, 21 April 1920. Blackmore wrote “A few weeks ago the question of small change became so acute that car tickets and postage stamps were being used to take the place of small coins. The article is correct in so far that street vendors and small establishments have, during the last few days, refused the car tickets.
I enclose specimens of the Tramway tickets. The blue “planillas” are worth 5c each and these are the ones which have circulated most freely, though many persons have accepted an 8c yellow ticket as good for 10c.”