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California \ Aerial Trolley Car Company

Aerial Trolley Car Company.

J. W. Fawkes' Monorail.

By Andrew Brandon

Joseph Wesley Fawkes was born in 1861, the son of Joseph Walker Fawkes, Himself a prolific inventor, Joseph Walker patented several pieces of farming machinery and later operated a factory producing electrical devices in Chicago. In 1887 the business burned down and in the wake of the fire, the Fawkes family moved from Chicago to Burbank where they had purchased land from David Burbank in 1884. The family established a farm and orchards on the land.

While the Fawkes family was now in the agriculture business, Joseph Wesley was not interested in farming. He focused his attention on the arts and traveling the world. He was considered to be “odd” by his family and neighbors; Joseph Wesley earned a reputation as an argumentative troublemaker.1 During a trip to the East coast he met and married his wife Emma in 1893. His family disapproved of the marriage and it proved to be a major point of contention between him and his family for the rest of his life.

In 1901 Joseph Wesley received his first patent, for an electrically illuminated advertising sign.2 This helped fund his lifestyle and further inventions. During 1910 he began testing a Monorail system of his own design. He invited the public over for a demonstration where he reportedly proclaimed:

“My Aerial Swallow will travel at a top speed of 60 miles per hour. It'll take you from Burbank to Los Angeles in ten minutes. Why, it'll put the Pacific Electric Railroad in a museum!”

This first trial was brief as the propeller powered monorail car began to shake itself to pieces. The crowd was left unimpressed and the monorail came to be known as “Fawkes Folly”.

Fawkes constructed an overhead monorail track system for 0.5 mi (0.2 km) through his orchard near Lake Street and Olive Avenue. The monorail car utilized an air-cooled Franklin engine and later a body skinned with aluminum. The car hung from 4 wheels. It was forty feet long, six feet wide and had a capacity of fifty-six passengers. To reduce the car's weight he intended to attach a hydrogen gas bag to the top of the car, but this was never added.

Fawkes believed his system would revolutionize transportation and hoped to connect Burbank with central Los Angeles. The people of Burbank however were not interested in Fawkes' system having grown tired of his antics. The city council, having no desire to deal with Fawkes did not give the company a franchise to construct the proposed system. Local citizens were more interested in persuading the Pacific Electric Railroad to extend into Burbank.

Despite the lack of support, Fawkes pressed on and continued to promote his system. In 1911 he received a patent for his monorail and formed the Aerial Trolley Car Company. That April he sought to establish a franchise from Redondo Beach Wharf no. 1 to Hermosa beach.3 He planned not only to build the monorail, but to construct residences, industrial buildings and even an amusement park along the route.

It is important to note that Joseph's patents for the Aerial Trolley are joint patents with his wife, Emma C. Fawkes, who would also serve as his business partner. Her role in the project is unknown, as she may have been included for legal reasons as a result of Joseph Wesley's feud with his family.

On July 4, 1911 Fawkes invited the public to ride his invention.4 Due to the propeller powered design of the car several technical issues we encountered: The ride itself was noisy, drafty and uncomfortable. The propeller could not move the car in reverse, so the car had to be pushed by hand back to the starting position.

The city of Burbank incorporated in 1911. That same year, civic boosters began a campaign to encourage the Pacific Electric to extend their line from Glendale into Burbank. The citizens of Burbank had to put up a $48,000 subsidy to get the reluctant P. E. officials to agree. Leading the opposition to the public fund-raising was J. W. Fawkes. The first of the P.E. “Red Cars” rolled into Burbank on September 6, 1911.

The Fawkes were better received in the City of Santa Monica. After months of debate among residents, the city council granted a franchise to the Fawkes. The franchise permitted construction three miles along Fremont street.5 Some local residents appealed to the city to withhold the franchise citing concerns of the route passing near the high school. Others questioned the value of the system.6 The Fawkes terminated the proposal citing displeasure with several of the terms. The contract allowed surface transportation to be constructed under the same route as the monorail.7

WWI put a halt to further development of the line and the Fawkes put the project on hold. The Fawkes finally moved from the ranch in July 1923 and the property was sold.8 J.W. Fawkes passed away in June 27, 1928. After his death his family contested his will, questioning the legality of his marriage to Emma. The abandoned Monorail remained out of service on the property until it was scrapped in 1947. The property was eventually sold and used for industrial Today the site of the Fawkes' ranch and the demonstration track were located at the site of Borrman Steel and neighboring business along West Olive Ave.

Revised: March 20, 2016
1. "Fawkes Family Follies", Burbankia ( Retrieved March, 2 2016.
2. Fawkes, J. W. jr. 1901. Movable Advertising Device. U.S. Patent 676,126, filed October 4, 1900, and issued June 11, 1901..
3. Los Angeles Herald, Number 187, 6 April 1911.
4. Los Angeles Times July 1, 1911.
5. Los Angeles Herald, Number 240, 2 July 1912.
6. Los Angeles Herald, Number 243, 5 July 1912.
7. Los Angeles Herald, Number 244, 6 July 1912.
8. Los Angeles Times June 24, 1923.

Hobbs, Charles P, Hidden History Of Transportation In Los Angeles, Charleston, The History Press, November 4, 2014.
"Fawkes Folly", Burbankia ( Retrieved March, 2, 2016.
Eldars, Charles. "An Aerial Trolley" Technical World Magazine, July 1911.

Reference Material Available Online:


The Route Aerial Trolley Car Company / J. W. Fawkes Monorail for Google Earth.


Collected Aerial Trolley Car Company Photographs.
Images collected from private collections, libraries and historical societies.


Patent # 676,126 Movable Advertising Device. J. W. Fawkes, June 11, 1901.

Patent # 998,683 Centrifugal Aeroplane. J. W. Fawkes, July 25, 1911.

Patent # 1,019,621 Trolley Line Construction/ J. W. Fawkes and E. C. Fawkes, March 5, 1912.

Patent # 1,028,001 Aerial Trolley. J. W. Fawkes and E. C. Fawkes, May 28 1912.

Patent # 1,046,574 Line Construction. J. W. Fawkes and E. C. Fawkes, December 10 1912.

Patent # 1,051,093 Aerial Trolley Car. J. W. Fawkes and E. C. Fawkes, Jan 12, 1913.

California \ Aerial Trolley Car Company
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