In 1869, the year that rails first joined America's east and west coasts, two German immigrants skilled in cabinetmaking founded the J.G. Brill Company in Philadelphia. At first, John George Brill and his son George Martin Brill built any kind of rail passenger vehicle, including horse-drawn streetcars, cable cars, and passenger cars for steam railroads.
The firm's fortunes improved dramatically in the mid-1880s, however, when it began to concentrate on the booming streetcar market. And as the twentieth century dawned, Brill became a leader as the streetcar business matured and consolidated. The firm absorbed many of its competitors, including the American Car Company in St. Louis, the G.C. Kuhlman Car Company in Cleveland, the John Stephenson Company in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and the Wason Manufacturing Company in Springfield, Massachusetts. These acquisitions gave the Brill Company access to strategically located plants in most parts of the country.