Decorated tram cars

Every year, The Netherlands honours its reigning monarch with a national holiday.  It was known as Queen’s Day from 1900 (when Wilhelmina ascended the throne, followed by Juliana and Beatrix) until 2014.  Since Queen Beatrix’s abdication in favour of her son, Willem-Alexander, the day has been known as King’s Day.

 In The Hague, the public transport company HTM has long contributed to the festivities by decorating trams, and laterbuses. In recent years the trams have been embellished with cheerful red-white-and-blue flags.

A former HTM employee told me how the flags were placed: “As a driver, you sometimes had a standby shift, and if you happened to have a late standby shift the evening before Queen’s Day, you would go into the depot and place flags on all the trams that were parked there. These flags were in a storage area and with a special pole you could place them on the trams. During the night, you would stand at the gate of the depot to put flags on all the trams that came out of service before entering the depot. And so on Queen’s Day, all the trams were decorated with flags.”

 It’s a chore, but it’s nothing compared to what HTM staff did to celebrate Queen’s Day in 1907, 1908 and 1909. In those years, HTM organised a competition to decorate tram cars on 31 August, Queen Wilhelmina’s birthday. Employees were given extensive time to decorate one or more electric tram cars and the decorations often amounted to a complete conversion. When I look at the photos, the event reminds me of a carnival procession or a flower parade, in the streets or on the water.

Versierde Tramwagens De olifant - 1909
Versierde Tramwagens De olifant - 1909 - Coll HGA


In the first year of this contest, 7 decorated tram cars participated. Six of them were dedicated to Flora, the Roman goddess of spring and flowers. The seventh carriage was dedicated to Neptune, the Roman god of the sea. It was draped with nets filled with silver fish, and the roof was covered with herring barrels. After much deliberation, the jury decided that the decorators of this float deserved the first prize.

The jury decided to award another first prize to the most beautiful Flora float. It was decorated with orange orchids that contrasted beautifully with the white paintwork. The fact that some HTM inspectors had hired a professional florist to do this was apparently no objection.


The next year, the press was invited in early August to see the 15 prizes that the HTM management would awardin the decoration competition: a gold watch, silver timepieces and a gold chain. And also a very artistic tea set with 12 delicately painted cups and saucers. The reporter from the newspaper ‘Het Vaderland’ was very impressed and wrote: “No doubt the staff will want to come up with something bold in the field of decorative arts.”

 This second competition surpassed the first in many areas. To begin with, the number of participants: 20 cars were decorated. More technology was also used: the decorators used the electric cables of the trams to create light effects. The depot on the Harstenhoekweg was festively decorated and the public could admire the cars on the forecourt. The tram staff band gave a concert and a grandstand was set up for the special guests and authorities.

Decorated tram cars

First prize went to the float depicting a village inn. It was decorated by the office staff of the department of workshops under the responsibility of Miss Van ‘t Groenewout.

This year featured a tram car with a maritime theme: on top of the car a Scheveningen bomschuit was depicted.

The ticket tram was completely covered with tram tickets, which would be more difficult now with the OV chip card.

There were also wagons converted into Moorish temples and a Salon wagon, hardly recognisable as tram cars at all.

After the presentations at the depot, the decorated tram cars travelled on the route of line 8, from the Plein to the Kurhaus. This way, many residents of The Hague could admire them.

Take a look at the pictures:


A year later, there were 21 decorated tram cars and the HTM management came up with something new. Not only a jury, but also the residents of The Hague could award a prize. A coupon was printed in the Haagsche Courant, on which people could fill in which tram deserved the 1st, 2nd or 3rd prize. It was thus determined who would receive the public’s prize.

The weather did not cooperate on this Queen’s Day.  It rained, and there was a fairly strong wind which damaged several of the decorated tram cars. But the parade went on and the Hague public was surprised by a larger than life elephant. The makers of this float were awarded first prize by the jury.

Other exhibits included the pram of the future, an old Dutch waffle bakery, a viaduct with a locomotive on top and a tram dedicated to agriculture. The Esperanto movement had taken the opportunity to advertise their world language. There was another tram with a message: the Dutch Christian Temperance Society called for a reduction of alcohol abuse with its Dageraad (Dawn) tram

Take a look at the pictures:

After three years,, HTM called it a day. It was too expensive to keep giving its employees  the 14 days off needed to decorate and paradethe trams.

Would you like to hear more unusual and little-known stories about The Hague? Bring your family, friends or acquaintances on a city walk or bike tour.

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Blogger Jacqueline Alders
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