The line was founded in 1887 by Moses Hazeltine Sherman and used horse-drawn carts. Many of these lines were built to subdivisions that were being developed by Sherman's land development interests. Beginning in 1893, however, the railway was completely electrified. The line was popular with the locals and was partly responsible for the growth patterns observed in the early history of Phoenix. In 1911, the first of several planned interurban lines opened to Glendale; additional lines were planned but never built to Tempe, Mesa, and Scottsdale. The system reached its height in the 1920s with several line extensions. In 1925 there were 33.6 miles of track on six lines. Line voltage was 550 VDC.
A potential competitor, the Salt River Valley Electric Railway, in 1912 hired engineers to build lines east from downtown Phoenix to Mesa via Tempe and Scottsdale, and a Southside line, to run from Phoenix to Tempe on the south side of the Salt River. The Salt River company later announced its lines would "connect Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Alhambra, Glendale and Peoria." However, other than some digging on Van Buren and Monroe Streets, the line never managed to complete any construction, and was abandoned in 1914.
In 1925, the city of Phoenix purchased the Street Railway line and soon instituted numerous reforms, including increased frequency and new streetcars, which increased ridership. Two of the new fleet of streetcars, which entered service Christmas Day 1928, may still be seen at the Arizona Street Railway Museum in downtown Phoenix.
On October 3, 1947, a catastrophic fire destroyed most of the streetcar fleet. City officials faced the decision to either rebuild the fleet or use buses. Buses were ultimately chosen, and the streetcar system was abandoned in February 1948. The Phoenix area turned its focus to the automobile, suburbs, and highways; and until recently relied solely on buses for public transportation. Rail transit returned when Metro opened its modern light-rail system on December 28, 2008—nearly sixty years after the Street Railway's last run.
The City of Phoenix Street Railways, in 1938 were numbered and operated as follows: