The CLEVELAND RAILWAY FIGHT (1879-1882) pitted TOM L. JOHNSON against MARCUS A. HANNA, Elias Simms, and the six other owners of established street railways in the city. Johnson, a wealthy young entrepreneur new to Cleveland, bid against Simms & Hanna for a new railway grant. Although Johnson offered the lowest bid, Cleveland City Council gave Simms the line instead, citing the city charter allowing grants to companies for extension of their existing lines. In order to bid on future grants, Johnson bought the Pearl (W. 25th) St. line which ended at the West Side Market House at Lorain St. He improved and extended his line, known as the Brooklyn St. Railway, buying up grants from other companies and winning new grants from the council.
At that time, street railway passengers in Cleveland needed to travel several different systems to reach one destination and paid a new fare at every line change. In 1881 Johnson wanted to offer a single-fare ride from the west side to downtown Cleveland via the SUPERIOR VIADUCT. The year before Simms-Hanna had secured the right to lay tracks on the Superior Viaduct, connecting it with downtown, where there were 4 city-owned tracks on Superior St. that could be used by all car companies. Between Johnson's line and the city-owned track was the viaduct trackage of Hanna's West Side Railway, which charged Johnson's Brooklyn St. Railway customers for the short trip. Failing to secure an agreement for free passenger transfer, Johnson circumvented the West Side railway by offering free omnibus service for his passengers. When the entire Simms-Hanna franchise came up for renewal a year later, city council, aware of public support for Johnson's 1-fare plan and the upcoming elections, granted the renewal in 1882 on the condition that Johnson's cars be permitted to cross the viaduct. In the meantime, Johnson had bought the Jennings Ave. line running through the FLATS, giving him control of the west and central sections of Cleveland, and sought to add an east side line to complete his crosstown system. That same year Johnson clashed directly with Hanna over right-of-way grants for his eastern branch which would compete with the West Side Railway. Johnson prevailed as Cleveland City Council awarded him the east side line. In 1883 his lines extended east along Scovill to Woodland Cemetery at E. 65th St. This early confrontation between Johnson and Hanna would continue in the political arena for more than two decades.