The History of the Bus

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine a time when buses didn’t exist but they’re actually a relatively new concept that changed the way people travel all over the world. Let’s take a look at the history of the bus. Firstly, we’ll look at where the name originates.

The ‘bus’

The word ‘bus’ actually comes from Latin ‘omnibus’ which means ‘for all’, highlighting the concept that this was a transport for many people. The first use of the word ‘omnibus’ was in France with their voiture omnibus (vehicle for all), which was a transport service for the masses. It began in 1823 and was run by Stanislas Baudry, the owner of a corn mill based in Nantes.

The mill he ran had hot water as a by-product ad so he established a spa next to it. To get people to come to his spa, he began a transport service that was drawn by horses from the centre of the city. This transport service was very successful, even though people didn’t really visit the spa. He turned the service into a business. He decided to move to Paris to begin his omnibus service there in the spring of 1828. There was a service introduced in London a year later and the concept really took off.

History of the bus

The 1830s saw steam-powered bus services really take off between cities in England. The first reliable services were run by associates of Walter Hancock and by Sir Goldsworthy Gurney. These services went over road surfaces that were considered to be too hazardous for transportation in horse-drawn vehicles.

On 22nd April 1833, London saw the first omnibus that was mechanically propelled on its streets. These steam carriages were not as likely to overturn compared to horse-drawn carriages. They were also cheaper to run, faster and didn’t damage the road surface as much thanks to their wider tyres.

There were, however, large road tolls, which meant that steam road transport was discouraged and horse-drawn bus companies were able to expand. Finally, in 1861, there was strict legislation put into place which meant that mechanically propelled vehicles became few and far between for around 30 years. The legislation was called the Locomotive Act of 1861 and it put strict speed limits of 50 mph in cities and towns for “road locomotives” and 10 mph if you were in the country.


The electric trolleybus, which operated by overhead wires and trolley poles, was developed by the Siemens brothers, Willian and Ernst Werner. The former was in England while the latter was in Germany. The concept was proposed in an article in 1881 in the Journal of the Society of Arts.

Dr. Ernst Werner von Siemens presented the first such vehicle in 1882 in a place called Halensee in Germany. The vehicle was called the Electromore.

A trolleybus that carried passengers was opened near Dresden, Germany by Max Schiemann in 1901 but it only operated for 3 years.

In Great Britain, Bradford and Leeds were the first places to have trolleybus services and they had them from June 1911.

Motor buses

Again, it was Germany that was the first place to see motor buses come into operation. The first one was in Siegerland in 1895 but it only ran briefly as it was unprofitable. The motor bus was developed from the Benz Viktoria of 1893 and it could carry six passengers. Llandudno in Wales also ran a commercial bus service using this type of vehicle in 1898.

The earliest double-decker bus was produced by Daimler in 1898. This was sold to the Motor Traction Company and was used in London in 1898. The bus could travel 11 mph and could fit 20 passengers. This bus was a success and Daimler began expanding its production.

Mass production of motor buses

The first bus to be mass-produced was Frank Searles’s B-type double-decker bus. This began in 1910 and within the first decade, 3000 of these buses had been produced.

Elsewhere, in the United States, the Yellow Coach Manufacturing Company started to become a major bus manufacturer. The company was founded by John D. Hertz in 1923 in Chicago and in 1925, General Motors bought a majority stake and changed the name to Yellow Truck and Coach Manufacturing Company. In 1943, General Motors bought the rest of the shares and became GM Truck and Coach Division.

The 20th century saw the expansion of bus models and in the mid-century, we began to see the recognisable bus form that we know today. London’s iconic double-decker bus, the AEC Routemaster, was developed during the 50s and continues to remain an icon to this day thanks to its lightweight, power steering, power-hydraulic braking, fully automatic gearbox and independent front suspension.

The modern bus

Buses nowadays are fast, safe, quiet and luxurious. They often have toilets, entertainment systems and high-tech communication technology. Buses are considered an excellent method of transport and, what was born out of necessity, is now considered to be a more environmentally friendly way of travelling in comparison to the motor car.

The iconic yellow school bus in the US

It’s pretty common for people across the globe to recognise the iconic yellow school buses in the United States. These first appeared in 1939 but the chassis was designed earlier in the 1930s.

The future of buses

With increased pressure for people to use public transport for environmental reasons, it’s safe to say that the bus will be around for a while yet. New, innovative buses are appearing all the time. For example, hybrid electric buses are now becoming more mainstream.

There is an urgent need to move towards zero-emission buses in the near future. It is an area that certainly needs government investment. There are 4.4 billion journeys that are made by bus every year and buses remain the transport backbone throughout the country. They connect communities, get people to work and support our economy.