Thursday March 18, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Omnibus Transit Service

On this Day:

In 1662, the omnibus, the first organized public transit system within a city, appears to have originated in Paris, France, although the service in question, Carrosses à cinq sols, failed a few months after its founder, Blaise Pascal, died in August 1662.  Omnibuses are next known to have appeared in Nantes, France, in 1826. The omnibus was introduced to London in July 1829.  However, as with many historical claims, the true origin of the first public bus service is less than clear.

There is evidence of a scheduled “bus route” from Market Street in Manchester to Pendleton in Salford UK, started by John Greenwood in 1824.

Another claim for the first public transport system for general use originated in Nantes, France, in 1826. Stanislas Baudry, a retired army officer who had built public baths using the surplus heat from his flour mill on the city’s edge, set up a short route between the center of town and his baths. The service started on the Place du Commerce, outside the hat shop of a M. Omnès, who displayed the motto Omnès Omnibus (Latin for “everything for everybody” or “all for all”) on his shopfront. When Baudry discovered that passengers were just as interested in getting off at intermediate points as in patronizing his baths, he changed the route’s focus. His new voiture omnibus (“carriage for all”) combined the functions of the hired hackney carriage with a stagecoach that travelled a predetermined route from inn to inn, carrying passengers and mail. His omnibus had wooden benches that ran down the sides of the vehicle; passengers entered from the rear.

In 1828, Baudry went to Paris, where he founded a company under the name Entreprise générale des omnibus de Paris, while his son Edmond Baudry founded two similar companies in Bordeaux and in Lyon.

A London newspaper reported on July 4, 1829, that “the new vehicle, called the omnibus, commenced running this morning from Paddington to the City”, operated by George Shillibeer.

The first omnibus service in New York began in 1829, when Abraham Brower, an entrepreneur who had organized volunteer fire companies, established a route along Broadway starting at Bowling Green. Other American cities soon followed suit: Philadelphia in 1831, Boston in 1835 and Baltimore in 1844. In most cases, the city governments granted a private company—generally a small stableman already in the livery or freight-hauling business—an exclusive franchise to operate public coaches along a specified route. In return, the company agreed to maintain certain minimum levels of service.

In 1832 the New York omnibus had a rival when the first trams, or streetcars started operation along Bowery, which offered the excellent improvement in amenity of riding on smooth iron rails rather than clattering over granite setts, called “Belgian blocks”. The streetcars were financed by John Mason, a wealthy banker, and built by an Irish-American contractor, John Stephenson. The Fifth Avenue Coach Company introduced electric buses to Fifth Avenue in New York in 1898.

In 1831, New Yorker Washington Irving remarked of Britain’s Reform Act (finally passed in 1832): “The great reform omnibus moves but slowly.” Steam buses emerged in the 1830s as competition to the horse-drawn buses.

The omnibus extended the reach of the emerging cities. The walk from the former village of Paddington to the business heart of London in the City was a long one, even for a young man in good condition. The omnibus thus offered the suburbs more access to the inner city. The omnibus encouraged urbanization. Socially, the omnibus put city-dwellers, even if for only half an hour, into previously-unheard-of physical intimacy with strangers, squeezing them together knee-to-knee. Only the very poor remained excluded. A new division in urban society now came to the fore, dividing those who kept carriages from those who did not. The idea of the “carriage trade”, the folk who never set foot in the streets, who had goods brought out from the shops for their appraisal, has its origins in the omnibus crush.

John D. Hertz founded the Yellow Coach Manufacturing Company in 1923 and then sold a majority of shares to General Motors in 1925.

From the 1920s General Motors and others started buying up streetcar systems across the United States with a view to replacing them with buses in what became known as the Great American Streetcar Scandal. This was accompanied by a continuing series of technical improvements: pneumatic “balloon” tires during the early 1920s, monocoque body construction in 1931, automatic transmission in 1936, diesel engines in 1936, 50+ passengers in 1948, and air suspension in 1953.

The arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955 for not giving up her seat to a white man on a public bus is considered one of the catalysts of the Civil Rights Movement within the United States (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

I couldn’t get my fridge to work this morning, so I took the bus instead.

Second, a Song:

The Guess Who was a Canadian rock band from Winnipeg, Manitoba, best-known for their pop roc and psychedelic rock hits from 1968 to 1975.

The group had a measure of success, particularly in Canada, with original lead singer Chad Allan in 1965 and 1966, but were most successful in the late 60s and early 70s, during which time The Guess Who was fronted by singer/songwriter/keyboardist Burton Cummings and guitarist Randy Bachman. During that period they released eleven studio albums, all of which reached the charts in Canada and the United States; their 1970 album American Woman reached no. 1 in Canada and no. 9 in the United States, and five other albums reached the top ten in Canada. They also achieved five number one singles in Canada and two in the United States.

The Guess Who was disbanded by Cummings in 1975, though Guess Who bassist Jim Kale or drummer Garry Peterson have toured and recorded under the Guess Who name since 1977, frequently with no other original band members involved.

The Guess Who were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1987. In 2001, classic era members of the Guess Who received honorary doctorates from Brandon University in Brandon, Manitoba. For Cummings, this was a special privilege because he had not graduated from high school. That same year, the group was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame; The signatures of then-current band members Bachman, Cummings, McDougall, Peterson, and Wallace are engraved into the commemorative stone. In 2002, the same group of former members received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement for their contributions to popular music in Canada. In 2018, a number of master tapes of the band’s recordings, possibly including unreleased material, were donated to the St. Vital Museum in Winnipeg.

The group had many personnel changes during the years together. On July 30, 2003 The Guess Who performed before an estimated audience of 450,000 at the Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto SARS benefit concert. The show was the largest outdoor ticketed event in Canadian history (per Wikipedia).

Here are The Guess Who in a live medley of “No Sugar Tonight, New Mother Nature, Albert, Hand Me Down World, Bus Rider”. If you wish to skip directly to “Bus Rider” go to the 11:28 mark. Otherwise enjoy the music that the boys from Winnipeg, Manitoba can make!


Thought for the Day:

“On a bus, your eyes, ears, and pores are open absorbing in the variety, the wonder, and the magic of the city. It’s a wonderful way to get to know the city.” – George Takei

In response to the St. Patrick’s Day Smile:

Carol Burman of Victoria, BC, Canada writes: 

“Fabulous video!  Just fabulous 🤓🍀

And Sandy Weames of Campbell River, BC, Canada writes:

“Thank you David.

Had a wonderful St. Patricks Day that started out with Bailey’s and coffee and later some cornbeef and Guinness. With my father being born in Belfast I love to celebrate St. Patty’s day. Also had the wonderful opportunity to see the original Riverdance back in the day when they first toured North America. 


Have a great day!

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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