When buses were “the car of the future”

Not everyone was happy about “motor buses” when they first appeared in the early 1900s. But by 1925 the Nebraska State Journal said that attempts by railroads or “aristocratic communities” to stop the growth of motor coach travel “is like trying to sweep back the ocean with a broom.”

By David L. Bristow, Editor


Above, Intercity motorbuses come and go from Norfolk’s Union Bus Depot in 1928. The one in front is an intercity coach built by Flxible, an Ohio manufacturer for buses, hearses, and ambulances for much of the twentieth century. This one served a route connecting O’Neill, Neligh, Norfolk, and Omaha along US 275.

The first “omnibuses” of the 1800s were horse-drawn. “Motor buses” began to draw the attention of Nebraska newspapers in the early 1900s, starting with reports of the new machines in London that were “huge, heavy, emitting much smoke, churning the streets into mud and splashing walls and pedestrians with it when not throwing clouds of dust with their broad, heavy wheels.”

Buses spread to American cities, usually against legal opposition from electric streetcar companies. In 1915 a Norfolk auto dealer put into service “four especially constructed six-passenger pay-as-you-enter motor street cars.”

By the mid-1920s, improved roads allowed the rapid growth of intercity bus service. The “motor coach,” as long-distance buses were called, was the “car of the future” according to an article reprinted in the Nebraska State Journal of April 26, 1925, and attempts by railroads or “aristocratic communities” to stop the growth of motor coach travel “is like trying to sweep back the ocean with a broom.”

Here is a Google Street View from the same location today, on 4th St. looking south to Norfolk Ave. The former Hotel Norfolk is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

(Top photo: History Nebraska RG3267-1-41)


(Posted 1/26/2021)


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