Transportation 101: Evolution of the School Bus

Back-to-school season is upon us and to celebrate the new school year, the Caliber Collision crash-course team is teaching a history lesson on one of the most iconic everyday vehicles—the school bus. As we hop on board and head back to the late 1800s, we’ll take a field trip across the decades and explore the evolution of the big yellow buses.

Late 19th Century: Kid Hacks

Around the turn of the twentieth century, groups of 20 school kids or less were shuttled to class in "kid hacks"—the colloquial term for horse-drawn vehicles carrying children. The cab’s name came from the formal term, hackney carriage, and would typically be pulled by horses or mules. While some were created specifically for carrying people, most of these early bus prototypes were created from repurposed farm wagons. This precursor to the bus paved the way for later models to come, but due to its lack of speed and efficiency, most kids still opted to hoof it to school instead. It wasn’t until 1914 that buses became motorized and, once that happened, innovation truly took off.

1920: First Enclosed Bus

The 1920’s were a decade of experimentation and innovation in the world of back-to-school transportation. The first enclosed kid hack came about when an early inventor swapped out the canvas cover of a traditional wagon with a wooden frame. Soon after that in 1927, a Ford dealership owner named A.L. Luce built the first bus made primarily out of steel panels. In 1930, Wayne Works introduced the first all-steel school bus body with safety glass windows. As school populations grew exponentially in the following years, student transportation and safety became more and more important.

1939: Standardizing the School Bus

With innovation after innovation rolling off the school bus conveyor belt, parents began to express concerns about the safety of their children. In 1939, Dr. Frank Cyr—professor and “Father of the Yellow School Bus”— organized a conference at the University of Manhattan in order to develop school bus standards. It was here that transportation officials from each of the then 48 states, as well as specialists from manufacturing and paint companies such as Blue Bird Body Co., Chevrolet, International Harvester, Dodge and Ford joined together to regulate school transportation. From this conference, 44 national standards, including the iconic yellow color, were established.

1940-2005: Safety Strategy and Consolidation

Over the next 65 years between 1940-2005, several manufacturers worked to increase the safety of their school buses and establish themselves in the industry. While the yellow color was chosen to make buses easily visible on the road, internal features were constantly being implemented to find the best possible design. It was in these years that inventions such as the red flashing lights, cross-view mirrors, stop-sign arms, protective seating, rollover protection and other important features were added. Additionally, in 1960, smaller buses were created to accommodate students with special needs and wheelchair accessibility. Between the features inside and outside of the bus, as well as the laws protecting school transportation, school buses have driven their way into becoming the safest vehicle on the road.

2005-Today: The Future of Busses

With new auto innovations happening every second, it is no wonder the features of school buses are continually being updated to keep up. While safety reigns supreme, manufacturers are also focusing their efforts on reducing environmental impact. As newer buses are created each year, be on the look-out for the latest features and upgrades en route to class.

On the way to school or just down the road, the evolution of today’s vehicles has been both exciting and a bit overwhelming. As the auto industry keeps up with the latest trends and advancements, the Caliber team is here to keep you on the road to success. After all, when it comes to our Purpose—Restoring the Rhythm of Your Life®—our team is always top of the class.

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