The History of School Buses

You share the road with big, yellow buses every single school day. They’re a common sight from coast to coast, but when do you think the first school buses were used?

If you picture kids with poodle skirts and pompadour haircuts in the 1950s as the first ones to ride a school bus, you aren’t coming back far enough. The history of the school bus is longer and more interesting than you might think.

All Aboard The Kid Hack

It all started right here in Indiana in 1886. For many kids, the only way to get to school was on their own two feet.

The Wayne Works company saw an opportunity. They created a horse-drawn carriage that took kids to school. At the time, “hack” was a slang term for carriage. This earned the earliest school bus nicknames like “kid hack” and “school hack.”

Although the concept was born, these early buses were still more of a novelty than a common sight, but innovation was coming

The First Modern School Bus

By 1914, the automotive industry had taken leaps forward. Wayne Works replaced the horse with a motor. The kid hack was designed to be detachable. Like a trailer, it could be hauled by a separate motorized vehicle.

It wasn’t until around 1927 that the first truly modern school bus was created. Instead of needing to hitch a ride, carriages were permanently mounted to a truck chassis, becoming the oldest surviving school bus in America. From there, the first real school bus began gaining popularity.

Paint It Yellow

So, why yellow?

For decades, school buses came in a variety of different colors. Some were even a patriotic red, white, and blue. The shift to that familiar shade of yellow began with education expert Frank Cyr. After conducting a ten-state study, he spoke at a conference in 1939, believing standardizing buses would:

  • Ensure buses were easily visible.

  • Allow manufacturers to mass product buses more efficiently

To come to the final decision, strips of different paint colors were hung on the walls. Attendees whittled the total down to three slight variations of yellow. These shades were chosen because the black lettering would stand out most during the dark hours of early morning.

Attendees also voted on 44 different bus standards, including ceiling height, length, door specifications, and aisle width.

These decisions made over 80 years ago set a standard that both improved child safety and made buses more affordable for school districts.

The history of the school bus is full of innovation, and that continues to this day. Modern buses are always becoming safer and more efficient. The future keeps getting brighter

Kerlin Bus Sales & Leasing is the full-service dealer of both new and used buses.