Buses have been a part of our societies for as long as anyone reading this has been alive, but public transport has not always been prioritized by communities. So when was the first bus invented?
The first horse-drawn bus-like system was established in 1662. In the 1820s, these were developed into more modern-styled buses. The first steam-powered buses entered service in the 1830s. Siemens developed the first electric bus in 1882. The first motorized vehicle to be used for a bus service did so in 1895, and the first modern motorized bus was built by Daimler in 1898.
Those are a lot of different milestones, but if you are looking for a single answer to the question, which of those dates is the most appropriate to use? In the rest of the article, we are going to look at each of these milestones in more detail to give you an idea of how the invention of buses progressed.
When Were the First Horse-Powered Buses Invented?
It is difficult to say when the first vehicles that could function as horse-drawn buses were invented because any carriage that is large enough could fit the description. To get a more meaningful answer, we are going to look at some milestones within the history of these vehicles being used in the same manner as buses are today rather than simply having the same capabilities.
Blaise Pascal and the Carrosses
By these criteria, the earliest buses that we are aware of from history date back to 1662. In this year, the French polymath Blaise Pascal began operations with his newly developed fleet of five vehicles which became known as the carrosses à cinq sols. These vehicles were slightly larger than normal carriages and they were pulled by horses through the streets of Paris.
What made these carrosses significant is that they would follow predefined routes, along which passengers could board and get off. The passengers would pay a fare for the service, and the times that the carrosses would operate would be planned in advance and regular.
The roads of 17th-century Paris were not ideal for fleets like this, and the people who lived in the city rarely needed the service because of how everything was laid out. Because the carrosses were largely a novelty, they stopped running after only a few years, when the novelty wore off.
The First Omnibuses
Blaise Pascal’s idea was revisited in the 1820s, when rapid industrialization and urban growth meant that more people needed access to transport but could not afford to own a carriage and retain a driver. The solutions to this problem were the omnibuses, which shared many features with Pascal’s carrosses.
In fact, the first iteration of the omnibus was almost indistinguishable from its 17th century ancestor. Starting in 1824 in Manchester, United Kingdom, these were carriages that would be accessible to passengers at point of contact rather than through prior arrangement. Perhaps more similar to modern taxis, these coaches would get flagged down, tell the driver their destination, and take their passengers there.
In 1826, a similar service was started in the French city of Nantes with larger carriages. The same business began operating in Paris in 1828, but this time with specially designed carriages that could transport many more passengers than ever before and in comfort.
These Parisian omnibuses became the template for horse-drawn bus services in major urban centers throughout the world, and many continued to operate into the 20th century despite more technologically advanced alternatives.
When Were the First Steam-Powered Buses Invented?
The first practical steam road vehicle was manufactured around the turn of the 19th century, and by the 1830s, the technology was being used to make steam-powered buses. The development and proliferation of these new buses was concentrated largely within this decade.
Steam-powered buses offered many advantages to both the operators and the passengers. For operators, they were more affordable to run since there were no horses to provide care for around the clock. For passengers, the steam buses were more reliable, stable, and predictable.
Starting around the middle of the 19th century, governments across the world began imposing severely restrictive laws that made these an impractical mode of transportation for all parties involved. Perhaps the most infamous example is The Locomotive Act 1865 of the United Kingdom, which limited the operating speed of self-propelled vehicles to 2 mph in towns.
When Were the First Electric Buses Invented?
Electric buses were developed in two distinct stages. The first type of electric buses were those powered by overhead wires while not being dependent on tracks or rails in the same way that trains and trams are. The Elektromote, the first such vehicle, was built and tested in Berlin, Germany in 1882 by Werner von Siemens, the founder of Siemens AG.
The second type of electric buses were those that supplied their own electricity with on-board batteries. The first bus route using these types of vehicles was created by the London Electrobus Company and began operating in that city in 1907. Due to legal troubles, the service ended in 1910, but battery-powered buses have experienced a resurgence recently, notably in China.
When Were the First Motorized Buses Invented?
When people ask when was the first bus invented, most of them are probably thinking about the types of buses we are used to seeing today. Most buses that are currently in operation use motors that are fueled by either diesel or gasoline.
The first motorized bus entered operation in 1895 but saw little success. It was mostly valued for being able to travel longer distances with less trouble, which was useful for rural areas.
Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft produced a more purpose-built motorized bus in 1898 which saw much greater success, both financial and practical. This design of this early model would be tweaked multiple times over the next 4 years, by which point it had become the archetypal bus that we still see today.
As we have learned, there is no one perfect answer to the question of when was the first bus invented. We have looked at the most important milestones in its development, however, so you now have a better understanding of what led up to the buses you know and use today.