An early city bus motors down Fifth Avenue

It doesn’t look very sturdy or comfortable. And an awful lot of people seem packed into that upper deck.

But if you needed to travel along Fifth Avenue between Washington Square and 59th Street in the early 1900s, this was your mode of transportation.

Double Decker2

New York was the first city to use “motor omnibuses” for public transit, and the earliest fleet hit the streets in 1902, according to The Wheels That Drove New York. In 1905, the Fifth Avenue Coach Company invested in 15 French DeDion Bouton double deckers, like the one in the postcard.

Motor buses for commuters were a hit, and even sightseeing buses popped up, the precursors to today’s big red tourist haulers. Within a few years, Fifth Avenue’s horse-drawn omnibuses were history.

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6 Responses to “An early city bus motors down Fifth Avenue”

  1. notmsparker Says:

    A great image! However, I´m afraid the description is not correct: those omnibuses are Mercedes-Benz, not DeDion.

  2. notmsparker Says:

    And I am taking my previous comment back:-) It is, indeed, the French make. What a striking similarity of symbols, though.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes, I thought it was a Mercedes-Benz too!

  4. robert dowling Says:

    seeing as we are into buses with this post, anyone have any pics/news for omnibus co as far as I know ran on streets and avenue of west side of manhattan. use to take them quite a bit to junior high and high school. their colors were mirror iage of 5th avenue coach. also surfacetransit, red and white buses mostly, maybe some variations here and there. anhyhow all sometime in the 50s were eaten up by todays transit auth. as in 70s and 80s transite ate up rest of pvt bus operators (7 of them) along with their school bus subsidiaries. anyone have news/pics as I said .thanks.

  5. Malcolm Thwaite Says:

    The first De Dion Bouton double decker entered service in 1906, not 1905, followed by 14 in 1907 and were an earlier version with the driver behind the engine not over it as shown on the postcard.

  6. Malcolm Thwaite Says:

    Roger P. Roess and Gene Sansone, authors of The Wheels that drove New York were wrong on two counts. The first I’ve already commented on, but they were also incorrect in claiming the first buses were gas electrics. The 15 De Dions were gas mechanicals though one was converted to gas electric in 1911. Fifth Ave Coach ordered 10 gas electrics from General Electric in 1905 but they weren’t delivered until 1908. The engines proved unreliable and were replaced by De Dions in 1909. They also put a General Electric single decker in service in 1905 but it was withdrawn in 1907.

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