A Quick History of Public Transportation

Think about the last time you traveled. Did you make it to your office or a supermarket by driving your own car, or did you use public transportation? Chances are if you took public transportation, you didn’t think much of it as it is just a normal part of your regular routine. However, what many Americans don’t realize is that public transportation in our country has had quite a rich history.

Here is a quick and simple history of public transportation from the 1800s to present day.

Horses as a man’s best friend

Back in the day, major cities were developed with the thought that residents would be able to walk everywhere. However, with the major population boom of the 1800s, soon things would have to change. This is where horses came to help. Around the 1820s, horse drawn buses were developed as the first innovation in public transportation over land.


Steam powered boats were of great help to those who worked in New York City but lived in the surrounding areas. The invention of the steam engine in the early 1800s gave much more flexibility to commuters, as steam powered ferry boats were an efficient method of crossing a body of water. Sometimes they were even powered by horses or ox, who would walk on a treadmill and turn the boat’s propeller in the water.

The cable car

Introduced in New York City in 1868, the cable car was the first attempt at a tram system. It was able to bring about 40 passengers at a time from place to place, comparable to a modern coach bus. While this form of transportation has become obsolete on the east coast, San Francisco’s cable car system is still is in operation today as a tourist attraction.

The first chartered bus

The first motor bus was invented in 1890, and with it came the ability for passengers to travel long distances without being tied to railroad tracks. These coach buses made it easier for people to travel from one city to the other, without having to pay extremely high ticket prices. Eventually, these chartered bus companies would evolve into the coach bus transportation so many people depend on today.

The first underground metro

Boston opened their first underground metro system in 1897, and its popularity caused other cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington D.C. to develop their own systems, most of which are still in use today.

So the next time you get on a public transportation system, you can thank its rich history for getting you to your final destination!

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