The 19th-Century Freakout Over Steam-Powered Buses

Many of our ancestors were petrified by buses. No, not the twentieth-century buses but those of an earlier generation.

In the 1830s, the transportation industry of the United Kingdom took a dramatic turn. Large, clunking, hissing steam-engined vehicles—which looked like a cross between a carriage and a trolley car—began to rumble along the roads. Alarmed by their appearance, some people threw rocks at them. Others wrote furious letters to the local government. Still others used stones to block the paths of traveling steam buses.

These salvos were part of a battle between old-fashioned horses and high-tech steam: horse-drawn omnibuses, from which we get our modern word “bus,” had been the public transportation standard, but now the steam-powered bus threatened to take their place. And that would not do. Horse-bus drivers and their supporters opposed the steam-powered bus technology so much that in the mid 1800s that they resorted to both legal and physical sabotage.

You can read an interesting history lesson written by Natalie Zarrelli in the Atlas Obscura web site at: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/steam-buses-horse-carriages-fight.

One Comment

A story my mother told me: a woman from a remote village came down to the larger village on the railway line, and saw her first big black steam locomotive, snorting and puffing into the station. “What a buffalo!” she exclaimed in her dialect, wide-eyed and awe-stricken.

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