|THE DETROIT MOTORBUS COMPANY
|According to U.S. Census records for
1900, the population of Detroit was
listed at 285,704, ranking the city the
13th largest in the country. By 1920,
its population had more than tripled to
993,678, ranking Detroit the nation's
4th most populated city. In addition to
the city's population boom, its borders
would also expand dramatically as well.
Between the years of 1915 and 1926,
the city's land area increased from just
46.9 square miles in 1915, to 139.2
square miles in 1926. Detroit was able
to accomplish this feat by annexing a
number of the townships and villages
located just beyond the city limits.
It was during this massive annexation
period when a privately-owned motor-
bus company was formed that would
soon establish a number of bus routes
out to those newly acquired territories.
The City of Detroit, at that time, was
involved in a prolonged battle with the
Detroit United Railway (DUR) —
the city's privately–owned streetcar
company — attempting to take–over
(click on above map to view larger more detailed version)
The first Detroit Motorbus route to be put into service was Rt 1-Jefferson Avenue, which began operating on June
11, 1920 — charging a 10¢ bus fare. Its fleet of double–decker buses also competed with DUR streetcars along Jefferson
Avenue. Service operated along East Jefferson from Water Works Park (located at Jefferson and Cadillac) to Grand Circus
Park downtown. The following year, service along E. Jefferson was extended eastward to Continental Avenue — providing
service to the Continental Motors, Maxwell Motors (renamed Chrysler, 1925), and Hudson Motor Car Co. plants.
|DMB coach #732 is representative of the double-deck style coaches used by |
Detroit Motorbus on many of its heavier routes. This "Type L" model 48-passenger
coach was manufactured by Fifth Avenue Coach Company and delivered in 1921.
(Photo source: Motor Coach Age Magazine)
|DMB coach #202 is representative of the single-deck style coaches Detroit |
Motorbus used on its other routes. This 33-passenger coach was manufactured by
the Six-Wheel Company and delivered in 1925. A green, gray and orange color
scheme was used on DMB coaches. (Photo source: Motor Coach Age Magazine)
After first having to rent garages to house its bus
fleet, the company built its first bus garage on the
city's lower east side at Terminal Avenue and Edlie
Street, just south of East Jefferson Avenue. The
garage opened on July 15, 1921, and was able to
accommodate as many as 75 coaches. After the
company's bus routes began to expand out into
the west-side, two additional west-side garages
were built. The first west-side terminal, located on
Tireman at Epworth, opened in July of 1923. The
DMB's largest facility—-which included new offices
and a separate shop facility—-opened on April 11,
1924, on Dexter Avenue at Doris.
By early 1921, the DMB had already begun using
its main line along East Jefferson to extend service
outward into the expanded city. An East Jefferson
branch out Cass Avenue, and a later branch out
John R, provided service to the Burroughs Adding
Machine Company plant, located on Amsterdam
and Second Avenue. Later that year, another East
Jefferson branch, westward along West Lafayette
and Green Avenues, was added. These branch
extensions would later become separated from the
main East Jefferson line, and would form the basis
for a number of DMB bus routes—many of which
would remain in operation well into the DSR years.
By the middle of 1921, the DMB would begin to
focus a number of their bus routes around two
major service hubs. One location was the massive
Ford Motor Co. Model-T plant on Woodward at
Manchester, in the city of Highland Park. Another
prim location would center around the area of the
15–story, block–long, General Motors Building,
located at West Grand Boulevard and Second Ave.
City planners were hoping back then that the new
GM Headquarters (completed in 1922) would
become the focal point for a "second downtown"
to be known as "New Center." The majority of
|(click on thumbnail photos to view larger image)
|the Detroit Motorbus Company's west-side bus routes provided service to the city's New Center area.
The DMB's Rt 11-East Grand Blvd. — which was launched on December 11, 1923, and operated between E. Jefferson
(at Belle Isle) and the new General Motors Building — would become the last of the routes forming the company's network
of city lines. With the city-owned DSR launching its own motorbus division in January 1925 — originally founded with the
intent to provide feeder-bus service to the city's newly acquired territories — the successful bus company soon found its
ability to expand within the city had basically ceased. In a move which would later have lasting impact today, the Detroit
Motorbus Company decided to begin expanding aggressively out into the suburbs, operating a number of suburban
routes from downtown to the outlying suburbs. It even acquired a number of smaller suburban bus companies.
Surprisingly though, the company's relationship with the city–owned DSR was rather friendly at first, with the DMB even
providing service periodically on behalf of the city. Several DSR routes, including Eight Mile, Fourteenth, Conant, and
West Warren, were briefly operated by Detroit Motorbus Company buses. By 1930, Detroit Motorbus was operat-
ing with a fleet of 395 buses, over a network of both city and suburban bus routes. However, the company's relationship
with the City of Detroit would soon change.
The arrival of the Great Depression years which followed 1929 began to take its toll on the city-owned DSR system. As
factories closed, and patronage and revenues declined, the city was forced to place a number of its buses and streetcars
into storage. To make matters worse, while most of the DSR buses traveled routes in the outlying and more thinly settled
districts of the city, the Motorbus Company buses served more densely populated areas. It was even reported that the
350-plus buses of the DMB carried as many passengers as the almost six-hundred buses of the DSR. Consequently, with
the municipal system facing financial difficulties the Common Council ordered the DMB to scale down a number of its com-
petitive routes, and to discontinue its E. Jefferson route, which competed directly with the DSR, effective April 20, 1930.
However, after loud protests from riders, portions of the DMB's Jefferson route was rerouted via Lafayette and Sheridan.
In March of 1931, a number of Common Council members decided that instead of raising the fare to resolve the DSR's
financial problems, a take-over of the Motorbus Company's routes might be a better solution, and instructed the Street
Railway Commission to study the issue and report within thirty days. The Commission reported in favor of the acquisition
and was authorized by the Council to begin negotiations with the company. In July the DMB offered to sell to the city the
buses and garages needed to operate its city routes for $1,630,000, but the counter offer of $1,200,000 from the city
was turned down. Negotiations between the Commission and the DMB would continue on during the summer and fall of
1931, but would fail to produce an agreement.
Meanwhile, after the DSR's receipts dropped by $2.5 million in 1931, Mayor Frank Murphy (1930-1933) declared that
"there had been enough delay" and the time had come to act. Murphy felt it was time to complete what Hazen Pingree
and James Couzens had begun by removing from Detroit streets the sole remaining private competitor of the DSR. In
a hearing before the Council, Mayor Murphy declared, "If municipal ownership is to survive in Detroit, it must be
municipal ownership only, one system over all our streets." The mayor had apparently turned the tide in favor of
an ouster, as the Council finally decided it must order the Detroit Motorbus Company off the streets of Detroit.
On December 22, 1931, the Common Council voted to revoke the Detroit Motorbus Company's day-to-day license to
operate within the city of Detroit, effective on the close of business on December 31, 1931. As a result, effective Friday,
January 1, 1932, the city-owned DSR became the sole provider of both street railway and motor coach operations within
the city of Detroit. The Detroit Motorbus Company, for the most part, had been put out of business.
Although the Detroit Motorbus Company only operated within the city of Detroit from 1920 through 1931, many of
its city bus routes would remain in operation many decades later. Of the eight Detroit Motorbus city lines in operation at
the end of 1931, all but its Rt 1-Jefferson were continued on by the DSR. The following is a listing of the former Detroit
Motorbus routes that were taken over by the City of Detroit, effective January 1, 1932.
For more detailed information on the Detroit Motorbus Company see the Motor Bus Society's September 1988 edition of Motor Coach Age magazine titled
"Detroit Motorbus Co." by Jack E. Schramm. Additional information for this article obtained from the book "Frank Murphy: The Detroit Years" by Sidney Fine.
Virtual Motor City Collection photo #21386 used by permission of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.
All rights, including those of further reproduction and/or publication, are reserved in full by the Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University. Photographic
reproductions may be protected by U.S. copyright law (U.S. Title 17). The user is fully responsible for copyright infringement.
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© 2006 (PAGE LAST MODIFIED ON 08-25-07)
|MAP OF DETROIT MOTORBUS|
CITY BUS ROUTES IN 1924
Rt 1-Jefferson Avenue
Rt 3-Cass Avenue-Second Blvd.
Rt 4-Dexter Blvd.
Rt 6-Lafayette Avenue
Rt 7-West Grand Blvd. -Tireman
Rt 8-John R. Street
Rt 9-John R. Street-Grand Blvd.
Rt 11-East Grand Blvd.
that company's street railway operations. With the city focusing more on the streetcar take–over, the increasing need to
provide an alternate transit service, that could reach from downtown out to these newly acquired territories, along routes
not serviced by streetcars, provided the ideal setting for the establishment of the Detroit Motorbus Company (DMB).
Organized back in 1919 by Herbert Y. McMullen (an automobile accessory and supply distributor), the Detroit Motorbus
Company would become the first permanently successful transit bus company to provide motor coach service within the
city of Detroit. To help gain the support of the public as to the type of service it would be providing, the company began
operating a sample prototype double-decker bus on demonstrator trips to hotels, banks and department stores within the
central business district, and along Woodward Avenue. The promotion was a success, and even gained the support of the
The company began its operations in 1920 with a fleet of ten double-decker buses built by Fifth Avenue Coach Co. But
unlike the DUR, which had operated it streetcars through multi-year franchise agreements, the DMB was only licensed to
operate its service through so-called "day-to-day" revocable permits, issued by the Common Council. Consequently, the
city could cancel the company's license at any time.
|-- Map source: Motor Coach Age Magazine
The DSR would also lease 62 coaches from the company's stockholders to operate the acquired service. But despite the
fact that the company had been basically dismantled by the City of Detroit,l the former DMB suburban operation still lives
on today through the suburban bus system SMART (Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation).
After the company's city bus routes were captured by the DSR in 1932, its eastern suburban bus lines were acquired by
some of its management people who formed Lake Shore Coach Lines. Another group of DMB employees acquired its
western suburban lines, forming Dearborn Coach Company which later became Intertown Suburban Lines in 1950.
That company became a subsidiary of American Transit Corp. in 1960, and was renamed Metropolitan Transit in 1962.
Both companies were later acquired a few years after the formation of the regional transit authority SEMTA in 1967. The
Lake Shore lines were acquired by SEMTA in 1971 and Metro Transit in 1974. Today, many of these same routes are
run by the suburban SMART bus system.
|DETROIT MOTORBUS COMPANY ROUTES TAKEN-OVER BY CITY-OWNED D.S.R. IN 1932|
|Rt 3-CASS AVENUE-SECOND BLVD.||
|Continued on as DSR/DDOT's Second lne. Route #43 Second Avenue discontinued by DDOT in 1994|
|Continued under DSR as Dexter line, and still exists as DDOT's present-day route #16 Dexter|
|Rt 6-LAFAYETTE AVENUE
|Continued on as DSR/DDOT's Lafayette-Green line. Route #28 Lafayette-Green later discontinued|
by DDOT on April 22, 2005
|Rt 7-WEST GRAND BLVD.-TIREMAN||
|Continued under DSR as Tireman line, and still exists as DDOT's present-day route #47 Tireman|
|Became the DSR's former John R.-Oakland line, but later discontinued by DSR on June 15, 1973|
|Continued on as a branch of the DSR's Dexter line, but was discontinued on July 2, 1933|
|Rt 11-EAST GRAND BLVD.
|Continued on as the DSR's East Grand Blvd. line until June 22, 1950 when it merged with the former |
Grand Belt line, forming the eastern portion of DSR/DDOT's route #20 Grand Belt (discontn'd 2009)
|In 1920, the Detroit Motorbus Company became the first motor bus company to begin
operations in the city of Detroit. Its first route was along E. Jefferson Ave. Coach #934
in photo, was a 66-passenger semi-enclosed double-decker bus (model Z-F-204) built
by Yellow Coach in 1924. It is seen here boarding passengers in Grand Circus Park,
sometime between 1924 and 1929. Its destination sign reads "Jefferson–City Limits."
(Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University photo #21386 — used with permission)
|The unique website which takes a detailed look back at the History of Public Transportation in
and around the City of Detroit.
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