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Before The CTA, City Buses Were Double Deckers You Could Hail

By Linze Rice | March 24, 2017 6:19am | Updated on March 27, 2017 8:32am
 An old model from the Chicago Motor Bus Company
An old model from the Chicago Motor Bus Company
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Facebook/Cars Of The 1900s to 1930s

EDGEWATER — Last year the Chicago Transit Authority began introducing a series of throwback rail cars that harkened back to the operator's earliest days of hauling commuters across the city. 

The CTA began operating on Oct. 1, 1947, and archival film uncovered in recent years shows trains and buses from 1948-1970 traveling all over Chicago.

But 30 years before the CTA, another public transit system was just starting to roll: the Chicago Motor Bus Company.

At 1 p.m. March 25, 1917, a double-decker bus full of Chicago's elite, including Mayor William "Big Bill" Thompson and Gov. Edward Dunne, embarked on the North Side's very first public bus road trip from Devon and Sheridan in Edgewater all the way downtown. 

The group stopped off at the historic Edgewater Beach Hotel for a celebration and luncheon upon the return trip back north. 

Initially, 11 buses were launched, with another 39 rolled out over the following month.

Between 6 a.m.-1:30 p.m., buses were scheduled to run 3-6 minutes apart and had the capacity to carry 51 patrons — 22 on the bottom and 29 on the top, which could be accessed by an enclosed staircase. 

The coaches were staffed by a both a driver and chauffeur.

According to photos and renderings of the bus from Mark Theobald's CoachBuilt.com, while the driver steered the vehicle, the chauffeur stood in a small enclave on the bus's exterior and helped passengers get on and off.

From the border of Rogers Park and Edgewater, the motor company said for 10 cents its vessels could get riders downtown in 40 minutes. 

Customers could catch a ride by simply hailing the bus at any intersection along its route.

The bus system ran south on Sheridan from Devon, down through various parts of Lincoln Park before winding through the Loop onto Michigan Avenue, Ontario, La Salle, Randolph and Adams streets, stopping at a final State Street terminal and then turning around.

In the early 1920s, the Chicago Motor Bus Company merged with two other city transit branches — the Chicago Stage Co. and the Depot Motor Bus Lines — to form the Chicago Motor Coach Company. 

John D. Hertz, president of Yellow Cab Company, bought the bus entity in 1924 and merged it with New York's Fifth Avenue Motor Coach Corporation to create the Omnibus Corporation. 

In 1952, the group was bought by the CTA and became part of the mass transit system we know today.

The first North Side Chicago Bus Motor Company coach bus launched March 25, 1917. [Screenshot/Tribune]

A Chicago Motor Bus Co. bus driving down Sheridan Road with the Edgewater Beach Hotel in the background. [Mark Theobald/CoachBuilt.com]

A model of the bus with the Devon Avenue destination marquee. [Mark Theobald/CoachBuilt.com]