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Invention of Bus Services

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In 1914, horse-drawn vehicles provided most of the transportation in Hibbing except for a few livery autos that were rented at five dollars an hour. Carl Wickman, who had recently emigrated from Sweden, owned one of the delivery cars. He had opened an auto agency, but when his one car didn't sell, he had to do something with it, so he put it out to hire.

One day he had an inspiration. People were always traveling back and forth between Hibbing and nearby Alice. Wickman decided to operate his car hourly on a regular schedule between these two towns. The day after he began, he made a sign and started his little one-man, one-vehicle, bus line. Folks soon knew they could catch his car in front of the saloon in Hibbing and fifteen minutes later get off at the firehouse in Alice. The fare was fifteen cents one way, twenty-five cents round trip. Soon passengers not only filled the car but clung to the running boards and fenders.

Seeing Wickman's success, one of his competitors, Ralph Bogan, decided to operate over the same route and at the same rates. Wickman's business fell off when he had to share it with Bogan and a price war followed until Wickman suggested that instead of fighting each other, they join forces. Bogan agreed, and the new partners combined their capital and equipment. Soon they were building more buses and extending their operations south until they reached the city of Minneapolis.

At the time that the partners were pushing their little bus line farther out of Hibbing, Wickman met another young man who had been an auto mechanic, owned an auto agency, and was now operating a bus line running out of Superior, Wisconsin. Wickman persuaded Orville S. Caesar to join forces with Bogan and himself. Thereafter, the three embarked on a steady program of buying up bus lines, integrating them into their existing operation, and at the same time steadily extending their routes in all directions.

Nothing stopped them during these busy years of growth in the early 1920s. They hopped over state lines, pushed across rivers, and conquered the highest mountain ranges, constantly pushing out into new territories. The only barriers Wickman, Bogan, and Caesar acknowledged were the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Mexican border (because there were no good roads beyond that point). During this period the trio called their business the Motor Transit Company, although some of its bus lines operated under more colorful names.

It was from one of the little lines, a company in western Michigan that had joined up with Wickman and his associates that the Greyhound name came. A sketch of a racing greyhound was painted on the side of each bus, and patrons referred to it as "the Greyhound line." The name appealed to Wickman and the others as singularly appropriate, and it was adopted quickly for the entire system. That was in 1926.

As early as 1940 plans were made for a revolutionary new bus, the Scenicruiser, but due to the war, it was not until 1954 that this forty-foot, double-decker bus with washroom facilities, twin diesels, air suspension, and other comforts appeared on the nation's highways.

The same year the Scenicruiser appeared, Wickman died, leaving Caesar as president and Bogan as executive vice-president. For thirty years these men had worked together and nurtured their baby until it attained the maturity and status of a major corporation. No longer was it owned by the original trio but by more than sixty thousand stockholders. With pride the company called itself "the world's largest passenger transportation company."

Arthur S. Genet, vice-president of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, was elected president of Greyhound in 1956. He made a sweeping reorganization of the company and then turned his attention to operations. Profits had dropped at a time when the nation's economy was steadily expanding, and something had to be done to win more passengers.

Step number one toward filling the buses was to go after the people who make business and pleasure trips.

"It's such a comfort to take the bus and leave the driving to us," was the text of a singing jingle used extensively. For 1957, Genet's goal was to add one passenger to each schedule.

Greyhound all-expense tours were introduced to attract vacation travelers to events such as the Rose Bowl football game, the Mardi Gras, and other festivals. The first land-sea trip to Hawaii via Greyhound and Matson Navigation Company sold out quickly. Next, Genet met with railroad executives who were anxious to get rid of their unprofitable passenger business, particularly on branch lines. Genet was eager to substitute his buses for short or long haul railroad service, except commuting service, which is never profitable.

Genet turned his sights on other kinds of transportation also. It may seem odd, for example, that Genet looked to airline passengers as a good source of business, but considering the situation in Detroit. Airline travelers must take a thirty-five mile ride on Greyhound to get from the Willow Run Airport to downtown Detroit. Genet found that other airports of major cities were also situated far from the downtown area.

In addition to the above mentioned expansions, Genet decided it was illogical to think of a bus as capable of carrying only passengers. Why not also haul small packages, newspapers, and the like in the roomy baggage compartments under each bus? As a result of this thinking, Greyhound now offers its Greyhound Package Express, including pickup and delivery service in more than 260 cities in 38 states.

When Gerald Troutman took over the wheel as chairman in 1966, he drove the company down the expansion road taking it to a place among the nation's top one hundred corporations. One of his first moves was to acquire Armour, the giant of the meat packing industry, and then move the company headquarters to Phoenix, Arizona. One company led to another and today computers, equipment leasing, insurance, and banking are but some of the company businesses. In fact, it was once said that if you took a cross-country trip on a Greyhound bus you would pay for your trip with Greyhound money orders, insure your luggage with Greyhound insurance, eat Armour products at Greyhound fast food restaurants, wash with Dial soap, and if you were to look up at the sky, you would possibly see some of the jet aircraft the company owns or leases.

However, this changed in 1986 when Troutman's successor, John W. Teets, disposed of a dozen Greyhound subsidiaries, including Armour and the bus business. Mr. Teets said at the time that selling the mother company was a "gut-wrenching decision." Greyhound took over its largest competitor, Trailways, and survived as a much smaller company devoted solely to providing, for the most part, long-distance bus transportation.

At the 1996 annual stockholders meeting, President Craig R. Lentzsch said in part: "I think our future is going to be bright... we do believe that our market is growing." His optimism was based on the company lowering fares and the fact that travelers were taking more and more long- haul trips. The nation's large populations of senior citizens, African- Americans, and Hispanics were expected to grow during the next twenty-five years, and he was confident they would continue to be among Greyhound's primary customers.

Greyhound has come a long way since that first trip Carl Wickman made in his Hupmobile. From carrying a few dozen passengers a day in 1912, the Greyhound Corporation has become the largest intercity carrier of passengers in the nation.
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