Saturday, July 10, 2021

A Brief History of the Chicago Motor Coach Company's Double-Decker Buses, and John Hertz, Owner.

The Chicago Motor Coach Company was founded in 1917 by John Daniel Hertz, Sr. [1], providing Chicago's first bus transportation services, primarily in places where streetcars could not travel.

At 1 pm. on March 25, 1917, a Chicago Motor Coach Company double-decker bus full of Chicago's elite, including Mayor William "Big Bill" Thompson and Illinois Governor Edward Dunne, embarked on the North Side's very first public bus ride from Devon Avenue and Sheridan Road in the Edgewater community, all the way downtown

The group stopped at the Edgewater Beach Hotel for a celebration luncheon on the return trip.
A Chicago Motor Coach Company bus driving down Sheridan Road past the Edgewater Beach Hotel. 

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

The buses ran from 6 o’clock in the morning until 1:30 at night. 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. The vehicles had a step-less entrance and an enclosed stairway to the upper level.
A New Motor Coach at Edgewater Beach Hotel with the Devon Avenue Destination Marquee. c.1919

The coaches were staffed by both a driver and a chauffeur. While the driver steered the vehicle, the chauffeur stood on the bus's exterior in a small enclave and helped passengers get on and off.
From the Rogers Park and Edgewater border, the motor company said the first trip took 40 minutes to get downtown for 10¢. This route was shortened to twenty-five to thirty minutes. Express and local buses were a part of the system. Customers could catch a ride by simply hailing the bus at any intersection along its route. It is proposed to shorten this schedule to twenty-five to thirty minutes. Express and local buses were part of the system.
Chicago Motor Coaches in the Loop, 1922.

The bus system route 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.

So few seats were provided by the bus company during the morning rush hour that it had been observed that private motorists had taken pity on intended bus passengers and stopped on Sheridan Road to offer to give them a lift.

In the early 1920s, two other city transit branches — the Chicago Stage Company and the Depot Motor Bus Lines — merged with the Chicago Motor Coach Company, adding their South Side routes and busses to the Chicago Motor Coach Company. By this time, the Chicago Motor Coach Company operated with 423 buses and 1,800 employees, serving 134 miles of Chicago streets.
Map showing south side streets and boulevards over which the Chicago Motor Bus Company has received operating rights from the South Park Board and the Illinois Commerce Commission.

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. He sold a majority interest in the Yellow Truck and Coach Manufacturing Company to General Motors in 1925 and then the balance in 1943.

Chicago Motor Coach - № 706 in service at the Chicago 1933 World's Fair.
A June 1935 sketch to show some of the selling points of the model 720. 
The first model 720 fitted with a second door was seen in June 1935. Everyone seems to be having fun modeling how passenger flow is meant to work. The chap leaning out of the upstairs window is really enjoying himself. 
The cramped driver’s compartment and staircase layout. It looks a bit of a squeeze to get onto the stairs but at least the driver has a rather comfy seat.
The lower deck of the same bus, looking forwards. The effect of the lowered window line is clear.
The upper deck of the Model 735 was seen in March 1938. Note the pronounced dome of the ceiling and the comfortable-looking seats.
Chicago Motor Coach Company - 72 Passenger Double Decker Coach, 1936.

Chicago Transit Authority is an independent governmental agency created by state legislation. CTA began operating on October 1, 1947, after it acquired the properties of the Chicago Rapid Transit Company and the Chicago Surface Lines. On October 1, 1952, CTA became the predominant operator of Chicago transit when it purchased the Chicago Motor Coach system.

From its early years, the Chicago Motor Coach fleet consisted of double-decker buses that provided additional capacity and great views from the upper level. Unfortunately, its earliest double-deckers also had their drawbacks since the upper level was not completely enclosed or heated. The roof extended only over each row of seats and was open in the middle, which provided little protection from the elements. In addition, as time went on, there were various clearance issues that posed potential hazards to the passengers — some riders recalled passengers having to duck down when the double-deckers went under some of the railroad viaducts — so these buses were phased out, with the last double-decker being retired in 1950.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

[1] John Daniel Hertz, Sr. (1879-1961) founded the Chicago Motor Coach Company in 1917 to run bus transport services in Chicago. During the period that he was running this company, he was actively involved with many other transport businesses, including taxicab operation, taxicab manufacture, car rental, manufactured coaches and later cars. Hertz formed the Yellow Coach Manufacturing Company in 1923 as a subsidiary of the Yellow Cab Company to manufacture buses, many of which were used by the Chicago Motor Coach Company. 

Hertz formed The Omnibus Corporate in 1924 as a merger of the Chicago Motor Coach and the Fifth Avenue Motor Coach Corporation of New York City. Between 1925 and 1936, The Omnibus Corporation acquired streetcar companies that operated on Madison Avenue and Eighth Avenue in New York City's borough of Manhattan.

Hertz sold a majority interest in the Yellow Coach Manufacturing Company to General Motors in 1925 and then the balance in 1943.

In 1952, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) purchased the Chicago Motor Coach Company.

In 1953, Hertz made a deal for The Omnibus Corporation to purchase the 'Hertz Drive-Ur-Self System' car rental business from GM that he had sold to GM as part of the Yellow Truck and Coach Manufacturing Company in 1925. Hertz sold all of The Omnibus Corporation's public transport interests the same year, changed the name to 'The Hertz Corporation,' and floated it (refers to the regular shares a company has issued to the public that are available for investors to trade) on the New York Stock Exchange the following year. 


  1. I recognized the Edgewater Beach Hotel immediately… I lived on Sheridan Road about 2 blocks from it. I remember riding on a couple of double deck buses, but they were soon phased out. It was really cool for a little kid to ride in the upper deck!

  2. I also recognized the Edgewater Beach Hotel - I was living there when I was born. My sister and I were the only kids who were resident in the hotel and we were kind of mascots to the staff. I can remember calling down to "Glass" who was a garage attendant at the time, and asking him to bring around my tricycle, and it would be waiting at the elevator when I arrived. I also remember riding in the double decker buses and was told when they disappeared that they'd been sent to London.

    1. AWWWW . . . FUN MEMORIES! Thank you for commenting.

      I can see a memoir book in your furure. My suggestion for the dust jacket tease:

      My sister and I were the only children living in Chicago's Edgewater Beach Hotel. Thinking back now, we were treated like royalty by the staff, and perhaps like mascots too. I have fond memories of calling down to the garage and asking Mr. Glass, the garage attendant, to bring my tricycle around. When the elevator doors opened, my trike would be waiting for me, ready for adventure.


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