In one of my favorite places in the world, the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, there is so much on display that it’s easy to let legendary objects of automotive history fly under the radar. There’s one vehicle, sitting in a hallway on the very edge of the main display hall, that should not go overlooked: a 1927 Blue Bird School Bus — the oldest surviving example in the U.S.
Yes, a humble school bus. Before the bus and after mandated education began to spread across the country in the mid-19th century, kids were transported to their schoolhouses via horse-drawn carriages called “kid hacks” or “school wagons.” This one is particularly humble, as it’s from a time before buses were really a thing. This one is the first Blue Bird ever designed, and it’s based on a Model TT truck body. The first school buses were built by a company in Indiana called Wayne Works, but it was Blue Bird buses that stood the test of time.
Albert Luce Sr. — owner of two Ford Motor Company dealerships in Georgia — built his first school bus out of a Ford Model TT truck body. Luce placed a wooden body on a wood frame, but found it jangled the riders too much on rural Georgia roads. These vehicles were vital for far flung rural kids to access an education in their area once schools began to consolidate. Luce spruced up the frame with steel, later converting the whole bus to steel in 1935. Since then, Blue Bird has sold half a million school buses to districts around the country, Smithsonian Magazine reports.
But it’s not just advancements in mass transit that the school bus should be recognized for; the school bus is a great equalizer in a country where everyone should have the right to quality education. From farm kids traveling miles to attend class in single room schoolhouses to kids of all colors learning together, the school bus has been a pivotal vehicle in many Americans lives. This single survivor of a great idea is well worth celebration.