ORIENTAL, N.C. — North Carolina has marked a milestone in pupil transportation: 100 years since the first motorized bus carried students to school.
On Tuesday, state transportation and education leaders recognized the notable anniversary at events held at the town hall in Oriental and the North Carolina General Assembly building in Raleigh. Officials emphasized the vital role that school bus transportation has played for North Carolina’s students and families over the past century.
“School buses are so much a part of our daily lives that it’s hard to believe that they were once a groundbreaking innovation. But they were, back in 1917,” said Mark Johnson, state superintendent of public instruction, who spoke at the event in Raleigh.
Pamlico County Schools launched the state’s first motorized school bus service in Oriental on Sept. 5, 1917, according to the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. At the time, horse-drawn wagons — also known as kid hacks — were typically used for pupil transportation.
Pamlico bought its first bus from the Corbitt Co. of Henderson, North Carolina, for $1,379. The vehicle, which The News & Observer referred to as a “truck,” could carry 30 passengers. It led to a revolution in education: the shift to centralized schools.
“The introduction of a motorized bus to deliver students from outlying areas to the schoolhouse was considered a logistical triumph, and made it possible for school districts to move from scattered networks of one-room schoolhouses to modern, centralized schools with more professional staff,” according to the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
Johnson, the state superintendent, noted that T.B. Atmore, then-superintendent for Pamlico County, “was so proud of his ‘truck’ that he drove it all the way to Raleigh, giving rides around the city to Gov. Thomas Bickett and other state leaders.”
Today, some 13,000 yellow school buses transport about 780,000 students in North Carolina each school day. The events on Tuesday showcased a vintage school bus from the 1930s and a new model with seat belts and GPS. Along with recognizing North Carolina’s 100th school bus anniversary, the events promoted school bus safety, and they tied in with Gov. Roy Cooper’s designation of September as “Safe to School Month.”
“It is no accident that the school bus is the safest vehicle on the road,” said Mark Ezzell, director of the North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program. “We encourage motorists to practice safe driving, especially in school zones or in the proximity of school buses on roadways.”
Speakers also included Kevin Harrison, North Carolina’s state director of pupil transportation, and Lisa Jackson, superintendent of Pamlico County Schools.
Beyond Tuesday’s events, North Carolina’s first school bus is perpetually commemorated on a street in Oriental. The vehicle itself hasn’t survived, but a state historical marker stands in tribute. It reads:
“First Motorized School Bus — On September 5, 1917, the Pamlico Co. School system inaugurated the first motorized school bus service in North Carolina.”
More historical information is available on the North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program website.