Michigan Transportation History

Detroit Omnibus

PublicStreet Railway Detroit Business TransitCompanyThing Detroit Omnibus ws a successful, ongoing, horse-drawn public transit concern during the mid-nineteenth century and transforming into a motor-cartage company in the early twentieth century.

The development of omnibus service in Detroit began from cab and hackney drivers. Several abortive attempts to make a going omnibus concern were started between 1822 and 1850. Baldwin and Drake (who were operators of a line of cabs and hackneys) were one of these concerns and the largest to attempt to establish a going concern. In 1850, Baldwin and Drake established two lines (Jefferson Avenue and Woodward Avenue) and ran on half-hour headway, but the operation failed within the year.1

In 1853, William Stevens? from Cleveland, Ohio, started another omnibus line. Stevens used the cars that had been used to cart passengers and baggage to and from various hotels. By this time, there was enough business to keep the concern from failing completely, even though Stevens seems not to have profited by the business. In 1856, Stevens sold the concern to A. J. Farmer?, who in turn sold it to Benjamin B. Morris. Morris, a banker, appears to have taken possession of the property as a receiver and then disposed of the company, some time before 1865, to Thomas Cox; Cox, in turn, sold it to George Hendrie and F. Ferguson?, who ultimately turned it into a going concern.

Hendrie and Ferguson had offices and stables at 150 Larned Street near First Avenue. In 1882, Hendrie and W. K. Muir were listed as the superintendents of the company.2 They operated 20 omnibuses and wagons and two "Herdie Coaches" (whatever they were). The fare was two shillings. The Hendrie family remained in control of Detroit Omnibus well into the twentieth century. The son, Strathearn Hendrie, and family friend Cameron Curry, eventually also rose to directorships of the company.

As the Hendries moved into street railways and as their railways began to become more widespread, reliable, and faster, the Hendries began to seek out business opportunities related to running buses. One area, which had a poor reputation, was the cartage and baggage-delivery business in Detroit. Prior to Detroit Omnibus systematizing delivery, baggage delivery in the city was anarchic. Each hotel maintained its own carriage and baggage wagon. The drivers of these wagons were a rough sort and aggressively solicited business from the arriving passengers at train stations and boat landings and contributed to the poor reputation of these depots. With Detroit Omnibus, the Hendries successfully rehabilitated the Detroit stations. They also integrated through baggage service on their electric railway properties. Omnibus company agents met every boat or train, including the electric cars, that arrived in the city and took passengers to their destinations, whether hotel or other connection. By 1902, the Hendries had implemented a through baggage check system on the Detroit United Railway whereby a passenger could check baggage through to his or her hotel with a single baggage ticket.

Starting in 1905, Detroit Omnibus began switching over to motor trucks. Experiments showed that motor trucks improved delivery times by as much as ninety minutes. By 1911, Detroit Omnibus had become one of Detroit's largest users of motor trucks and by which time the firm had over eighty employees.

From publicly accessible documents, the ultimate demise of Detroit Omnibus, whether it was sold, merged, or bankrupted, is unclear.


1. Farmer.

2. Detroit City Directory for 1882 (Detroit: J. W. Weeks & Co., 1882), 346.

Sources (consulted):

Silas Farmer, History of Detroit and Wayne County and Early Michigan (Detroit: by the Author, 1884; 1890), 888-889.

Clarence M. Burton, William Stocking, and Gordon K. Miller, The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, vol. 1 (Detroit: S. J. Clarke, 1922), 674.

George W. Parker, "Electric Express and Package Delivery," Report of the Twenty-first Annual Meeting of the American Street Railway Association, Detroit, October 8-10, 1902, 92-106 (p. 105).

Parker was the General Freight Agent of the DUR.

"Commercial Vehicle Notes," The Horseless Age 15, no. 11 (March 15, 1905), 343.

Len G. Shaw, "Detroit's Attitude towards the Motor Truck," Commercial Vehicle 4 (May 1909), 130.

Albert Nelson Marquis, s.v. "George Hendrie," The Book of Detroiters: A Biographical Dictionary of Leading Living Men of the City of Detroit, 2d ed. (Chicago: A. N. Marquis & Co., 1914), 236. Template

Second Annual Report of the Department of Labor of the State of Michigan (Lansing, 1911), 247.

Citation: When referencing this page please use the following citation:

R. D. Jones, "Detroit Omnibus," Michigan Transportation History (Ypsilanti, MI: 2020), www.michtranshist.info/.

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Page last modified on April 20, 2020, at 01:03 PM EST

Page last modified on April 20, 2020, at 01:03 PM EST