The long-distance bus industry in the United States

Making Connections: The long-distance bus industry in the United States

French, Michael

Margaret Walsh, Making Connections: the long-distance bus industry in the United States, Ashgate, Aldershot (2000), 281 pp., L42.50.

This collection brings together Margaret Walsh’s extensive research into the economic, business and social history of the US bus industry between 1920 and the 1970s. Nine articles are reprinted from journals and books; in addition there is a new introductory survey of the subject plus a bibliographical essay and an impressively detailed bibliography. The research project was originally intended to centre on the Greyhound Corporation, the leading business and a cultural image of note in its own right, but the firm’s archives were beyond reach – a matter of regret, since it cost Greyhound the insights of a meticulous historian.

The central theme of the book is the transitional period between 1930 and 1960 during which the long-distance bus industry lost market share to the private automobile and, more gradually, to the civil aviation industry. Walsh highlights the industry’s marketing emphasis on low cost, comfort and reliability as its main tactic to attract business. Yet, other than in the 1930s and 1940s, such features drew primarily low-income customers or ‘niche’ markets, such as specialist tours. A wartime legacy of old buses and memories of crowded wartime journeys hindered the efforts to capture business in the immediate post-war years.

By the mid-1950s the availability of automobiles and the expanding system of interstate highways were stimulating car travel more than long-distance bus journeys. Within this framework, Walsh analyses the origins of the bus industry, the strategies and entrepreneurs involved in the creation of regional and national ‘systems’, and the interactions with state and local regulators. The regional dimension provides interesting insights into the operation of business strategies, especially in Minnesota and Iowa, based on impressively detailed research among diverse sources. In the final part of the book the methodology shifts away from standard business history and towards the perspectives of gender history and cultural studies. Among the themes are the roles of women as consumers, entrepreneurs and executives, interpretations of advertisements for bus travel, and an appraisal of Esther Bubley’s photographs of bus travel in the 1940s. In each of these respects the study makes an effective contribution to the recent trends towards a different style and context of business history. Although elements are familiar from the original articles, the collection makes valuable material accessible and succeeds in connecting many disciplines in an illuminating way.

Michael French, University of Glasgow

Copyright Manchester University Press Sep 2001

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