How much do you know about omnibuses?

Antwerp omnibus in the present day
Antwerp omnibus in the present day

Horse-drawn omnibuses ran along a fixed route in a city.  They were meant to seat fifteen passengers, although they were often over-crowded. This photo is of a horse-drawn omnibus used today as  a tourist attraction in Antwerp, but it gives you a pretty good idea of what the experience must have been like.

Eventually they put steel rails in the streets  and omnibuses were replaced by horsecars. Not to be confused with cable cars (which were sometimes steam driven).

How did a passenger on an omnibus let the driver know that his or her stop was coming up? Any guesses?

9 Replies to “How much do you know about omnibuses?”

  1. HI Rosina,

    My first guess was that they probably shouted to the “driver”. I found this poem about those street-cars (

    Never full! pack ‘em in!
    Move up, fat man, squeeze in, thin.
    Trunks, Valises, Boxes, Bundles,
    Fill up gaps as on she tumbles.
    Market baskets without number,
    Owners easy—nod in slumber.
    Thirty seated, forty standing,
    A dozen more on either landing.
    Old man lifts the signal finger,
    Car slacks up—but not a linger—
    He’s jerked aboard by sleeve or shoulder,
    Shoved inside to sweat and moulder.
    Toes are trod on, hats are smashed,
    Dresses soiled—hoop-skirts crashed.
    Thieves are busy, bent on plunder,
    Still we rattle on like thunder.
    Packed together, unwashed bodies,
    Bathed in fumes of whisky toddies;
    Tobacco, garlic, cheese, and beer
    Perfume the heated atmosphere.
    Old boots, pipes, leather and tan,
    And if in luck, a “Soap-Fat man.”
    Aren’t this jolly? What a blessing!
    A Street-Car Salad, with such a dressing.

  2. As I recall, Jack Finney’s Time and Again includes a description of an omnibus journey. My reprint of Baedeker’s 1893 guide to the United States includes the following:

    Omnibuses (“Stages”) run from Bleecker St. through S. Fifth Avenue, Washington Sq., and Fifth Avenue to 82nd St.

    Carriages The cab system is in a very undeveloped condition in New York, owing partly to the high fares, partly to the abundance of tramway and railway accommodations, and partly to the bad paving of the streets, which makes driving, outside a few favoured localities, anything but a pleasure.

    1. Steve — I’ve just started re-reading Time and Again and I haven’t got as far as the omnibus ride. The parts before he ever gets to 1882 are much longer than I remembered. Still interesting, though.

      I read his author’s note first, and I had to laugh at his explanation for putting the Dakota in place three years early (“sue me”). Mostly I don’t have the kind of courage you need to do that kind of thing.

      An 1893 guide to the city would be a very useful thing… I’ll have to go searching. Thanks for the idea.

  3. According to at least one source, you tugged on a rope — that was tied to the driver’s ankle.

  4. This is so interesting. I really know nothing about omnibuses at all, but I found the idea intriguing enough to have a google! I often find something that piques my interest and go off on a google hunt until I have satisfied my curiosity…this can take five minutes, or several years…depending on the subject! Anyway, I googled omnibuses and found a very entertaining article which appears to have been written by Charles Dickens no less, in which a man describes “poking the driver with an umbrella” to inform him when someone wnats to get off! Too long to quote from, I have added the link to the article for anyone interested…

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