Greyhound Lines, American corporation that has provided the major intercity bus transportation in the United States and Canada.
Greyhound began as an intercity bus line in Minnesota in 1914. Its founder, Carl Eric Wickman, would transport miners the two miles from Hibbing to neighboring town of Alice (which had more bars) in his seven seat Hupmobile. The business expanded fast, meeting the needs of an ever more interconnected America.
The name “Greyhound” apparently came from Wickman’s sighting of his bus’ reflection in the glass window of a storefront. The sleek gray reflection zooming by reminded him of a racing dog speeding down the track. That sleek image became one of the best known brands in the U.S.
In 1915, Wickman joined forces with Ralph Bogan, who was running a similar service from Hibbing to Duluth, Minnesota. The company made $8,000 in profit in its first year. By the end of World War I in 1918, Wickman owned 18 buses and was making an annual profit of $40,000.
In 1928, the Greyhound was offering trips in places from California to New York.
The first transcontinental bus trip was made in 1928 by competitor Yelloway-Pioneer System. In 1929, Wickman purchased two West Coast operations, the Yelloway-Pioneer System and the Pickwick Lines, creating a national intercity bus company.
Greyhound business suffered during the Great Depression, and by 1931 was over
$1 million in debt. As the 1930s progressed and the economy improved, Greyhound began to prosper again. In 1934, intercity bus lines carried approximately 400 million passengers—nearly as many passengers as the railroads.
To accommodate the rapid growth in bus travel, Greyhound also built many new stations in the period between 1937 and 1945. To unify its brand image, it procured both buses and bus stations in the late Art Deco starting in 1937.
Greyhound came along at a time when the idea of the 'vacation' became firmly entrenched in the American psyche. The motorcoach, whose operating costs were a small fraction compared to trains, soon became the transportation of choice for vacationers, salesmen, and even jazz bands.
Despite the popularity of this new form of transportation, Greyhound nearly failed after the stock market crash of 1929. In 1929 Greyhound's net income was $1.3 million, but this dropped to $38,000 in 1930, the year the company changed its name to Greyhound Corporation.
By 1932 Greyhound was $140,000 in debt. It was the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago that saved Greyhound by dramatically increasing ridership. Historian Carlton Jackson, in his Hounds of the Road, a history of Greyhound, claimed that ridership also increased after a 1934 movie entitled It Happened One Night was released, in which movie stars Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable take a cross-country bus trip.
During the following years Greyhound revenues climbed steadily, reaching
$6 million before the end of the decade. In 1939 management of Greyhound anticipated the coming war, and began to stockpile parts. Greyhound suspected both that its buses would have a part in the U.S. war effort and that its supplier, General Motors, would be busy manufacturing jeeps. Both intuitions were correct.
One of Greyhound's principal duties during the war was to transport workers to shipyards and munitions factories. Military personnel were often transported via Greyhound to their bases. Wartime responsibilities and gas shortages made it difficult for Greyhound to serve all its civilian customers, and the company actually used advertisements to discourage ridership. 'Serve America Now So You Can See America Later' and 'Don't Travel Unless Your Trip Is Essential' were two Greyhound advertisements during World War II.
A 35 m.p.h. speed limit, imposed to save rubber, and a continual shortage of parts vexed Greyhound management throughout the war. America's most well-known motorcoach company found consolation in its balance sheets, however, as profits climbed to $10 million by the mid-1940s. At that time, Greyhound served more than 6,000 towns and carried one-fourth of all U.S. bus passengers--more than any other company. Its bus routes stretched like a net across the continental United States and Canada.
By the outbreak of World War II, the company had 4,750 stations and nearly 10,000 employees.
The growth of Greyhound slowed to two percent a year in the late 1940s. Postwar prosperity brought with it thousands of new passenger cars, and the increase in cars meant fewer bus patrons. In addition, severe labor problems did not help the company.
A series of walkouts in 1950 was prompted by a well-publicized incident in which 19 drivers suspected of skimming fares were lured to a hotel and held there against their will for 36 hours. Labor difficulties were nothing new for Greyhound.
During World War II the Navy commandeered shipyard buses when the Greyhound drivers decided to strike.
In 1956 the company's president, Arthur Genet, decided to move Greyhound into the car rental business. There were several reasons for this move. One reason was that the car rental offices could operate out of Greyhound's urban terminals.
The rental business would allow Greyhound to capitalize on something that had been a problem, namely, the popularity of the automobile. There was an unforeseen problem with the car rental strategy, however, and this was that the typical Greyhound bus passenger, to whom the rental business was geared, was not likely to rent a car. Within two years the car rental division was depressing revenues and had to be abandoned.
Not all of Greyhound's early attempts at diversification were as unsuccessful as the car rental business. Beginning in the 1940s Greyhound established a chain of restaurants, called 'Post Houses,' in its larger terminals.
These were successful, as was the express package business, the implementation of which cost almost nothing at all.
Until the mid-1960s, Greyhound was primarily a bus company, and company management did everything it could to prevent passengers from defecting to trains or planes.
Studies at the time showed that a large proportion of Greyhound's passengers were African American, and by the early 1960s Greyhound's marketing strategy was oriented toward this demographic. In fact, Greyhound was the transportation of choice for the freedom riders of the civil rights movement, and Greyhound buses were sometimes attacked by the Ku Klux Klan.
From 1970s Greyhound’s business operations became international.
In the early 1980s deregulation of the bus transit industry caused Greyhound Corporation to drop many of its local bus routes, isolating many small towns in rural United States. In 1987 the Greyhound Corporation (which was later renamed Greyhound Dial Corporation), based in Phoenix, Arizona, sold its historic bus operations. Greyhound Lines, Inc., based in Dallas, became an independent corporation devoted entirely to intercity bus transportation.
In 1999 Greyhound merged with the Canadian bus company Laidlaw, Inc., which was subsequently purchased in 2007 by the British transit operator FirstGroup PLC.
Greyhound entered the growing market for U.S.-Mexico cross-border bus service through joint ventures it set up with Mexican transportation companies.
The Mexican market was an attractive one because many Mexicans working in the United States rode buses home to visit their families and because 98% of long distance trips in Mexico occurred via buses, compared to less than 2% in the United States.
Additionally, Greyhound began seeking out alternative ways to grow its passenger volume and started delivering passengers to special destinations, such as casinos, airports, and Amtrak stations. The growth of the gambling market made casino service particularly lucrative and Greyhound carried more than 1.2 million passengers to casinos in 1998, garnering $30 million in revenue in the process.