The History of the Yellow School Bus

Yellow school buses have truly evolved over the decades – from the first horse-drawn wagons in the early 20th century to the state-of-the-art, environmentally-friendly school buses of today.


Today, most kids take the school bus, and that’s something that they take for granted. But it’s hard to imagine what school transportation was like back then – that’s because there wasn’t much of it. You may have heard stories about your grandparents having to walk miles to and from school. Then they started to ride in a horse-drawn carriage to school – if they had access to one.


By the early 1910s, more cars were on the road, and school transportation was horse-drawn to horseless. The design of these automobiles still looked the same as the horse-drawn carriages – the wood construction, seating on the perimeter, and door at the back. Still, these school buses didn’t provide much protection to the students. Many of them only had a tarp above the driver and passenger seating. Despite the austere features, the evolution of the bus had just begun.


By the 1930s, school buses became distinct vehicles instead of adapted versions of horse-drawn carriages or trucks. School buses were now made of steel and fitted with safety glass for the first time. The enter-exit door moved from the rear of the bus to the front.


School Bus Conference in 1939 and the History of the Yellow School Bus

In 1939, a conference was held at the University of Manhattan to develop school bus standards in the country. Forty-four national standards were established for school buses by the conference’s end. One of these standards was that all school buses should have the same bright color and eventually, yellow was chosen as the standard color for all school buses in America.


There are good reasons for using yellow as the standard color for school buses. The human eye sees yellow faster than any other color – yellow is seen in an average person’s peripheral vision 1.24 times faster than red. Yellow is also highly visible during the early morning and late afternoon when school buses operate.


By 1974, all school buses were painted yellow, specifically, “glossy yellow.”


The bus evolution occurred in different parts of the United States at different rates. Since World War II, many factors have led to increased school bus production and safety features. School bus safety innovations have continued up to the present.


While many of the 1939 standards have changed or been added to further improve school bus safety standards, one safety standard remains constant – the yellow color of school buses.


Do you wonder, “Is Prior Professional Driving Experience Required to Become a School Bus Driver?” You may be surprised by the answer.


You Behind the Wheel’s mission is to provide programs, education, and services to promote and foster safety in school transportation to the highest degree in Pennsylvania. A rewarding opportunity awaits everyone aspiring to become PA school bus drivers. If you want to be a school bus driver, whether part-time or full-time, explore the employment opportunities at this link: