The first public buses began to run on this day – an idea probably 200 years ahead of its time. The service, introduced in Paris, was abandoned in 1675 and public transport did not return to the streets of any major city until 1895.
The idea was promoted by Blaise Pascal who was a man of many talents: physicist, philosopher, mathematician, inventor, author – the list went on. The Governor of Poitou, the Duke of Ronanes, thought it was such a good idea that he decided to back it and had seven horse-drawn carriages built, each capable of carrying eight passengers.
The scheme received royal blessing when King Louis XIV granted the Duke a monopoly, which meant that any competitors would face having their horses and vehicles confiscated.
The scene was set, then, for a grand opening ceremony of the service on 18 March and the Carosses a Cinq Sous, as the buses were called, began work. So a ride in the carriage (carosse) cost five sous, a sou being the least valuable coin in the French currency.
There are conflicting theories concerning the failure of the enterprise. One researcher thought that the service was very well received at first but since people were riding for amusement only, after a few weeks the popularity of the buses waned and the carriages faded into oblivion.
Elsewhere, it was suggested that the new mode of transport was taken up by fashionable members of Parisian society who crowded out the less advantaged citizens. Nobility and gentry were allowed to ride the coaches, but not soldiers and peasants.
As a result, the poor decided that buses were not for them and when the “trendy set” became bored the service was discontinued.
Pascal is best known today for other achievements: an early calculating machine and work on atmospheric pressure (Pascal’s Law).
Wired Magazine reports that he also contributed numerous theorems in geometry and binomial mathematics, laying the groundwork for Fermat, Leibniz and Newton, and inspiring the name of a 20th-century programming language. His letters and philosophical works are still read, studied and admired.
Via On This Day