For many educators and students in New York, Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer and the start of a new school year. It’s also the time of year when I plan routes to best avoid being stuck behind the stop and go of the school buses that drive through my neighborhood (I live on a street adjacent to two schools). Mostly, the yellow school buses headed down my street make me nostalgic for my childhood.
In 1939, Dr. Frank W. Cyr, an American educator and author, organized the United States’ first national standards conference for school transportation. One of the most significant contributions from the conference was the decision to use “school bus yellow” as the standardized school bus color—a shade easy to see in dawn or dusk. Today, people around the globe use this color to distinguish a school bus from other modes of transportation.
Twenty years after the conference, The Little People—abstract figures that continue to populate toddlers’ worlds—first appeared in a Fisher-Price Safety School Bus. This wooden school bus pull toy includes five small circular cavities cut out in the floor of the bus to accommodate the Little People
figures. The bus comes complete with a movable red “Stop” banner that swings out from the driver’s side window. Images of a book, ruler, ink, and a teacher with a school bell in hand plaster the left-hand side, and images of an apple, chalkboard, and crayons are stuck to the right. The Little Peoples’ painted faces present an array of classic student expressions—one sleeps, one smiles, one gazes wide-eyed out the window, and another frowns (perhaps someone stole his lunch money). One of the most inviting features of this play set, is the buses’ googly-eyed face.
Over the years, many companies have created school-bus-inspired playthings and the shiny bus has appeared in numerous other pop culture references. School buses serve as an icon of American childhood. On the way to and from school, passengers play, forge new friendships, and experience a little taste of freedom.