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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Nov 22, 2022

We take for granted many of the conveniences of the modern day, transportation among them. One man saw the transportation needs of the early city had rushed in to fill them. And he made his fortune along the way. Just press play to hear the whole story. ———

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Katie Moon, Exhibits Manager at the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History on eighty-eight-one, K-D-H-X. ------

Public transportation in St. Louis has been the subject of much debate in recent years, and it’s easy to forget that this isn’t just a modern problem—people in St. Louis have always been trying to get places. Over a century ago, St. Louis developed an extensive electric streetcar system that transformed the city, but the demand for public transportation in St. Louis actually began much earlier, and one enterprising transplant saw the opportunity and jumped on it. ------

A young man by the name of Erastus Wells (yep, the same Erastus Wells who founded Wellston, served in Congress, and was the father of Governor Rolla Wells) came to St. Louis from New York in the early 1840s with no plan other than to make something of himself and to make a profit doing it. ------

The population was booming, and businesses were sprouting up all over. The challenge for many St. Louisans was figuring out a reliable and convenient way to get from place to place. Wells saw that need and had a solution. He partnered up with a financial backer, and the two started the first public transportation system in the city, in the form of an Omnibus. ------

The name sounds strange to modern ears, but at the time, it was a popular mode of transportation in the east, and was simply an enclosed wagon with multiple seats and windows. Wells had his omnibus built by a local wagon maker, and purchased two horses with the last of his own money. He developed a daily route that covered the busiest streets in St. Louis, and drove whether he had passengers or not. Each fare cost 12 and half cents…what was then known as 1 bit. ------

After a slow start, the idea caught on and eventually as many as 90 omnibuses were operating across the city. In just a few years, Wells sold the company for a hefty profit and turned his attention to other endeavors. After a groundbreaking start in 1842, the last horse-drawn omnibus made its way down Jefferson Avenue in 1896, marking the end of an era. -------

Here’s History is a joint production of K-D-H-X and the Missouri Historical Society. I’m Katie Moon, and this is eighty-eight-one, K-D-H-X, St. Louis. ------