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March 16, 2012 5:02 AM   Subscribe


 
Big takeaway for me after my love-fest for the vintage design is that in Milwaukee and Racine, you could get a weekly transit pass for a dollar from 1930 to 1939. Fixed fares for ten years! Around here they're cranking the fares every couple years and for some ungodly reason are trying to get 50% farebox recovery which don't get me started.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:12 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, those are way better looking than they have any reason to be. That's awesome.
posted by Scientist at 5:21 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


And actually, you know I'd love some high-resolution scans for desktop backgrounds. Or, for that matter, for framing and hanging on the wall. I wonder if she has any and would be willing to provide them.
posted by Scientist at 5:22 AM on March 16, 2012


That that, Wisconsin Motor Bus Lines!
posted by chavenet at 5:31 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fixed fares for ten years!

Well, they weren't the greatest ten years, economically speaking. Those are awesome tickets. The fine print makes me think of the Community Chest cards in our ancient Monopoly set.

"KEEP AWAY FROM STREETS AND ALLEYS"
posted by yerfatma at 5:32 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's nice to imagine the transit authority investing in at least one full time person to craft beautiful new passes every week just for the hell of it, but no, there was strong business case for it.

The big differences in design from week to week were key deterrents at the time for counterfeiting those passes. With multiple press plates and multiple colours, each completely different from week to week, it would be harder, and take longer, to make up suitable fake passes.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:37 AM on March 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


In the 80s, the MTC (then Metro Transit, now I think they're about to rebrand themselves as something else) had a different design on the all-you-can-ride pass every month.

Once a year, they'd have a competition for the bus drivers called the "Roadeo", where they'd compete on a driving course with orange cones and things. The annual champion would get their picture on the bus pass for (if I remember right) August.

When passes got redesigned for card readers and mag stripes, they weren't monthly anymore, and the monthly designs went away.
posted by gimonca at 5:42 AM on March 16, 2012


"Error establishing a database connection"
posted by beagle at 5:54 AM on March 16, 2012


There was an interesting sale of vintage railway tickets at a local auction-house last week, some of them dating back to the nineteenth century. Most of them were very plain, though these Parisian platform tickets are quite striking in their use of colour, and even the plain ones are rather pleasing in their functional austerity. They made some big prices, too; there's obviously serious money in vintage tickets (must remember that next time I find one being used as a bookmark).
posted by verstegan at 6:06 AM on March 16, 2012


There's also an earlier entry for 12 Beautiful Bus Passes from the 1940s.
posted by fings at 6:11 AM on March 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Big takeaway for me after my love-fest for the vintage design is that in Milwaukee and Racine, you could get a weekly transit pass for a dollar from 1930 to 1939. Fixed fares for ten years! Around here they're cranking the fares every couple years and for some ungodly reason are trying to get 50% farebox recovery which don't get me started.

I just finished reading the fantastic Crabgrass frontier: the suburbanization of the United States, which, among a lot of other things, mentions that something that killed a fair number of early US public transport companies is that that their contracts forced them to keep fares fixed for long periods. Inflation happened, and they couldn't maintain their vehicles or pay their employees.
posted by zamboni at 6:23 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine has a stack of Chicago Transit Authority bus transfers from the 60s. Someone at the time collected these delicate things and pressed them flat. The designs are sparse and straightforward, but on the back of each the CTA saw fit to provide their riders with a dozen or so short jokes. Jokes about women drivers!
posted by hydrophonic at 6:27 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's the bit I was thinking of, although it's a bit earlier than the 1930s.
...the typical franchise agreements, dating from the 1890s, guaranteed the five-cent fare. The Boston Elevated Company, for example, agreed in 1897 to maintain the five-cent fare with free transfers for at least twenty-five years. Prior to 1900, such an amount was usually sufficient to generate substantial profits. With the discovery of gold in Alaska in 1898, however, and with continuing inflation after the turn of the century, operating costs rose to such an extent that the nickel price was no longer adequate to maintain the existing system, much less provide a surplus for new equipment. During World War I, severe shortages almost doubled the cost of living again, but city officials, sensitive to the voters, refused the companies' requests for fare increases. Essentially, the street railways were being asked to provide rides for half price. The Boston Elevated Railroad, for example, never made a profit and declared bankruptcy in 1918. As company after company fell from profitability, the stock prices of the entire industry dropped, so that necessary money for modernization could not be raised. The result was a vicious cycle in which aging equipment and reduced services were accompanied by falling ridership.
posted by zamboni at 6:32 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


These are the direct result of typographic and graphic design being handled by people who were experts at what they did. I notice quite a bit of hand-drawn lettering, plus these show a marvelous, seasoned sense of putting complementary elements together for harmonious effect, even in so mundane a setting.

A quick look at newspapers from the early parts of the century show exquisite advertisements, beautifully designed, with incredible engraved artwork and stunning lettering.

When desktop publishing came into common use, I was an experienced typographic designer. I watched in horror as the artform I embraced was handed to unskilled people who of course could do the work for less, and had no training whatsoever. Prior to then, anyone who'd tried to use all caps with a script or Old English-style font would have been laughed right off their job. After that point, rules were tossed. I remember having an argument with one designer about his "right" to use a dozen different, clashing fonts in one advertisement.

There are some dandy examples of bad design here.

You'll have to pardon me now. There are some kids I need to chase off my lawn with a pica gauge and a T-square.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:33 AM on March 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


What I take away from seeing good design from the past is that somewhere along the line the value of design was lost. Everything is about dollars and cents, and unless design is contributing to the bottom line, it has no value. If some government entity builds a building, and there's some extra money spend on aesthetic value, then it's a waste of taxpayers' money. There are a few places where some extra thought is put in to design, but the fact that those are exceptions saddens me.
posted by Eekacat at 6:41 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those are really lovely. What struck me was that $1 was a lot of money in the depression, Or am I misreading that?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:50 AM on March 16, 2012


Unsurprisingly, there's a bunch of gunzel stuff on the web about The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Co.

TMER&L operated its own print shop, printing their own tickets, passes, transfers, schedules, utility bills and all the various forms needed. Each year, or whenever a change was made they had to print thousands of these schedules, maps and guides to give to the public. Here are some examples of the guides and schedules with routes, fares and other information, tickets and passes.

Dave's Rail Pix: Milwaukee, Wisconsin Electric Transportation

If you want to ride in a 1930s TMER&L car, you can visit the East Troy Electric Railroad.
posted by zamboni at 6:51 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why does everything older (vintage) look so much cooler than things today. If you were to blow these up to poster size you could sell them online to every hipster in NYC. Art was everywhere it seems and nothing was taken for granted with printing during this era. Very cool find! What the heck is an Omnibus?
posted by byronshell at 6:58 AM on March 16, 2012


If you want to read the definitive work on 1920's bus transfers, here you are.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 6:59 AM on March 16, 2012


What the heck is an Omnibus?

It's a bus. Bus is actually a shortened form of omnibus. Weirdly, they're called that because the first omnibus stop was in front of a hat store.
Bus is an apheresis of the Latin word Omnibus. The latter name is derived from a hatter's shop which was situated in front of one of the first bus stations in Nantes, France in 1823. "Omnes Omnibus" was a pun on the Latin sounding name of that hatter Omnès: omnes meaning "all" and omnibus means "for all" in Latin. Nantes citizens soon gave the nickname of Omnibus to the vehicle.[2] When motorized transport replaced horse-drawn transport starting 1905, a motorized omnibus was called an autobus, a term still used.
posted by zamboni at 7:02 AM on March 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


More here, which appears to be the source for fings link. AVintageFlavor does a bad job of citing its sources.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:02 AM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Milwaukee weekly bus passes have always been very decorative even up to more modern times. I believe even when MCTS took control of the system, weekly passes were impressive.
posted by JJ86 at 7:02 AM on March 16, 2012


To me these tickets look like typical stuff of the period. I doubt very much that they were viewed back then as examples of outstanding design. I imagine this is the period equivalent of what's done today with stock photos and templates. The difference is that at the time only professional designers had the tools to be able to design, whereas now everyone does.
posted by Dragonness at 7:16 AM on March 16, 2012


According to this inflation calculator $1 in 1931 was the equivalent to $14 today.

Incidentally, the cost for a 7-day unlimited DC MetroBus pass in 2012... $15.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:41 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nantes! Bloody hell.
posted by Wolof at 7:42 AM on March 16, 2012


"Omnes Omnibus" was a pun on the Latin sounding name of that hatter Omnès

Man, does that ever sound like a folk etymology. Does anyone have a really rigorous historical source backing that up?
posted by yoink at 7:49 AM on March 16, 2012


Here's the note on omnibus from the OED, a fairly rigorous historical source (and via the Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch)

According to Französisches Etymol. Wörterbuch s.v. Omnis, the earliest use in French was in 1825, reportedly to denote vehicles run by a M. Baudry for the purpose of transporting passengers between Nantes and a nearby bathing place. The idea for the name is said further to have come from a tradesman with the surname Omnès who had the legend Omnès omnibus written on the nameplate of his firm; as applied to the vehicle, the name was probably intended partly in order to make a distinction with the earlier carosses (first suggested by Pascal, and found from the late 17th cent.) which were more exclusive.
posted by billcicletta at 7:57 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Those are all much prettier than the nightmare AmTrak tickets I've been dealing with for the past few days. Finding any information on those things is terrible, much less a pleasant aesthetic experience (unless you find the postmodern void of machine generated gibberish on a corporate branded artifact aethetically pleasing (i rather do, to be honest))
posted by codacorolla at 8:06 AM on March 16, 2012


[...] somewhere along the line the value of design was lost.
Why does everything older (vintage) look so much cooler than things today.

I think what happened is that the there was an inflection point in the capital/labor tradeoff somewhere in the 20th century (right after WWII, I think, but maybe in the 30s), and suddenly a lot of effort-intensive stuff that used to be common stopped making sense.

In the 19th century and into the early 20th, labor costs were low enough that it might have made sense to have a full time guy -- hell, maybe even a bunch of full-time guys -- doing nothing but creating nice ticket designs. If you had to create a new one in a different color each week, in order to deter free-riding, the cost of the design might not have been terribly significant on top of the fixed costs of printing the tickets in a bland solid color. So sure, why not make them look nice?

You also see this in architecture. There are industrial buildings from the 19th century that are absolutely beautiful to behold. There are some mills in Connecticut, built during the textile boom, that have gargoyles and stuff on them, and all sorts of crazy brick- and stonework. Nobody in their right mind would commission that sort of stuff today; modern industrial buildings are typically nothing but big sheet-metal or cinderblock weather coverings for the stuff inside, designed to be thrown up with minimal effort, mostly by machines. But at the time that the mills were built, the materials were significantly more expensive relative to the construction labor (and there was a ready supply of artisans from Europe) so the additional cost to the mill owner to have the building prettied up was less than it would be today.

Of course, there was a social aspect to it as well; in the late 19th century the City Beautiful movement brought us a lot of wonderful urban architecture and seems to have involved a sort of pride and interest in urban beautification that is sadly lacking in much of 20th century construction, and I think you can see well-designed bus tickets as sort of an extension of that pride to other areas. But the ability to act on that desire to beautify with lots of painstaking craftsmanship was possible because of cheap labor, and that had significant downsides that we should keep in mind when we get nostalgic about the past.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:18 AM on March 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


"Nobody in their right mind would commission that sort of stuff today; modern industrial buildings are typically nothing but big sheet-metal or cinderblock weather coverings for the stuff inside, designed to be thrown up with minimal effort, mostly by machines."

My dad was a commercial architect in the north of England and he would say exactly the same thing. (Also, during a recession architects are one of the first to go, as nobody wants to build new things at all, much less pretty new things.)
posted by mippy at 8:32 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


These are wonderful. I, too, long for high-resolution versions.

Great catch, mippy.
posted by pts at 8:40 AM on March 16, 2012


The idea for the name is said further to have come from a tradesman with the surname Omnès who had the legend Omnès omnibus written on the nameplate of his firm

"Is said further..."--yeah, that's etymologist-speak for "don't blame us if this turns out to be a crock."
posted by yoink at 9:38 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I watched in horror as the artform I embraced was handed to unskilled people who of course could do the work for less, and had no training whatsoever. Prior to then, anyone who'd tried to use all caps with a script or Old English-style font would have been laughed right off their job. After that point, rules were tossed. I remember having an argument with one designer about his "right" to use a dozen different, clashing fonts in one advertisement.

In college in the late '80's, I was working as a typesetter, as the Macintosh and the Laserwriter were making Desktop Publishing a thing. So I was seeing the self-satisfied articles in the trade about how it wasn't really a threat to the industry, because it was so obvious that the work of an amateur with amateur tools would never approach that of a professional with professional tools.

And they were right, of course, but even at the time, I was thinking "It doesn't matter whether you know that; it matters whether they know that."
posted by Zed at 9:46 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


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