Thomas Built Buses Since 1930

A Thomas Built Bus in the 1950s. Image from Thomas Built Buses.

On April 3, 1930, Thomas Built Buses—the High Point company now recognized internationally for building bright yellow school buses—was incorporated.

The company was the brainchild of Canadian native Perley A. Thomas. With only an elementary school education, Thomas took correspondence courses in engineering and learned about streetcar manufacturing in Detroit. He became chief engineer of the Kuhlman Car Company in Cleveland, Ohio, and moved to High Point in 1909 to become chief engineer of the Southern Car Company.

Perley A. Thomas. Image from Thomas Built Buses.After that firm failed, Thomas started a streetcar repair business in 1916. The company eventually began manufacturing streetcars and continued to do so for cities across the country as the Thomas Car Works. As an assurance of quality, each of his streetcars bore an engraved “Thomas Built” plaque. One even inspired the title of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

In 1936, Thomas won his first state contract to build school buses. His use of all-steel construction and a rear safety door secured the company’s future. Thomas died in 1959, and the family-owned company became part of the Freightliner LLC group in 1998.

With several foreign factories and about 1,600 employees worldwide, Thomas Built Buses now builds nearly 14,000 vehicles annually.

Visit: A Thomas Built Bus is part of the Bumper to Bumper exhibit at the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.