With the new semester underway, yellow school buses are again transporting millions of children across America from home to school and back again. That journey began at Teachers College in 1939, when Frank W. Cyr (Ph.D. ’33), Professor of Rural Education, organized a conference at TC that convened officials from across the U.S. to standardize school transportation and improve safety and ultimately establish the bold yellow that would become a national symbol of education for years to come. 

Now Cyr, who died in 1995, is the focus of a profile in the latest issue of Smithsonian Magazine. The story chronicles how, during “seven days of deliberation in the Grace Dodge Room,” the man who became known as “the father of the yellow school bus” led deliberations on everything from standard measurements for vehicles to the now-iconic yellow color itself, which was selected (from 50 swatches hung on the TC wall) for its easy visibility. The magazine cites that characteristic as one reason why school buses account for “less than one percent of traffic fatalities each year” despite being the ”largest mass transit system in the U.S.” 

“FATHER OF THE YELLOW SCHOOL BUS” Frank W. Cyr. Photo courtesy of TC Archives. 

Cyr joined the faculty at Teachers College in 1934 and taught until his retirement in 1965. He was named an emeritus professor. In addition to being credited with leading the standardization of school transportation, Cyr is known for his research on rural education policy and served as the president of the Rural Department of the National Education Association in 1940. He was the author of The Small School in Wartime (1942) and Rural Education in the United States (1943), as well as the coauthor of The Small High School at Work (1936), An Introduction to Modern Education (1936) and Planning the Rural School Building (1949).  

Read the Smithsonian article here.


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