A rare vintage image of downtown Arad showcasing a locally manufactured bus appeared on Tranyslvanian photo archive Azopan.
The image from 1915 – remember: World War I has just begun – shows Arad’s main boulevard, with the ubiquitous horse-drawn carriages typical of the time and a MARTA bus – itself a piece of Hungarian industrial history.
In the “Belle Époque” that ended with the Great War, Arad (now in Western Romania) was a burgeoning trade and industrial city with a population of just over 60,000 and a rich cultural life. Few know that in some respects it was also a city at the forefront of technical innovation: it introduced buses in public transportation in 1908 – the same year when Ford began making the Tin Lizzie – and just a few years after London (1904), Berlin (1905) and Paris (1906).
True, this was also a result of previous city councils dragging their feet while other cities like Temesvár/Timișoara introduced electric trams as early as 1899. Again illustrative of how the two cities a mere 60 km apart developed in tandem is the fact that the Temesvár trams were made by the same company, Weitzer, that later became the first car and bus factory in Hungary.
Bus transportation began with Westinghouse buses manufactured in France, but in 1908 the János Weitzer Wagon Factory – in a deal reeking of a cartel agreement, but it’s too late to judge now – established the rather convolutedly named “Magyar Automobil Részvénytársaság Westinghouse Rendszer” (Hungarian Automobile Limited Westinghouse System) and began the production of buses with the main Westinghouse components coming from France.
After more than a few teething problems and a complete management change in 1911, the company – meanwhile renamed MARTA – finally found its footing and the production of passenger cars and buses began in earnest. The growing and successful company was taken over by Austro-Daimler in 1912 and the same year a MARTA passenger car won the Hungarian Automobile Club’s international rally. In 1913, the motorized taxicab service in Budapest was also launched with 250 MARTA cabs.
The buses – while today a proud part of automotive history – had of course their fair share of both admirers and naysayers, because of their size, noise and staggering 20 km/h speed. This was such a major issue, that in 1908 the city council had to introduce local traffic regulations, two years before a Ministry of Interior decree issued in 1910, considered the first national traffic regulation.
During its existence – cut short by WWI – MARTA manufactured a total 87 passenger cars and 730 trucks. With the onset of the war, the military seized all the trucks and none of them ever returned to Arad.
Title image: Westinghouse bus on Arad’s Andrássy Square (now Bulevardul Revoluţiei) in 1915, with the city’s landmark Lutheran “Red Church” in the background. (azopan.ro, image uploaded by Attila Jurányi)