Incorporated: 1912 as White Transit Company
Employees: 600 (est.)
Sales: $30 million (2002 est.)
NAIC: 485510 Charter Bus Industry
The Martz Group is a Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania-based family owned motor coach company that runs several bus lines on the eastern seaboard. All told, the company employs more than 500 people and operates some 300 motorcoaches. Affiliated companies of the Martz Group include Martz Trailways, operating out of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; Martz Lines, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Gold Line/Gray Line, offering sightseeing tours in Washington, D.C.; National Coach, operating out of Fredricksburg, Virginia; Franklin Motorcoach, based in Manassas, Virginia; Tourtime America, a Richmond, Virginia, operation; First Class Coach, located in St. Petersburg, Florida; and First Class Coach, in Orlando, Florida. In addition, the company operates a travel agency in Wilkes-Barre for air and cruise service. The Martz Group is headed by the fourth generation of the Martz Family.
Business Launched in 1908
The founder of the Martz Group was Frank Martz, Sr., who grew up the son of a grocer in the coal mining region of northeast Pennsylvania. According to family legend, the idea for starting the company occurred to him one day when he was forced to walk to a neighboring town. Thinking that others, especially weary miners, would be willing to pay for a ride, he created a makeshift transit company in 1908. The venture was based in Plymouth, Pennsylvania, at first using a touring car as a bus to provide service between the towns of Plymouth and Nanticoke.
The origins of the bus date back to France, where in 1828 the horse-drawn omnibus was introduced by private businessmen, accommodating as many as 50 passengers to traverse the muddy streets of Paris. Only two years later, in Great Britain, Sir Goldworthy Gurney invented a steam-powered stagecoach, while in New York City horsedrawn omnibus operators began to lay rails in order to provide a more efficient and comfortable ride. A convergence of these ideas would lead to the use of steam-powered trains providing mass transportation within and between cities. An eight-passenger omnibus using a gasoline-powered internal combustion engine developed in Germany in 1895 provided a more direct link to modern buses. In 1905, buses operated by sight-seeing companies were introduced to the streets of New York City. All early bus designs were actually based on a truck chassis, with a bus body simply mounted on top.
That Frank Martz was able to recognize at such an early date the potential for a bus operation in the backwaters of Pennsylvania was a reflection on a innovative spirit he exhibited throughout his life. His bus service charged a nickel a ride and was an instant success, prompting Martz to commission the White Motor Company, a Cleveland truck manufacturer with a nearby factory, to built a true bus for him. It was a Spartan affair featuring wooden cane seats, but it served its purpose. (It was so reliable in fact that for decades the bus still participated in parades and other events after it was retired from regular service and is still kept on a family estate.) Martz named his business White Transit Company and began to make regular runs between the mining towns of Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley. In 1912, he incorporated the company and bought four more buses as part of an effort to expand the business and the number of routes he operated.
It was not until 1921 that the first vehicles featuring a chassis designed specifically for bus service were introduced in the United States by the Fageol Safety Coach Company of Oakland, California. The new “Safety Coach” buses, offering seven rows of four seats, were long and painted gray, prompting the nickname “Greyhounds.” Martz created Frank Martz Coach Co. in 1922 in order to take advantage of the rising popularity of the bus and to provide inter-city bus service. This enterprise was incorporated in 1927, by which time it had established bus service between the Wilkes-Barre-Scranton area and New York City, Philadelphia, Albany, Utica, Syracuse, and Rochester. Elsewhere in America at the time, there were some 4,000 small independent bus operators. A pair of ambitious owners during this period joined forces and began to accumulate other small bus lines under the banner of Motor Transit Corporation, leading to the rise of a transcontinental bus service. In 1930, the company changed its name to Greyhound Corporation. By the end of the 1920s, in the meantime, Martz buses began running west to Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago, resulting eventually in through-service from New York City and Chicago. Martz also provided service to Washington, D.C., and Atlantic City.
Martz Flirts With Air Travel in 1920
Martz displayed his creativity in a number of ways during the heyday of his business career. In 1926, he became involved in air travel, operating three airplanes that connected Wilkes-Barre, Buffalo, and Elmira, New York, with Newark Airport, which was the major facility serving the New York metropolitan area. A Martz slogan of the time was “By airway or highway.” Frank Martz also introduced upscale bus service, anticipating modern motorcoaches that now have televisions as a standard feature. Martz, starting in 1930, offered what was called “Club Coach” service, outfitting two buses to resemble the living room of a house, with hostesses on board to cater to passengers on long trips. The service was so popular that the company ordered another 18 of these custom-made buses. Moreover, Martz was an early proponent of express schedules, eliminating local stops on major runs in order to offer their passengers shorter trips. By the early 1930s, Martz had some 150 buses operating out of ten garages spread between New York City and Chicago.
The Depression of the 1930s hurt Martz, as it did most businesses in America. In 1933, the airplane service was sold to what is now American Airlines. Martz, like other independent bus companies, faced stiff competition from larger and much better financed bus operations, in particular the growing dominance of Greyhound Corporation, whose lines covered most of the United States by 1936. The independents lacked a way to connect passengers between their lines, putting them at a major disadvantage operating against Greyhound. In February 1936, representatives from five bus companies met to form an umbrella organization that would become known as the National Trailways Bus System. Frank Martz was one of those executives, as was H.W. Stewart of Burlington Transportation Company, P.O. Dittmar of Santa Fe Trails Transportation Company, A.E. Greenleaf of Missouri-Pacific Stages, and A.T. Williams of Safeway Lines. These men also comprised the managing committee of the new enterprise. Within two years, Trailways would include 40 bus companies.
Frank Martz was a Trailways’ director for only a short period of time before he died. His son, Frank Martz, Jr., assumed control of the family transportation business as president. Although he inherited an innovative company, its operations were spread too far to allow it to be profitable under the difficult economic conditions of the 1930s. The company was heavily in debt, and a receiver was ultimately brought in by creditors in order to salvage the business. Most of the routes were lopped off, so that by the end of the decade Martz was essentially reduced to operating buses between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, and New York City routes, which they still operate today. Trailways’ membership no longer made sense, and Martz soon dropped its affiliation with the network.
The fortunes of Martz rebounded in the 1940s because of the boom in travel created by the war effort. The company continued to flourish during the postwar years. It was also during this period that Martz came into conflict with Greyhound over violations of protected territories, several times resulting in the two parties appealing to Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission to moderate their dispute. In 1951, Martz renewed its affiliation with Trailways and moved its New York City operations into the newly opened Port Authority Bus Terminal, which consolidated interstate bus traffic into the city. Until then, Martz had used the Dixie Bus Terminal, one of eight facilities that had cropped up in a single square mile section of Manhattan, which resulted in both congested streets and cramped terminals.
Frank Martz, Jr. Dies in 1964 Accident
Control of the Martz Group changed hands in 1964 when Frank Martz, Jr. died in a helicopter accident while flying to Allentown to pick up auto parts. He was succeeded as president by his nephew Frank M. Henry, grandson of the company’s founder. Henry continued to grow the business, adjusting to changing conditions in travel, which saw more people flying and a declining bus ridership. In 1972, Martz withdrew from its city transit business, which provided local bus service in the Wilkes-Barre area, and sold its routes to the Luzerne County Transportation Authority. In time, Henry was joined by his own son, Scott Henry, who went to work for the company full time in 1981. He learned all aspects of the business, working in the office, serving as a ticket agent/porter, and also working in maintenance. Father and son shifted the company’s emphasis to tours and charters. In 1982, Martz built a five-story office/terminal complex on Public Square in downtown Wilkes-Barre, where the company housed its bus terminal and executive offices as well as its charter and tour office and travel agency.
The Martz organization employs over 600 people, operates over 400 motorcoaches, and is nationally known and respected within the industry.
Growth and Expansion: 1970s–1990s
Martz first expanded into the Washington, D.C., area with the purchase of Gold Line in Tuxedo, Maryland, in 1974. They later joined the Grey Line team in 1977 to offer individual per capita tours of Washington, D.C., and Williamsburg, Virginia. Service farther south was added in 1980 with the purchase of Gulf Coast Motor Lines in St. Petersburg, Florida; National Coach Works of Manassas, Virginia, in 1983; and First Class Coach of Orlando, Florida, in 1986. The Richmond, Virginia-based Tourtime America joined Martz two years later, providing tours of Colonial Williamsburg as well as excursions to Florida, New York, and New England. In 1994, Martz bought Franklin Motorcoach, a Virginia company that had been founded in 1953 as Franklin Charter Bus. It offered charter buses for educational, recreational, and sports-related activities in the Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia area.
In the 1990s, regional bus companies like Martz began to enjoy a renaissance due to a number of factors. They established many nonstop routes between major cities, such as between New York City and Washington, D.C., offering inexpensive fares to lure passengers away from both Amtrak and air shuttles. Commuter service between the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania and New York City became the backbone of the operation. Cuts in Amtrak service offered fresh opportunities for regionals, as did financial problems suffered by Greyhound, which cut services as a cost-saving measure. Far from the days of wooden seats, the contemporary buses operated by Martz featured plush seats as well as stereo music, televisions, and VCRs, making short rides and excursions an attractive option for both commuters and travelers. Moreover, the rising average age of the population worked in favor of the tour and charter businesses of Martz and other regional carriers. Following the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, bus operators like Martz saw business adversely affected. Later, the panic caused by a rash of sniper attacks in the Washington, D.C., and Virginia area resulted in customers avoiding travel for several months. Ridership slowly returned to normal, and Martz and other regional carriers looked forward to a new beginning in 2003.
Martz Trailways; Martz Lines; National Coach Works; Franklin Coach; National Coach; Tourtime America; First Class Coach, St. Petersburg, Florida; First Class Coach, Orlando, Florida.
Greyhound Lines, Inc.; Peter Pan Bus Lines.
- Frank Martz, Sr. launches a bus business.
- Frank Martz Coach is formed.
- Frank Martz, Sr., dies.
- Frank Martz, Jr., dies.
- The company withdraws from the city transportation business.
- The Florida market is entered.
Morgan-Besecker, Terrie, “Martz Bus Started On Road to Success With Welcome Rides for Tired Miners,” Times Leader, March 15, 1998, p. 1B.
Tomsho, Robert, “Small Bus Lines Turn Aggressive and Win Riders,” Wall Street Journal, December 28, 1994, p. B1.
Turfa, Pamela C., “Family Operations in Pennsylvania Prove Successful, Long-lasting,” Tribune Business News, July 16, 1998.