Leo Houck was the originator and original owner of Houck Motor Coach Advertising. His first job was with the Twin City Street Railway Company as a schedule checker and also as the summer time dance hall manager at Wildwood Park on White Bear Lake, which was also owned by the streetcar company.
After a few years in the Marines at the end of WW I, Leo started working with his brothers, Joe and Pete, selling advertising on the stage curtains of all of the vaudeville theaters in Minneapolis and St. Paul. They also had the candy franchise in all of the theaters and initiated the installation of candy/gum machines on the back of every theater seat. In 1919, the first bus line in Minnesota, the Brown Bus Company, began a transit service between St. Paul and Minneapolis with two buses. The Houck brothers contracted with Brown Bus Company to expand their business by at first selling advertising on the theater curtains and giving them an ad on the inside of the buses. Thus the future Houck Motor Coach Advertising Company unofficially had its first beginning.
The bus service grew and eventually became the Twin City Motor Bus Company which expanded through its years until 1925 when it was purchased by the Twin City Rapid Transit Company, which then operated both streetcars and the buses and owned by Mr. Horace Lowry, a Minneapolis financier.
With the combined ownership of buses and streetcars, there were now two different companies handling bus and the streetcar advertising, Murray and Malone on the streetcars and Houck on the buses. After the introduction of movies in the early 1930s, all of the vaudeville theaters in the Twin Cities were forced to close and bus advertising became the brothers’ main business venture. Houck Motor Coach Advertising Company was officially established. However, with the financial stock market crash of 1929/30, the business faltered financially and was unable to support all family members at which time Joe Houck left the company and moved to Los Angeles with his son Curtis, to establish his own bus advertising company there, Transportation Advertising, Inc., which also became very successful.
As buses became a more lucrative mode of transportation in St. Paul and Minneapolis during the late 1930s and early 1940s and WW II, Houck Motor Coach Advertising was able to solicit additional bus companies on which to place advertising. One of the first bus companies approached was an operation that began in Hibbing, Minnesota by A.G. “Bus Andy” Anderson and Carl Eric Wickman, to transport workers from the city of Hibbing into the local iron mine. That bus service expanded by adding service to Duluth and St. Paul which eventually became known nationally as Greyhound Corporation with Mr. Wickman as president. Along with Greyhound Lines, Houck’s bus advertising service also included Jefferson Lines and Trailways Lines (operating in the southern United States). Besides these interstate bus lines and Twin Cities Lines, Houck Motor Coach Advertising eventually also serviced cities such as Des Moines, Omaha, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and many others.
In the mid 1930s, Houck Motor Coach Advertising placed advertising projectors in all 3,000 of the nation’s Greyhound buses. The projector was designed and produced by Spencer Lens Company of New York and used the brand new Technicolor film. It projected a different color ad in the front of the bus every 20 seconds. However, after a complete installation and 30 days of operation and a tragic fire bus accident in Texas, a law was passed first in the state of Texas preventing the transportation of film (nitrate film in those days, which was very flammable) in buses. Thus, after months in development and installation, and spending a half million dollars of Mr. Floyd Odlum’s money, a New York financier, this bus advertising enterprise was a very expensive and very short lived venture.
In the late 1930’s and early 1940, Houck Motor Coach Advertising was the first to introduce the combination of pamphlet boxes on the back of each bus seat to tie in with the overhead sign advertising in each Twin City bus. Each advertiser with a sign in the bus was able to place their message in the potential customer’s hand to read and keep as they rode the bus. Because practically everyone was forced to use public transportation at that time and during WWII, business owners were most anxious to purchase space in these vehicles and Houck Motor Coach Advertising enjoyed this most prosperous time well into the late 1940’s and 50’s when exterior bus advertising was first introduced. These early outdoor bus signs were silk screened on billboard paper and then glued on masonite boards to be placed in frames on the outside of the buses. A few signs were directly painted on the exterior of the bus sides.
In 1952, the Twin City Rapid Transit Company made a purchase of 500 buses from the White Motor Bus Company to begin a replacement program of its streetcar fleet. At this time, Murray Malone Company, which handled the streetcar advertising program, also found itself being replaced as buses replaced streetcars. Houck Motor Coach Advertising eventually became the sole bus advertising service in the Twin Cities. In 1954, with the demise of streetcars in the Twin Cities, Murray Malone purchased the bus advertising rights of Twin Citiy Lines, Rochester, Mankato, and 10 independently owned Twin City suburban bus lines service from Houck for $50,000. However, Murray Malone found it too difficult to service the out-of-town cities and the suburban lines, and returned this service to Houck. That sale of the Twin City advertising service also necessitated the end of the work relationship between Leo and his brother Pete.
In 1954, Leo’s two sons Richard and Robert returned from military service and took over the bus advertising company and operated it for the next 20 years until the Twin Cities Metropolitan Transit (now publicly owned) finally took over all of the independent suburban bus companies. At that time in 1976, Leo retired and Richard purchased the Houck Motor Coach Advertising Co. from Robert and continued to operate in Rochester, Austin, Faribault, Mankato, Eau Claire, Duluth, and La Crosse.
In 1995, Richard retired and his sons, Thomas and Paul continued the operation of the bus advertising company and expanded it into many more markets. Now, Houck Transit Advertising serves over 40 public transit systems in states throughout the United States including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Louisiana and Georgia. Houck Transit Advertising became a fourth generation company in 1999 with Justin Houck, Thomas’ son, serving as art director before moving into sales and now as President.