The American Taxi has been providing a vital service for 100 years ! Enjoy the Taxi experience through the photographs and the history of famous marques such as Yellow, General, Checker, DeSoto, Packard, Plymouth, and Studebaker.

Many minor makes are also represented with forgotten names like Rockwell, Hupmobile, Overland, Darracq, and Bauer. Oddball experiments, unusual taxis, lights, meters, and taxi memorabilia are highlighted. A walk through time illustrates the effect of regulations on taxis that led to technical advances and body changes.

The motorized taxicab can trace its recorded ancestry back to about 4,000 B.C. when Egyptian boats carried persons up and down the Nile River, presumably for an agreed upon fee. In Roman times, hired chariots kept track of distances traveled with small stones dropped every so many paces.

More recently, during the 17th century, specialized horse drawn conveyances, known as hackney coaches, appeared in Paris and London to transport the upper crust of society around these growing urban centers.

The passenger in this turn of the century electric taxi of unknown manufacture demonstrates the huge disparity in social status between drivers and their generally well to do passengers. Not only was there no physical sharing of the same area but, also, the operator had to sit up on top, exposed to the elements. About the only plus for the driver was that the relatively pampered fare arrived at accidents sooner. The taxi used a chain to rotate the front wheels. By 1910, with advancements in gasoline techologies, electrics were on the way out.

The typical coach was a two passenger vehicle pulled by two horses. Like today, cabbies frequently waited for passengers at stands situated outside of transporation centers and major hotels .

The American hansom cabs became electric with the introduction of the Electrobats in Philadelphia in 1896 and in Manhattan the following year. Top speed was about 15 mph and cruising range was limited by the battery technology of the time. Almost 10 years would pass before the gasoline engine had improved enough to surpass the electrics.

A New Yorker named Harry N. Allen coined the word "taxicab" when he introduced 65 new, French Darracqs, each equipped with a meter, onto the streets of Manhattan in 1907.

A 1909 Overland Model 31 taxi with collapsible rear roof section was priced out at a fairly hefty $1,500 with a four cylinder motor rated at 30 horsepower. Several items of interest include the steamer trunk on the driver's left. On a hard right turn, it looks as if there was nothing holding it in place except the driver's quick reflexes. An acetylene tank on the running board provided fuel for the headlights. All of the shades were pulled down in the rear compartment so that the passenger could travel incognito.

A proud, uniformed driver posed with his Los Angleles Yellow Cab, Number 101, in 1926. Mounted in the right front luggage area was a very large Ohmer meter that printed a receipt. Perhaps the driver wasn't aware or didn't care that Number 101 had bald tires.

As the 20th century progressed, more and more automakers got into the cab manufacturing business since it was pretty much a wide open field and anybody could play. In January 1924, Chicago hosted the first ever taxi exhibit show with Reo, Mogul Checker , Willys Knight, Overland, Premier, Pennant, Dodge, Rauch & Lang, and Roamer taxis all represented, some with elaborate displays showing cut away cars. In New York City from 1925 to 1928, there were no fewer than 25 different brands of taxis operating compared to the two heavy hitters found there today.

The Paramount taxi was another M.P.Moller Motor Car Company creation and its life span was probably the same as the Five Boros: 1927 to 1931. Power was produced by a six cylinder motor and its family resemblence to the Five Boros wasn't coincidental. Moller taxis frequently picked up the name of the taxi company that ordered them. For operators it was classy to have a cab with your company name as the brand. This Paramount is wearing Manhattan rates not only on the cowl but also on a metal roof sign just behind the convertible top opening. Whether ordered in town car or sedan configuration, any Paramount taxi was impressive.

New York City received 600 1927 Yellow Model 06 taxis like this one out a total production run of 2,598 units. As was typical for Manhattan, the cab was built without a right front door and the floor was given some ribs to minimize luggage movement. The outward apprearance of the body was quite close to that of a Buick and even the engine was a Buick six cylinder combined with a three speed transmission. Headlights moved from the cowl to the front of the car this year and four wheel brakes were standard for $2,450. The taxi medallion was on the cowl just below the rates.

One of Checker Manufacturing's most dramatic cabs came out this year for a two season run: The Model M. Powered by a Buda six cylinder engine, these taxis were offered in two wheelbases, a regular six window sedan or a long model for train station runs. With the acquisition of Parmelee Tranportation in late 1929, Checker took control of about 7,500 cars, trucks, and buses used to ferry railroad passengers and freight between terminals. This restored Model M is the only known survivor in roadworthy condition.

For cab drivers, the evolution of the taxi during the 1930s brought an end to their choice of blue skies or not as the open front town car taxicabs quietly disappeard by the end of the decade. While these grand machines were extremely impressive, by 1935 they truly appeared to be from another era as streamlined, new cars with stamped steel bodies came to dominate the avenues and city streets.

In addition, these new vehicles weren't as easy to modify as the old wood framed ones had been. For all new brands, power was up under the hood and synchronized transmissions replaced the non-synchronized, "crashbox" units, which required a lot of double clutching to avoid gear clashing.

The DeSoto Airstream was a very competent taxi and developed a loyal follwing from coast to coast. Like its competitors, a bucket seat and partition were regular options so luggage or packages could ride up front when no trunk was specified. It is highly probable that a trunkback sedan was also available with the taxi package. The taxi roof light was modern for its day and the conical sidelights over the rear doors were meter lights. An L head six cylinder that boasted 93 horsepower coupled to a three speed transmission powered the 3,000 lb. sedan. The Airstream's larger sibling, the Airflow, saw limited use as a taxicab.

For the first time in a long time, Checker Cab Manufacturing didn't have a town car in their lineup. One reason for its demise was that few cabbies drove with the convertible top open. Checker's solution was the new, 1935 Model Y with an optional air vent over the driver and an extra cost, glass sunroof, called the Air-N-Lite, in the rear. This restored 1936 example, wearing Parmelee System decals, sports both of those options. Only two Model Y's are known to exist today. This one is owned by Checker Motors and resides at the Gilmore Museum in Hickory Corners, MIchigan and one unrestored example, that had been cut down into a tow truck by a cab company, is awaiting restoration out West.

Toye Brothers Yellow Cab in New Orleans, Louisiana, ordered up some of the last Generals in 1938. 1937 was a mediocre year for General production with around 442 coming out of the GM truck plant. 1938 was even worse with only 387. Because of the all the work required to build these specialized cabs, from splicing bodies and fabricating doors, it wasn't working out. This General Model 0-18 had the optional Chevrolet name plates. Toye Brothers had been in the transportation business since 1852 and they liked to promote that their Yellow Cabs were instantly available at all hotels, train stations, and 50 convenient sub-stations around the New Orleans area and that all of their cabs had a privacy partition.

After World War II, most taxi fleets were clamoring for new equipment and, as the new cabs slowly trickled in, all brands of prewar cabs suddenly became so-much-a-pound scrap or you could buy one to drive away for $15 to $30. After five long years of being nursed well past their prime, these Checkers from Pittsburg Yellow Cabs were spent. The hand operated spotlights mounted at the top of the left front roof post were a Pittsburg Yellow trademark for years and graced their Checkers until the last ones were retired around 1988.

While this 1940 DeSoto Skyview and the S.Klein-on-the-Square Annex Clothing Store in the backround are long gone, this is what the area next to Union Square in Manhattan used to look like in the early 1940s. The DeSoto wore a large, comprehensive bumper guard and was showing off one of the Skyview roof lights. The top part of the sign read "DeSoto" and the larger, lower half read "Skyview". The four globes around the sign were decorative. The taxi medallion was still found on the lower cowl. Under the hood, all large DeSotos were powered by a six cylinder flathead motor putting out 105 horsepower. About 2,323 DeSoto Skyviews were constructed this year, almost double the number of civilian seven passenger bodies built.

For the New York City market, Packard took it upscale. Packard took a "One-Sixty" seven passenger sedan and stripped it down with "One-Ten" trim to minimize unwanted chrome for a vehicle that everybody knew was going to get banged up in traffic. The 3,950 lb cab was , appropriately enough, called the New York Taxi and it featured all the goodies required by law: trunk rack, license plate up on the trunklid, and five-in-the-rear seating with privacy partition. A sunroof was installed over the leather trimmed rear comparment and a Packard crest decal looked sharp on the rear doors. Even though this body style normally had an eight cylinder engine, a six cylinder flathead moved this taxi feast around town although the eight's larger radiator and other heavy duty features were retained to help the overworked six cope under severe conditions. It is currently unknown how many of these New York taxis were produced in 1941 and 1942. None are thought to exist today.

America's entry into World War II was a nightmare for taxi operators, as they could no longer buy new equipment after 1942. The rationing of gasoline and endless recapping of tires was compounded by a chronic shortage of spare parts that kept broken taxis off the street with no replacements available.

To complete the misery index, ridership went up while the supply of taxis went down because many factories and military bases were humming 24 hours a day and people needed to get to them. By 1945, most of the taxis in the US were a mess. By estimates of the time, it was figured that about a quarter of the nation's taxis were in the shop on any given day.

A DeSoto Skyview with a sunroof poses on a Manhattan street. The Gates Service Corporation operated it and their logo on the rear doors was a whitewall tire sitting above some wings. The interior had the bucket seat and partition as required by law and the front bumper guards are noteworthy since they wrap around the corners. Dealer and meter shops normally installed aftermarket bumper guards. This Gates DeSoto may not be around today but the Optimo Cigar Company is still serving New Yorkers.

Another A6 Chicago Checker Cab shows off the green and ivory paint colors still used today. A bucket seat and partition still comprised the most common A6 inteior configuration but change was afoot and within a few years it would all be different.

Pressure has been building for years to allow regular production line vehicles to be used as taxis in places like New York City. The final moment came on July 16, 1954, when the city approved Chevrolet, Ford, Plymouth, and Dodge four door sedans for use as taxis in a ceremony at the Hack Bureau.

The new "small" taxis were a huge leap forward in terms of drivability and driver comfort with the addition of such taxi novelties as fully automatic transmission, power steering, and brakes in a car with 30% less bulk and a cheaper price tag. By the late 1950s, the list of approved vehicles for taxi service in Manhattan had expanded to included such fresh faces as Rambler, Studebaker, Mercury, Buick, and even a few Mercedes.

A new size niche was created in 1962 when Chevrolet introduced its mid-sized Chevy II taxi to counteract Ford's new threat, the smaller Fairline taxi. However, it was still too early to introduce these new smaller taxi vehicles as most American cab operators hadn't caught the downsizing bug yet.

Intermediate cabs wouldn't really catch on until Chrysler introduced the right combination of room, economy, and low cost with the 1965 Plymouth Belvedere and Dodge Coronet taxis. The bulletproof 225-ci slant six motor was married to the rugged 727 Torqueflite automatic in a six passenger car that weighed less than 3,200 lbs.

A New Yorker stepped out of a 1960 Ford Fairlane taxi and demonstrated how the chrome door handle was useful in exiting a modern cab. For the elderly, obese, or handicapped, new sedans from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler weren't easy to get in and out of. When equipped with a partition, modest legroom became downright skimpy. Since Detroit sunk the floors into the frame to lower the rooflines, the transmission tunnel and doorsills became higher, creating problems for the less limber. Ford's Expanded Taxi Package included the chrome door handle on the right rear door, assist straps on the center doorposts, and full rubber flooring all around. Ford persisted with the 223-ci overhead valve six cylinder motor and most cabbies ordered it. The plastic roof domes on both this 1960 Ford and the 1960 Ford and Chevrolet in the left lane are typical for this time period in Manhattan. The lack of a partition was a momentary phenomenon, as they would be back in a few years. No factory built 1960 Ford Fairlane taxis are known to exist today.

Dodge's 1964 Series 330 taxi was a popular fleet cab for all the right reasons. It was roomy with a huge trunk and, at a lengh of 209 inches, it wasn't too large on the outside. Compared to the 224 inch long DeSoto battleships from 10 years earlier, the new Dodges were like speedboats. As was normal, most Series 330 taxis came with one of the most legendary powertrains in cab history: the 225-ci slant six coupled to the optional Torqueflite automatic. After a couple years of creative styling from Chrysler, the 1964 Dodges became more mainstream.

The gas crunch of the 1970s saw a move towards smaller taxis like the Plymouth Volare, Ford Granada and Chevrolet Chevelle. This was bad news for big cab makers like Checker and sales gradually dropped to the point where it was no longer viable to keep the classic cab in production.

In 1982, Checker's last year as a carmaker, only 2,000 of the boxy cabs were produced. In 1989 Chrysler discontinued their last front engined, rear wheel drive taxis, the Plymouth Gran Fury and Dodge Diplomat followed by GM's decision to kill off the large Caprice Classic, a very popular taxi, in 1996. This left Ford as the last traditional taxi maker in the US.

A 1965 Checker illustrates one of the possible paint schemes that could have existed in New York City until 1968 when a new law made all medallion cabs yellow. If not for this law, Manhattan would have multicolored fleets like Chicago. Checker Model A11's, introduced in mid-1962, were little changed from the previous A9's except for a curved bumper and turn signals under the headlights instead of in the grill. Powering most Checkers this year was the 230-ci Chevrolet six with an optional 282 V8. Transmission options included a Borg Warner automatic or a three speed manual transmission on the steering column or on the floor. This car is a private Marathon turned into a cab since there are hardly any real 1965 Checker A11's left. It was normal practice for taxi companies to search out privately owned Checker Marathons to turn into taxis since they were essentially the same as an A11 cab except for trim differences like exterior chrome, carpeting and different dashboard.

Checker Motors was one of the few auto companies who could keep using the same basic sales brochures for years since their cars didn't change much. This 1979 Checker Model A11 ad shows a 1976 or 1977 Checker cab with the windshield wipers meeting in the middle. In 1978, this was changed to where they both went in the same direction.

Fritz Cajuste, medallion number 7A70, was one of the last Checker drivers in New York City and his ride, a 1981 Checker A11, was typical of an owner operator vehicle.It had stripes top and bottom, no partition, and he had replaced the stock Checker seat with one out of a luxury car. The "Checker Special" decals on the rear doors cost $13.50 for the pair. The silver trimalong the fender openings were added by a body shop. Fritz Cajuste passed away in the late 1990's but his cab is still around.

Where the American taxi will go from here is up in the air. Certainly, minivans, SUVs , and smaller sedans like the Chevrolet Impala and the Ford Five Hundred can take up where the classic cabs left off but there is no question that some of the old timers left big shoes to fill. Whether the taxis of the current century will be more interesting than those of the last century remains to be seen.

This article is published by courtesy of Iconografix, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Copyright 2006, Iconographix, Inc., Hudson, Wisconsin

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