All Island Blog

How Taxis Took Over New York City

Posted by Trent Warner on Apr 11, 2014 1:12:00 PM

NYC Taxis

In 2014, we’ve come to rely on taxis for a multitude of reasons—they take us to the train, to the store, to the doctor; we use them for business to transport clients; we use them for leisure when we go out for a few drinks so we get home safely. If you need to get from point A to point B, you know there’s always a taxi nearby to get you there. But the taxis we know today are distant relatives of the first taxis that rolled out onto the streets in 1890. There’s a lot more history in the lifetime of the taxi than most people know—in this three-part series, let’s take a look at taxi evolution over the last century!

Taxis in 1890

The most popular vehicle for hire was the horse-drawn carriage, but as cars began popping up across the country, they quickly began competing with the carriages for NYC fares. By 1899, there were nearly a hundred battery-operated cabs on the streets of Manhattan, with many New Yorkers hoping that these newfangled contraptions would provide a faster, cleaner, and quieter way of getting around. The batteries in these electric taxis weighed around 800 pounds, making them somewhat impractical, but they grew in popularity anyway.

Taxis in 1900

At the beginning of the 20th century, France was leading the world in automotive production, and was responsible for nearly half of all the automobiles being made across the globe. The New York Taxicab Company imported 600 gasoline-powered cars from France. The cars were red-and-green-paneled, and provided a fresh face for the newest city transportation system. The use of the taximeter, invented by Wilhelm Bruhn, to measure the distance/time of a car journey in order to calculate a fare, caused the taxi industry to explode. In 1904, the US took the title of largest automobile manufacturing country from France, which contributed to the taxi industry’s rapid expansion. There were thousands of independent drivers and half a dozen large fleets operating in NYC over the first two decades of the 20th century, but taxi clientele was still predominantly upper-class, because rates were about $0.50/mile.

Taxis in 1920

The 1920s was a time of great industrial prosperity for those who knew when and how to act on it. The financial potential of the taxi industry was glaringly obvious to a number of industrialists at the time, who heavily invested in its expansion. General Motors, the Ford Motor Company, and other major automotive manufacturers owned most of the leading taxi fleets, but there was one “little guy” who made it through and proved to be extraordinarily successful. Young Russian immigrant Morris Markin founded the Checkered Cab Manufacturing Company in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1922, which ultimately wound up supplying the majority of NYC taxicabs. The Checkered Cab Manufacturing Company produced the iconic yellow and black taxis that are globally recognized as “American taxis.”

Stay tuned for our next installment of The Taxi Timeline! Do you have any questions about the history of taxis? Ask us on Facebook, and we’ll be sure to find the answers!

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