The word Taxicab comes from a contraction of “taximeter” and “cabriolet”, coined by Harry Nathaniel Allen, who founded the New York Taxicab Company in 1907.
The taximeter, a mechanical device that calculates fares based on distance and time, was invented in 1891 by German Wilhelm Bruhn. And “Cabriolet” originally referred not to a convertible automobile, but to a two-wheeled horse-drawn carriage with folding hood, which was pulled by a single horse. This design was developed in France in the 18th century and quickly became the preferred vehicle-for-hire in Paris and London, replacing the heavier two-horse, four-wheeled hackney carriage (from Old French “hacquenee,” meaning horse for hire). In 1834, Joseph Hansom, an architect from York, created a version of the cabriolet-style carriage called the “Hansom Cab”, which became very popular in New York City, and was also commonly used in other U.S. and European cities.
In the late 19th century, electric battery-powered cabs (nicknamed “hummingbirds” due to their unique sound) began roaming the streets of major cities like London and New York. Their reign was short-lived however, as the first taxi with an internal-combustion-engine hit the streets in 1897.
Daimler Victoria 1897, the first gasoline-powered taxicab.
In 1897, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG; Daimler Motors Corporation) decided to try marketing their new “N” model automobile as a taxi. Friedrich Greiner, who operated a fleet of horse-drawn cabs in Stuttgart, Germany, was the first to jump on this idea. Greiner ordered one of Daimler’s Victoria-style motorized carriages. Powered by the latest twin-cylinder, eight-horsepower Daimler engine, this motorized cab could travel many more kilometers in a day than a horse, serving more customers and bringing in more revenue. By 1900 Greiner had ordered a dozen more.
Gasoline-powered taxicabs began operating in Paris in 1899, in London in 1903, and in New York in 1907. By the 1920s, motorized cabs were being produced by a variety of vehicle manufacturers, and had become a standard part of city-life around the world. Many American auto manufacturers created specially designed and outfitted vehicles for the taxicab industry. During the 1930s and ’40s, Plymouth and DeSoto produced stylish and roomy taxicabs which where quite well-received by the industry. Plymouth/Chrysler continued to enjoy success with their taxicabs in 1950s and ’60s, while Studebaker, Rambler, Ford and the Checker Motors Corporation also produced popular taxicab models during this time.
Toy cars make up a big part of the Collectors Quests antique toy collection, and a significant subsection of them are taxis! If you’re as drawn to these brightly colored urban ubiquities as we are, check out the vintage toy taxicabs we’ve added to our online shop, by toymakers such as Irwin, Renwal, Thomas Toy, Marx and Hubley.
English, Bob. “Classic Cars: All hail the birth of the taxi in 1897”. The Globe and Mail, 23 Nov 2021. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/reviews/classics/classic-cars-all-hail-the-birth-of-the-taxi-in-1897/article5606867/
Tate, Robert. “A Brief History of Taxicabs 1907-1968”. MotorCities National Heritage Area Partnership, 10 Oct 2018. https://www.motorcities.org/story-of-the-week/2018/a-brief-history-of-taxicabs-1907-1968
Wikipedia. “Taxicab”. Last edited 2 June 2021. Accessed 4 June 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxicab
Written and photographed by Shauna Taylor