We have posted blogs in the past about taxi cab colors. Clearly in the US, the most popular color in the public’s mind is yellow. Yellow dates back to the days of John Hertz and the creation of Yellow Cab in Chicago.
John Hertz was a true innovator in the taxicab industry. Partnered with the City of Chicago, Hertz built the first set of traffic signals on Michigan Avenue. He pioneered the development of purpose built taxis. Among the many other taxicab innovations, was the use of yellow.
Hertz would ultimately franchise the brand and soon, taxicabs all over the country were being painted yellow and following the Hertz model of service . The yellow cab was soon a fixture in big and little cities across the US, and who impact society as a whole.
Hertz sourced the color from a University of Chicago study that indicated that yellow with a hint of red was the optimal color to view from great distances. Realistically, the Hertz yellow was really an orangy color, not a true yellow. On the other side of town in Chicago the was another operator Morris Markin.
Morris Markin emulated the Hertz model, and operated Checker Taxi. Like Hertz, Markin also produced purpose built cabs. He too, franchised his brand across the country. But unlike Hertz, Markin Checkers were painted green.
Competition was rough and dirty between to two companies. The taxicab industry was tough business in the roaring twenties. In Chicago what was known as the taxi wars took center stage along with prohibition. Recently described by Chicago Tribune writer Ron Grossman: “Then as now, cab wars were turf battles, struggles over who had the right to pick up fares at choice locations. But at the height of the conflict, during the Jazz Age, they also involved political clout, labor unions, corrupt cops and gangsters. Reams of purple prose were generated, both sides claiming to have the public’s best interest at heart. Officeholders disputed such assertions, saying that honor belonged to them.
In 1923 Cook County State’s Attorney Robert Crowe declared “war against the taxi war.” Two years later, Chicago Mayor William Dever threw down the gauntlet, declaring: “We will see whether the taximen control and own the streets or the people.”
“It has only been comic opera warfare until tonight, but from now on it is going to be a fight to the finish,” John Hertz, president of the Yellow Cab Co., told the Tribune on June 8, 1921. “We feel we might just as well end the whole business right now.”
The comments by Hertz were the reaction to the death of a Yellow Cab driver at the hands of a Chicago Checker driver. In 1929 John Hertz exited the cab business, sold everything. General Motors picked up the cab manufacturing business and Morris Markin purchased the Hertz cab operation holdings. By 1930, Markin would operate 10,000 taxicabs across the US.
In a 1930 Checker Cab brochure, CCM lays out the various color options for the city of New York. The premier color scheme promoted for New York was black and silver. Checker presented that color scheme as the highly elegant with its own nickname “The Black Beauty”. Also depicted in the brochure, is a standard yellow used by Hertz and a canary yellow Checker. Over the next two decades, Checker would shift the yellow brand from Hertz yellow to Canary yellow.
Various promotional black and white photos from the 1930’s depicted the Model M, T and Y branded as Checker’s New York Parmalee, National and Chicago’s Yellow Cab in a lighter yellow tone. It appears to be the time when Checker shifted away from the Hertz yellow to the canary yellow, as depicted in the 1930 brochure.
Colors still important from a branding standpoint, Checker would maintain all fleets in either green or yellow livery’s. For 1940, Checker would soon promote the concepts of custom painting of Checkers multiple colors at the factory. Within the CCM fleet, Checker Taxis were typically painted green and white/cream and Yellow Cabs were painted yellow and red.
Post war, Checker would offer an official “fleet” color for Taxicabs produced in Kalamazoo. Perhaps the color combinations was a tribute to Checker’s history. The two tone fleet combination: Yellow and Green. This combination would be the go to color combo in New York City and other large US cities from 1947 till 1968.
Between 1947 and 1968 twenty years Checker would use Yellow and Green as its fleet color of choice for the city of New York. Taxicab colors in NYC were in for a big change in 1969 when the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission enacted a new regulation: All NYC taxis will be painted yellow. From that point on all Checker sold NYC taxis were required to be painted yellow. And as they say in the movies ” and the rest was history”
Header photo by Chris Monier