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. That said, we were shocked to see the recent Martin Scoresesi’s film the Irishman.
Now some diehard Checker fans would decry the destruction of our beloved Checker cabs, but that is not our gripe. We at the ICTA were well aware of the technology used to blow up these cars, the fact of the matter was only three badly rusted Checkers were destroyed. What bugged this writer the most was the depiction of 50’s and 60’s era Checkers as yellow cabs.
Over the last 25 years film maker prop departments and cinematographer have depicted all taxicabs as yellow. A simplistic view, it is technically wrong and has portrayed a historically inaccurate picture of the past.
The origins of the yellow cab in the US can be attributed to John Hertz. 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 orangie 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.
Morris Marking, Hertz’s main competitor needed to differentiate his corporate identity. In 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.
Post war, Checker would offer an official “fleet” color for Taxicabs produced in Kalamazoo. The two-tone fleet combination: Yellow and Green. This combination would be the goto color combo in New York City and other large US cities from 1947 till 1968.
While Checker was using green and yellow, the main color combinations for DeSoto cabs were red and yellow for Skyview taxicabs and orange for Terminal cabs. The result was a full rainbow of taxicabs colors. This would change in 1968, when the TLC of NYC regulated that all taxicabs operating in the five boroughs be singularly painted yellow. That was over 50 years ago, unfortunately folks who never experience the multi color NYC taxicab world do not know how exciting it really was to see a full rainbow of colors.
The use by movie companies to perpetuate the false narrative that all NYC taxicabs were yellow is just plain wrong and really limits the viewing audience of an historically accurate picture of the past. We at the ICTA would make the argument that the use of real-world taxicab colors would enhance the movie viewer experience.