Taxi cabs are an inextricable part of urban life. In every city on the planet, people need to move, and taxis are always there to move them. Generations have acclimated to having rides available on demand, but how did the modern taxi cab come to be?
The first taxis were horse-drawn, and known as hackney carriages. They began operating in Paris and London in the early 17th century. Innkeepers in London made carriages available for hire. The first taxi rank would queue outside the Maypole Inn on The Strand, a major thoroughfare in the City of Westminster in London. By 1635, the Hackney Carriage Act was passed by Parliament which formally legalized horse-drawn carriages for hire. As a result of the Ordinance for the Regulation of Hackney-Coachmen in London and the places adjacent, the first hackney carriages licenses were issued in 1662.
By the 19th century, the technology improved for hackney carriage designs. In 1834, Joseph Hansom, an architect from the city of York, designed an improved lighter, two-wheel horse-drawn coach. They were known as Hansom Cabs. Lighter and more nimble, the new design could be pulled by a single horse cutting costs for the operators. They were agile enough to steer around the old-style coaches stuck in traffic jams on the streets of London. The Hansom cabs soon replaced the hackney carriages entirely. They quickly spread to other cities in the United Kingdom and then all over Europe. During the late 19th century, cabs arrived to the United States, especially in New York City.
The next era was dominated by electric battery power. In 1897, Walter C. Bersey designed a fleet of electric battery-powered cabs, with no horse required. They were soon driving on London streets. These cabs were nicknamed “Hummingbirds” because of the distinct sound of their engines. In the same year, Samuel’s Electric Carriage & Wagon Company introduced a fleet of 12 electric cabs in New York City.
The next innovation was the taxi meter, which was created by three German inventors: Wilhelm Friedrich Nedler, Ferdinand Dencker and Friedrich Wilhelm Gustav Bruhn.
Next began the era of gasoline powered cabs. In 1897, the Gottlieb Daimler Corporation introduced a fleet of gasoline powered cabs to Stuttgart, Germany. Soon after, the gasoline taxis, called Daimler Victorias, were operating in Paris, then London, then last to New York City. It was 1907 when the first gasoline-powered taxis arrived to the Big Apple. New York City’s first taxis were imported from France by the Allen-Kingston Motor Car Company.
In America, the very first gasoline powered taxis were manufactured in Bristol, Connecticut by Bristol Engineering starting in 1908. The company was owned by Albert F. Rockwell, and the taxis were engineered by Fred E. Moskovics a former employee of Daimler in the late 1890s. It was the company owner’s wife who suggested the taxis be painted bright yellow to make them stand out. It was later Rockwell who started the first Yellow Taxicab Company in New York City.
In the 20th century, the use of gasoline-powered taxi cabs spread all over the world. By the 1940s, two-way radios were introduced. Soon after, modern dispatch offices were used to streamline communication to taxi drives to better meet customer demand. By the 1980s, the dispatch process became computerized, making dispatch even more efficient.