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Blood In The Boardroom, Part Two

Part Two

YellowIn spite of the companies forward thinking leadership, initially vision pertaining to the long-range potential in the burgeoning taxi industry was largely myopic, as was an understanding about the changing nature of competition. .

However, entrepreneurs such as Charles A. Coey were quick to grasp that potential. In 1902, Coey established an automobile “livery” and the cities first parking garage for automobiles, and in 1907, John Daniel Hertz Sr. moved from selling pre-owned cars to using them, and leasing them, as cabs. Within the first years of the 20th century, there were seven taxicab companies established in Chicago that operated more than one hundred vehicles. There were also a countless number of independent operators.

In San Francisco, by 1904, independent taxi operators all competing for a very limited market overran the city. In New York City, estimates are that there were more than five hundred taxis on the streets at this time, and in 1908, the New York Taxicab Company imported sixty-five red and green cars from France, making their fleet one of the largest in the city. Within two years, this pioneering company was operating seven hundred taxis. In Detroit and Cleveland, St. Louis and New Orleans the taxi industry was providing a previously cost prohibitive service for the middle class, and an unprecedented opportunity for the creation of independent business enterprise.

In Chicago, the wildcatting atmosphere that was the taxi industry changed dramatically in May 1908 when Charles A. McCulloch took the historic Parmelee Company in a new direction with the establishment of the Parmelee Taxicab Company. Funded with an initial issue of $250,000 in capital stock, the new endeavor garnered a great deal of interest from investors.

As an interesting historical side note, Parmelee, as with many companies, was embracing the future even though they still had one foot in the stirrup. A company inventory from 1910 states that the parent company still maintained a 250 horse stable and operated eighty horse drawn omnibuses.

Surprisingly Parmelee was not the only company that initially overlooked the potential in the taxicab business. Even though the number of American automobile manufactures soared into the hundreds by 1910, a scant few gave this niche market a second thought. As a result, taxi companies and operators turned toward European manufactures that had pioneered the building of vehicles for taxi specific usage.

A few American companies, however, utilized the dramatically increasing demand for taxis and the lack of suitable vehicles as the hinge pin for development that could make the difference between insolvency and profitability. A rare few hoped to profit from the manufacture of taxis alone. One of these was the Connecticut Cab Company organized in Bristol, Connecticut by Albert Rockwell, Charles Treadway, Ira Newcomb, and T.H. Holdsworth for the production of the purpose built Rockwell taxi.

Designed by the Bristol Engineering Company, initial production done under limited license to New Departure Manufacturing Company resulted in an automobile that won critical acclaim. In spite of the staggering $3000 price tag, the four-cylinder Rockwell landaulet taxicab proved popular with taxi operators in New York City, and within one year, more than two hundred were in service.

Commercial Vehicle May 1909 – Of the many developments in the taxicab field announced during the past months in many parts of the country, the most important is the announcement of the plans of the recently organized W.C.P Taxicab Co. of New York City to utilize Rockwell Cabs.

The cabs will be with special paint of orange yellow and trimmed in black and having hoods over the driver as well as leather tops, running gear will also be yellow.”

The United States Carriage Company of Columbus, Ohio initiated the manufacture of automobiles in 1909 solely for the production of, “touring cars, runabouts, motor hearses, ambulances, and taxis.” The vehicles manufactured by this company under the Great Eagle name were huge with wheelbases stretching to 140 inches and beyond, a factor that made them poorly suited for use as taxis in congested urban settings.

Surprisingly, the company enjoyed moderate success with the manufacture of vehicles for special order fleet sales. The company’s demise in 1915 was unique. Katherine Meyers, wife of the company president, precipitated the collapse when she demanded payment for a $6,000 promissory she held at a pivotal point when negotiations were underway with creditors awaiting payment.

Gary, with offices and manufacturing facilities at 1256 Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Illinois was another company that envisioned a profitable future in the production of taxis. That company’s advertisements present an intriguing view of the world in transition in 1909. “It’s a taxicab that a professional cab driver or hackman can understand and operate as readily as he can drive a horse knowing what to do when the horse needs attention.”

Unable to find vehicles deemed suitable for the rigors of taxi service, the Detroit Taxicab & Transfer Company initiated the manufacture of its own vehicles under the Detroit Taxicab name in 1914. Interestingly, while most automobile manufacturers agreed about the internal combustion engine as the best means of propulsion, Detroit Taxicab built electric cars.

The prototype made its debut at 2:00 p.m. on June 25, 1914 at the Hotel Pontchartrain in Detroit. In spite of an impressive record of service, the company shunned orders and instead focused on limited production solely to meet the needs of Detroit Taxicab & Transfer. In late 1915, production ceased.

A similarly promising endeavor was the brainchild of Frank Klingensmith, president of the Gray Motor Corporation. In association with Frank F. Beall, H.T. Hanover on the board of directors for the Apex Motor Corporation as well as Ace Manufacturing in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and Nat Jacoby of Black & White Cab Company of New York City, launched the Diamond Taxicab Company in Detroit in 1922. Capitalized with $10 million and incorporated in the state of New York, the company sublet production to Elcar Motor Company of Elkhart, Indiana under the direction of that company’s chief engineer A.M. Graffis.

As production commenced, the company initiated aggressive marketing in New York City, Boston, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia. Shortly after completion of the original order for 500 taxis, H.T. Hanover faced crippling financial shortcomings result of the collapse of his other automotive related endeavors, and the Gray Motor Corporation slipped into receivership and the Diamond Taxicab Company closed its doors in 1924.

Elcar Motor Car Company, however, continued to manufacture taxicabs marketed under various names including El-Fay, Martel, and Royal Martel through 1931, the year the company entered into receivership.  Available in either a four or a six-cylinder configuration, manufacture of these taxis was by special order only.

As an historical footnote of interest, manufacture of the El-Fay taxis were by special order from Larry Fay, a notorious underworld figure in New York who controlled taxi companies in several cities. Taxicab tycoon Jules Martin, founder of Royal Martel Taxi Corporation in New York City in 1925, commissioned the manufacture of Martel and Royal Martel taxis.

During the post World War I years, and into the mid 1920’s, several new enterprises commenced solely for the manufacture of taxicabs, usually with a focus on resolving one or more of the perceived shortcomings of taxis then available. The most famous and successful of these would be Checker Cab Manufacturing Company. The Bauer Taxicab Company of Chicago, Illinois established in 1925 was another.

The latter company’s origination commenced with A.L Belle Isle, a taxicab operator from Atlanta, Georgia who had an idea for the perfect cab. With assistance from Percy E. Hertz and Percy Bauer, the trio established the company, funded it largely through stock sales, and negotiated for the purchase of an array of conventional components including a Buda four-cylinder engine.

What were not conventional were the uniquely designed body and safety features that included Westinghouse air brakes as well as an electric emergency brake. Promotion proclaimed the body “wreck proof” resultant of extensive bracing. The drivers compartment, open on the right side, featured a door that opened into that compartment allowing passengers to disembark “without disturbing other occupants.”

Even though the taxi garnered favorable reviews from drivers as well as owners of taxi companies, Bauer Taxicab Manufacturing Company was grossly undercapitalized. This coupled with labor issues, manufacturing delays resultant of creditor’s suspension of credit, and plummeting stock values forced the company into bankruptcy in 1927.

In February of that year, Chicago Title & Trust Company accepted appointment as the receiver for the company. Surprisingly, though Bauer’s liabilities totaled almost $600,000, assets were sufficient to pay all creditors, leaving a small balance divided among stockholders.

Even though the era of the electric taxi had passed by 1920, a few inventors and manufactures still believed that these vehicles were the most practical for use as cabs in urban settings. Counted among these individuals was Joseph Anglada, the former manufacturer of the Liberty cycle car.

Designed to present the impression that his taxi was a modern, gasoline-powered vehicle the Electrocar featured a radiator grille, hood, and accelerator pedal. Utilizing a motor manufactured by General Electric, and batteries by Excide, the Electrocar cab debuted in a showing on the floor of the New York Edison Company at Irving Place and 15th Street during the Annual Electric Automobile Show in April 1922.

However, even though the automobile received excellent press and reviews from owner operators, the feasibility of profitably competing against the manufacturers of more conventional models proved to be impossible and the company closed its doors in 1922.

A truly innovative endeavor launched in 1928 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania had an even shorter life as only one prototype was completed and tested. Developed by engineers at Mitten Management, the Gas-Electric Taxicab was a hybrid commissioned by Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company.

The vehicle utilized a Willys-Knight Model 70-A chassis, and General Electric manufactured motors similar to those used in the company’s busses. Equally as visionary was the custom-built body with an array of futuristic features including one door on the left side, and two on the right to prevent passengers from stepping into traffic.

Part three August 19 –

*cover photo Taxicab Library

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