A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from June 11, 2005
Taxi (the word “taxicab” and the “yellow” color)
It has been said that Harry N. Allen coined the word "taxicab" in the fall of 1907, and that he also introduced the color "yellow" to his vehicles. I think that's wrong on both counts.

Paris and then London both had "taxicabs" before they were introduced to New York in October 1907. The word "taxi" is short for "taximeter" and "cab" short for "cabriolet."

Harry Allen's cabs were red. The W. C. P. Taxicab Company introduced the yellow cab in New York in the spring of 1909.


Wikipedia: Taxicab
Taxicab, short forms taxi or cab, is a type of public transport for a single passenger, or small group of passengers, typically for a non-shared ride. A taxicab is a vehicle for hire which conveys passengers between locations of their choice. (In most other modes of public transport, the pick-up and drop-off locations are determined by the service provider, not by the passenger.)

Although types of vehicles and methods of regulation, hiring, dispatching, and negotiating payment differ significantly from country to country, many common characteristics exist.
(...)
History
Horse-drawn for-hire hackney carriage services began operating in both Paris and London in the early 17th century. Royal proclamations in both cities regulated the number of carriages - the first example of taxicab regulation. In the 19th century, Hansom cabs largely replaced the older designs because of their improved speed and safety.

Although battery-powered vehicles enjoyed a brief success in Paris,London, and New York in the 1890s, the 1891 invention by German Wilhelm Bruhn of the taximeter (the familiar mechanical and now often electronic device that calculates the fare in most taxicabs) ushered in the modern taxi. The first modern meter-equipped taxicab was the Daimler Victoria, built by Gottlieb Daimler in 1897; the first motorized taxi company began operating in Stuttgart the same year.

Petrol powered taxicabs began operating in Paris in 1899, in London in1903, and in New York in 1907. The New York taxicabs were imported from France by businessperson Harry N. Allen. Allen was the first person to paint his taxicabs yellow, after learning that yellow is the colour most easily seen from a distance.

Wikipedia: Yellow
In some countries, taxicabs are commonly yellow. This practice apparently began in New York City, where taxi owner Harry N. Allen painted his taxis yellow after learning that yellow is the color most easily seen at a distance. See List of taxi cab colours.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
taxi, n.
Colloquial abbreviation, orig. of TAXIMETER, and hence, more usu., of TAXI-CAB.

1907 Daily Chron. 26 Mar. 6/7 Every journalist..has his idea of what the vehicle should be called. It has been described as the (1) taxi, (2) motor-cab, (3) taxi-cab, (4) taximo,..(7) taximeter-cab.
1908 Ibid. 4 Feb. 4/7 Within the past few months the 'taxi' has been the name given to the motor-cab.

Taxi-cab, taxicab
A cab for public hire, fitted with a taximeter; esp. an automobile or motor-cab so furnished.

1907 Daily Chron. 28 Mar. 2/5 The 'taxicab', as the new taximeter motor-cab is called, is fast becoming a familiar feature in the streets of London.
1907 Ibid. 3 May 8/3 London has taken kindly to the Taxicab.
1908 Westm. Gaz. 7 May 4/2 How much the taxi-cab has done..to educate the non-motoring public to the utility of the motor-car.

taximeter
An automatic contrivance fitted on a cab or other vehicle to indicate to the passenger at any point the distance traversed and the fare due. Also ellipt. for taximeter cab (rare).

The earliest forms of this indicator were simply distance-recorders, but it was soon made to comprise an automatic fare-reckoner and index.

[1890 German Patent Spec. 56310 Taxameter-Fabrik Westendorp & Pieper in Hamburg.]
1894 Times 2 June 19/1, I have severally interviewed the proprietors of the 'taxameter', owners of cabs at Hamburg, and several of their employes.
1898 Daily Chron. 21 Mar., An illustration and description of the taxameter has been sent us.
1898 Westm. Gaz. 30 Apr. 7/3 Each vehicle will be provided with a taxameterthe little instrument for registering distance which has found such favour in Paris and Berlin.

27 June 1965, New York (NY) Herald Tribune, pg. 24, col. 2:
Harry Allen, the Man
Behind the Taxicab
(...)
He was the man who started the taxicab industry in New York City. He coined the name "taxicab" and copyrighted it. He operated the first fleet of what street-corner loafer jeeringly called "smoke-wagons" -- 65 of them to start, 700 within a year.
(...)(Col. 3 -- ed.)
He put together parts of the words "motorcab" and "taximetres" from a French company making meters for horse cabs, and came up with "taxicab." He went to Washington to copyright it, then went back to France and bought 65 shiny, red taxicabs, 16-horsepower, four-cylinder Darracq cars of the landaulet type.
(...)(Col. 4 -- ed.)
On Oct. 1, 1907, what the newspapers called "the new taximeter motor cabs" had their first public trial.

27 June 1965, New York (NY) Times, "Harry Allen Dies, Taxi Pioneer, 88, Introduced Vehicles Here in '07 -- Coined 'Taxicab,'" pg. 64:
Harry N. Allen, who coined the word "taxicab," and introduced the first such vehicles here, died yesterday at his apartment in the Peter Cooper Hotel, 130 East 39th Street. He was 88 years old.

The taxicab industry here began when Mr. Allen became angry one evening early in 1907, when the driver of a horse-drawn hansom cab charged him $5 for a trip from 44th Street to 58th Street. "I got to brooding over this nighthawk," Mr. Allen told an interviewer in 1947. "I made up my mind to start a service in New York and charge so much per mile."

Mr. Allen solicited $3 million worth of underwriting for the New York Taxicab Company, from French, ENglish and New York businessmen. On Oct. 1, 1907, a fleet of 65 shiny red taxicabs appeared on the streets of New York.

20 August 1905, New York (NY) Sun, "What Happens in Paris When Your Cab Horse Runs Away," third section, pg. 8, col. 1:
"I'd been browsing around one morning and it got to be noon without my knowing it. I'd promised my wife to be back to the hotel for lunch, so I hailed a taximeter cab -- that's a kind of vehicle, you know, that's self-registering. There's a minimum charge, and then you can sit and watch your bill go up as the wheels go around."

15 April 1906, San Francisco (CA) Call, pg. 5, cols. 2-3:
Keeping Tab on the Cab. -- The taximeter cab is a great institution -- small clockwork arrangement alongside of seat, so that passenger may sit and watch the indicator and know how his bill is running up. The indicator is set an seventy-five centimes at the start. In other words, you owe 15 cents before you get away. Then it clicks up 10 centimes at a time, and when you reach your destination there is no chance for an argument regarding the total. What they need now in Paris is a mechanism to prevent the driver from taking you by the roundabout way.

18 June 1906, Hammond (IN) Times, pg. 16 ad:
This Nifty Taxi Cab.
One of the newest of the Go-Cart creation this season is the "Taxi Cab." They are simply immense. Come in and let us show them to you, the price ranges up from ... 14.75
[This looks to be a baby carriage -- ed.]

24 March 1907, Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City, UT), pg. 8, col. 4:
The company which has been formed to operate taximeter cabs in New York will, as soon as possible, open stations at Philadelphia, Boston and other principal cities.

31 March 1907, Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City, UT), pg. 9, col. 5:
Drivers of the taximeter cabs to be operated in New York and several other eastern cities will be termed "motormen," not "chauffeurs," and will be forbidden to receive tips.

31 March 1907, Chicago (IL) Daily Tribune, pg. B3:
LONDON LIKES ITS "TAXICAB";
63 KEPT BUSY ALL THE TIME.

New Sixteen Cents a Mile Motor Cars
Strike Popular Fancy in British

Metropolis, as in Paris.

LONDON, March 30. - After a week's trial the new taximeter motor cab or "taxicab," as it already has been christened, has been pronounced an all sides as an unqualified success, though the drivers will have hard work living down the contempt of the London cabby, who is unable to compete with his smartly uniformed rival and his swift car, and vents his humor in choicest billingsgate whenever the other is in earshot.

28 April 1907, Sunday World-Herald (Omaha, NE), pg. 11:
How picturesque the details of that day sound, as Lord Gwydyr tells about them to us who belong to this quicker age of motor buses, taxi cabs and telephones. He started from Gwydyr house in Whitehall, not as he might now, by motor or taxi cab, but in a barge, if you please -- his grandfather's barge, manned by liveried boatmen, of positively Elizabethan aspect.

19 May 1907, New York (NY) Sun, "London Nicknames," second section, pg. 2, col. 7:
The streets of London have been dotted lately with handsome new, red painted motor cabs, which ply for hire at the reduced rate of eightpence a mile. They are fitted with taximeters and have promptly been called "taxicabs."
(...)
The new motor cabs have, as aforesaid, been christened the "taxicabs," and the horse drivers are wild with rage at their success. They have sounded the death knell of the old time crawlers, which, aside from being slow and not altogether safe, have not been too cheap; though I do not suppose Americans who use them here on their summer holidays will agree with me on that point. The one thing that visitors from your side delight in is to sit in a hansom cab by the hour and drive aimlessly about, because "it is so cheap."

26 May 1907, New York (NY) Times, pg. SM6:
Is the Day of Cheap and Honest Cab Service at Hand?
(...) In London, where they have been in operation for some time, they are now known as "taxicabs."

21 July 1907, New York (NY) Sun, second section, pg. 11, col. 2:
Henry D. Winans & May have leased the plot of nine lots on the south side of Fifty-seventh street, 275 feet west of Eleventh avenue, for Charles E. Appleby to the New York Taxi-Cab Company.

25 August 1907, Washington (DC) Herald, "Some Nicknames in London," third part, pg. 2, col. 5:
It was only a very few weeks ago that cabs fitted with taximeters in the manner so popular in Paris were put on the London streets, says Tit-Bits. At first everybody called them "taximeter cabs," to distinguish them from ordinary cabs, but the name has by universal consent been shortened to "taxicabs," in just the same was as the omnibus -- which was introduced from Paris by a man named Shillibeer, the first traveling from Paddington to the Bank of England in 1829 -- got changed to "bus," and "cab" took the place of cabriolet, as the one-horse vehicles used to be called when twelve of them first piled in London in 1823.

29 May 1909, New York (NY) Times, pg. 3:
Telephone 5400 Columbus
For a Yellow Taxicab

On June First we begin the operation of a new Taxicab service in this city.

Quality is the keynote throughout. Our taximeters are guaranteed to be accurate.

The Yellow cabs will be kept constantly in as first class condition as any private turnout.

See our page advertisement on back of new Telephone Directory.

Our drivers are courteous, capable, and specially selected men.

W. C. P. TAXICAB CO.,
232 W. 56th Street at Broadway.

20 June 1909, New York Times, pg. S4:
President C. F. Wyckoff of the W. C. P. Taxicab Company, made a wager a few days ago that the meters on the yellow cabs his company is operating were perfectly accurate.

18 July 1909, New York (NY) Times, pg. 1:
The New York Taxicab Company will announce to-morrow a reduction in the mileage rate of its red taxicabs for the first half mile to 30 cents, and 10 cents for each extra half mile - the same fee, one to four persons, day or night, and no sending charge. This means that the company is going below even the original rate that was charged when the red taxicabs were first put on the streets.
(...)
At the offices of the New York Transportation Company, Forty-ninth Street and Eighth Avenue, no news of the cut in rates contemplated by their competitor had been received, and the same was true of the W. C. P. Taxicab Company, at Fifty-sixth Street and Broadway, which operates the new yellow taxicabs.

1 September 1933, New York (NY) Times, pg. 17:
C. F. WYCKOFF DIES;
WENT TO AID PEARY

Ithaca Manufacturer Was a
Member of Arctic Relief
Expedition in 1901.

A PIONEER IN TAXIS HERE

In 1894 He Joined Firm That
Operated First Fleet of Auto-
mobile Cabs in New York City.

ITHACA, N. Y., Aug. 31. - Clarence F. Wyckoff, a member of the expedition which went to the relief of Admiral Peary in the Arctic in 1901, died of a heart attack in his home here last night at the age of 57. He was found by members of his family this morning. He was a manufacturer of Ithaca, an insurance broker and a pioneer in the automobile and taxi business in New York City.

Graduating from Cornall University in 1894, he went to New York, where he joined the firm of Wyckoff, Church & Partridge in the automobile business. The firm built one of the first showrooms for cars and operated the first fleet of taxicabs.
Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityTransportation • (0) Comments • Saturday, June 11, 2005 • Permalink