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Parmelee Part I
F. Parmelee & Co.; Parmelee Transfer Co.; Frank Parmelee Co.; Parmelee System Inc.; Parmelee Taxicab Co.; Parmelee Transportation Co.; Parmelee Motor Fuel Co.; Parmelee Parcel Service Inc.; 1853-1969; Chicago, Illinois
Associated Builders
Yellow Cab Mfg. Co., Checker Cab Mfg. Co.

By the early 1920s transportation in Chicago was controlled by three distinct firms, Yellow Cab, Checker Cab and the Parmelee Company. The latter firm dated to 1853 when its founder and namesake, Franklin Parmelee, established the city’s first omnibus line.

Franklin Parmelee was born on August 11, 1816, in Byron, Genesee County, New York to Edward and Mercy (Hopkins) Parmelee. The Parmelee’s had recently moved to the Genesee Valley from their home in Vermont in order to take advantage of its inexpensive fertile farmland. After a public education in the local schoolhouse 11-year-old Franklin found a job with a landowner located 25 miles southeast in Avon Springs, NY (Avon) and due to his proficiency at bookkeeping was elevated to the position of clerk in his employer’s public house.

At the age of 15, the now experienced bookkeeper was hired by a stage line in nearby Batavia, New York. When he reached 20 years, Parmelee settled in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he found employment as a clerk with General Reed’s steamship line later serving as the onboard clerk of the lakes steamer James Madison, on which he made his first visit to Chicago. After a 13-year-long career as a steamship clerk, he embarked on a career as a merchant in Will County, Illinois in 1950.

In September of 1840, Parmelee was united in marriage to Adeline Whitney, a native of Hindsburg, Orleans County, New York, and to the blessed union were born four children. Adeline, John Whitney, Charles King, and Franklin Parmelee, Jr. The matriarch of the family passed away in January, 1864, and in October 1868 Franklin married the former Mrs. Roxana W. Smith, of Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The lure of the big city drew our subject to Chicago and on May 9, 1853 he returned to the transportation field, which soon included a livery of six Concord stage coaches, thirty horses and a staff of twelve. Parmelee expanded his operation in 1854 with the organization of F. Parmelee & Co, a partnership formed along with David A. Gage, Liberty Bigelow and Martin S. Johnson, for the purpose of carrying on a stage and omnibus business in the city of Chicago.

David A. Gage was a wealthy hotelier who later served as Chicago’s City Treasurer. Liberty Bigelow was a Boston-based railroad financier who was just beginning to enter the burgeoning mid-west markets. Martin S. Johnson was a steamship owner, who hoped to get a share of the burgeoning land transportation business.

In 1854 the firm established a Madison street omnibus line, which ran west from downtown Chicago to Bull's Head or present-day Union Park. A four-horse omnibus line was added in 1855 which extended the line to Cottage Grove, by way of State to Twelfth street, then the outskirts of the city. In 1856 an additional line was instituted along Clark street and in 1858 Johnson retired, distributing his share in the firm to the remaining three partners.

During its early years Parmelee’s main competitor was Frink, Walker & Co., a long-established stage line dating from 1836. Years before the railroads made their way to Chicago, John Frink and Martin O. Walker had already established Chicago as the hub of their stage and mail coach operations which reached from the southwest tip of Lake Michigan and points east to the outposts of the newly established Northwest Territories. The firm’s terminal was located at the intersection of Dearborn and Lake Sts., one of Chicago’s busiest intersections.

Originally operated by John Frink and a long list of short-lived partners, Frink found a more compatible associate in Martin O. Walker and the pair commenced business as Frink, Walker & Co. in 1840.

In 1855, shortly before John Frink passed away, Walker parted with his business partner of the past 15 years and in partnership with his brother, Samuel B. Walker, established a new omnibus and livery operation, M.O. & S.B. Walker. However the firm retained the good will enjoyed by the earlier firm and was commonly known as Frink & Walker, despite the fact the original firm was dissolved.

The streetcars, stages, omnibuses and wagons operated by Parmelee and Frink & Walker were all built in the Chicago carriage factory of John Frederick Mendsen. The Danish-born coach builder was the city’s foremost builder of horse-drawn vehicles, having provided carriages for many early notable citizens including Presidential candidate Stephen A. Douglas. Mensden also supplied the catafalque upon which Abraham Lincoln's coffin rested during the Chicago leg of his funeral procession.

Parmelee made an investment in the Chicago’s first horse-drawn rail line in 1858 with the establishment of the Chicago City Railway Company, a partnership organized with Henry Fuller, David A. Gage and Liberty Bigelow. Henry Fuller (aka Judge Fuller) was a wealthy Chicago jurist and attorney who arrived in Chicago in 1850.

On August 16, 1858, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance granting Parmelee and company a 25-year license to built and operate a horse railway along State street, Ringgold place (now Twenty-second street), Cottage Grove avenue, Archer road and Madison street. It was soon uncovered that the State of Illinois was the only agency able to grant street railroad franchises so attorneys for Parmelee and company petitioned the state legislature for its authorization, which was granted on February 14, 1859.

Although F. Parmelee & Co., and M.O. & S.B. Walker controlled Chicago’s omnibus lines until the beginning of the Civil War, Chicago’s expanding street railway systems gradually drove them out of business. Luckily Parmelee’s successful railroad transfer business was up and running, but the Walkers, who were the last to withdraw, weren’t as fortunate, and were forced to sell their entire stock of horses to the West Division Railway Company in 1864.

After 1863, when the horse railway charter covering the west-side lines was sold, Parmelee devoted himself exclusively to the railway transportation and transfer business, which was transacted from the Garret block, a splendid slate-roofed building located at the corner of State and Randolph streets.

As early as 1856 Chicago enjoyed rail connections with Galena, Rock Island, Burlington, Quincy, Alton, Cairo and most strategic ports of the Upper Mississippi River. At the start of the Civil War eleven different railroads offered service to Chicago and as many as 100 trains arrived and departed daily.

Due to the great size and vertical orientation of Lake Michigan, trains traveling between the Northwest Territories and points east of the Mississippi were forced to pass around its southern tip, and by 1870 Chicago had become the crossroads of America. Fully forty per cent of the nation’s railway mileage terminated in Chicago’s numerous rail yards.

At that time, and for many years afterward, the railroads serving Chicago did not offer integrated coast-to coast service and the stations of the six largest operators were scattered across a 6 square mile section of Chicago that became known as “The Loop”. Rail passenger traveling through the city often had half a day or more to spend in Chicago between trains and took advantage of the time by sightseeing while others chose to stay overnight in one of Chicago’s grand hotels.

Parmelee not only transferred passengers and their hand baggage, they also dealt with checked-through baggage and offered the same local passenger pickup and delivery service offered by the hotels. Parmelee negotiated verbal contracts with all the major railroads serving Chicago, and eventually took over most of the hotel’s omnibus business as well.

Chicago-bound passengers were furnished with Parmelee transfer coupons when they purchased their tickets as Parmelee was paid directly by the hotels and railroads and collected no cash from their passengers. Parmelee was also furnished with complimentary offices in railway depots and their representatives often boarded incoming trains at an out-lying station in order to ready passengers and their baggage for transfer.

The Great Chicago Fire was a conflagration that burned from Sunday, October 8, to early Tuesday, October 10, 1871, destroying an area approximately four miles long and 3/4 mile wide, encompassing more than 2,000 acres. Destroyed were more than 73 miles of roads, 120 miles of sidewalk, 2,000 lampposts, 17,500 buildings, and $222 million in property—about a third of the city's valuation. Of the 300,000 inhabitants, 90,000 were left homeless yet surprisingly only 200 to 300 lives were lost.

Included in the loss was the wood-framed Garret block, the Parmelee transfer company’s headquarters. They wasted no time in getting back on their feet and within eleven weeks the firm’s new all brick 100’ x 150’ headquarters was ready for business.

Bigelow was unaffected by the loss as he had sold his one-third interest to Parmelee and Gage five months before the fire, receiving $30,000, in unsecured notes. Parmelee & Gage continued the business together until January 1, 1874, when Parmelee bought out Gage’s interest in the firm for $18,000 in cash and for the first time became the sole owner of the firm bearing his name.

In 1881 an addition of eighty-eight by one hundred and fifty-three feet was made to the original building. Mr. Parmelee occupied nearly half a square block between Franklin street and Fifth avenue and had contracts for the transfer business with all the railroads entering in Chicago.

Subsequently the Parmelee transfer business was capitalized for a half million dollars and the stock was divided among the members of his family. In 1898 the firm’s founder and namesake retired placing his two eldest sons, John W. and Charles K. Parmelee in charge of the corporation. Charles A. McCulloch, the former circulation manager of the Chicago Tribune, was enlisted to take over the day to day management of the firm.

In 1901 the Parmelee family sold the entire operation to a Chicago-based syndicate composed of John C. Schaeffer, Marshall Field, John J. Mitchell and Frank Lowden. The sale was significant enough to be mentioned in the November 13, 1901 New York Times who reported:


“Syndicate formed to Buy Out the Parmelee Company.

“Special to the New York Times.

“CHICAGO, Nov. 12, 1901 - Electricity probably will supplant the omnibus horse in the conveyance of persons to and from the railway stations and the hotels. Such is the belief following the announcement that a syndicate has been formed to purchase and take over the property and business of the Frank Parmelee Company, which does almost all the transfer business. The men behind the project are John J. Mitchell, President of the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank; Roger B. McMullen, C. H. Randle, President of the Gulf Company, and James B. Wilbur, President of the Royal Trust Company; Norman B. Ream and J.C. Schaffer. The Parmelee concern has been in existence for almost half a century. Frank Parmelee began business in Chicago in 1853, with three or four old omnibuses. The company at present is controlled largely by John W. and Charles K. Parmelee, sons of the founder of the system.”

The October 2, 1904 issue of the New York Times announced the passing of the firm’s founder:


“Organized Transfer Line In Chicago Known by His Name.

“CHICAGO, Ill., Oct. 1, 1904 - Frank Parmelee, who organized the transfer and baggage line known by his name, and who operated It for forty-nine years, died suddenly today. He was eighty-eight years old.

“Since he sold his business to a stock company two years ago he has lived in retirement. Mr. Parmelee started the first regular omnibus line in Chicago in May, 1853. The equipment consisted of six omnibuses and thirty horses. Each hotel at that time was running buses of its own, and Mr. Parmelee's first big stroke was the purchase of the separate lines. He thus became the only man in the transfer business.

“He remained the active head of the business up to the time he accepted the purchase offer of the stock company which now operates the system. Three sons; John W., Frank, and Charles K., and a widow survive him.”

The September 20, 1905 issue of the Horseless Age included the following details of a Packard motor truck demonstration conducted by Parmelee:

“The Frank Parmelee Company, of Chicago, who are doing a baggage transfer business, probably the largest in that city, are about to place several motor vehicles on their routes, but prior to doing so are having demonstrations made by several different companies. These demonstrations are a little more arduous than usual, extending over thirty days, so that the Parmelee people may fully determine their worth before finally purchasing. Another point insisted upon by the transfer company is that the driver of the car must be taken from the ranks of their regular teamsters and taught to run the car. The first demonstration for this firm was made by the local Packard agency. It began on August 3 and continued until September I, the trucks working every day, Sundays included.

A detailed account was kept of the actual work done and the cost of operating, which gave the following results:

Total miles traveled:


1,546 ¼

Average miles per hour:



Amount of gasoline consumed:


179 ½ gallons

Amount of oil consumed:


16 7/8 pints

Number of stops made:



Average weight of daily loads:


6,733 pounds

Average number of daily stops:



Total elapsed time:


342 ½ hours

Time occupied in stops:


185 hours

Net running time:


159 hours

Total cost of gasoline and oil:



Average miles per gallon of gasoline:



 “As the roads over which the car traveled were anything but the best, its certainly was a very favorable demonstration. At the present time the Parmelee Company are negotiating with several other automobile manufacturers for similar demonstrations”

The May 1907 issue of Freight, the Shippers Forum included a detailed description of the Parmelee operation as follows:

“Exchange by Railroad Companies of Free Transportation with Local Transfer and Baggage Express Companies

“In an opinion by Commissioner Harlan the Commission has announced its decision upon the petition of the Frank Parmelee Company. This company is what is commonly known as a transfer company. By means of omnibuses and express wagons it carries passengers and their baggage between railroad stations and hotels and private residences in the City of Chicago. It also transfers passengers and their baggage across the city, from one railroad station to another, and thus performs a service in connection with a very large through passenger traffic between the West and the East.

“In some instances the connecting carriers in Chicago use the same station, and therefore no transfer of through passengers across the city is required. To meet this competition other connecting carriers that use different stations absorb the cost of the transfer by attaching to the through tickets transfer coupons, which are subsequently taken up by the petitioner and presented to the carrier for payment. In such cases the passengers are entitled, as part of the through carriage and without extra charge, to be transferred by the petitioner across the city of Chicago from the incoming to the outgoing train. In the performance of this service the company thus becomes an important "link" in the very large volume of interstate passenger traffic which passes through the city of Chicago.

“For these reasons it was contended by the Frank Parmelee Company that it is an integral part of the interstate railroad system. It, therefore, claimed the status of a common carrier subject to the provisions of the act to regulate commerce, as amended on June 29, 1906, and contended that it has a right, under Section I of the act, to participate in the exchange of free transportation with other carriers, and asked for an administrative ruling by the Commission to that effect.

“The decision of the Commission is in brief as follows:

“The petitioner is a common carrier engaged in the city of Chicago in transferring passengers and baggage between railroad stations and between such stations and hotels and private residences, and performs a service connected with interstate passenger traffic, but is nevertheless not a carrier subject to the provisions of the act to regulate commerce.

“Section I of the act to regulate commerce, amended June 29, 1906, provides: "No common carrier, subject to the provisions of this act shall, * * * directly or indirectly, issue or give any interstate free ticket, free pass, or free transportation for passengers, except to its employees and their families, its officers, agents, * * * Provided, That this provision shall not be construed to prohibit the interchange of passes for the officers, agents and employees of common carriers and their families." The proviso clearly modifies the main clause and is to be construed strictly. The words "common carriers" relate only to those referred to in the main clause, namely, common carriers subject to the act.

“While the petitioner, Frank Parmelee Company, not being subject to the regulating statute, may doubtless give free transportation on its omnibus and baggage express wagons to whomsoever it wishes, no common carrier subject to the jurisdiction of that act can lawfully grant free transportation to the officers, agents or employees of petitioner. Specific exceptions were noted in the act as to "baggage agents" entering trains near large terminals to arrange for baggage transfer.”

On May 15, 1908 McCulloch spearheaded the firm’s entry into the emerging taxicab business with the incorporation of the Parmelee Taxicab Company, which was authorized to issue $250,000 in capital stock. The event was covered in the July 1908 issue of the Commercial Vehicle:


“Charles A. McCulloch, of the Frank Parmelee Transfer Company, of Chicago, recently arrived home from New York, where he spent a week investigating the merits of various makes of taxicabs. The result of this trip will be that in less than ninety days 100 fare-calculating cabs will be placed on the streets of Chicago. The undertaking is in the hands of such men as J. C. Shaffer. head of the Parmelee Transfer Company; John G. Shedd, of Marshal Field & Co.; John W. Lambert; John J. Mitchell, of the Illinois Trust and Savings Co.; C. H. Randle, John W. Gates, Arthur Dixon, pioneer freight transfer men; J. B. Wilbur, and Charles A. McCulloch.

“The question of power of the cabs has not been settled and the company purposes to await the results of a severe test of a two-cycle, two-cylinder car. A number of such tests are being made by manufacturers and the Chicago company desires to have the advantage of these experiments before deciding on the make or type of car it will adopt. Its own engineer is watching the test and his report will be made before any decision is reached. Mr. Shaffer is now in Europe where he is making some observations of the foreign taxicab service, and nothing positive will be done until he returns. By the middle of July the matter will be decided.”

July 1908 issue of the Commercial Vehicle:


“The Frank Parmelee Company, of Chicago, one of the best known passenger and baggage transfer concerns in the country, has completed a new brick transfer station on Sheridan Road, the North side, as the result of an experiment in transporting heavy baggage by motor vehicle. The new station is built under the Northwestern elevated railway structure and is one of the best planned stations of this kind in Chicago. It has a large platform in the rear from which the motor wagons can be loaded.

“For over a year the company has been experimenting with a 30-horsepower 3-ton Reliance truck, gathering up baggage with small one-horse wagons and hauling it to a branch station, where it was loaded into the power truck and hauled to the main station in the elevated loop district downtown. Two branch stations were established, one on the South side and one on the North side. Incoming baggage was taken to these stations by motor wagon, and then distributed by the horse wagons. The result of one year's experimenting with one machine was that eight horses were displaced, and recently two more Reliance machines were purchased and are now in use.

“The work of the Parmelee company has attracted a great deal of attention from manufacturers and merchants, and scores of letters of inquiry have been received. The Chicago meat packers, who own and drive some of the finest draught teams in the world, are investigating the motor truck, and, taking their cue from the big baggage concern, are practically sure to adopt a similar method of extensive transfer.

“The Parmelee company says that so far as it is concerned there will be no steps backward. As fast as business warrants it, the number of motor trucks will be increased and the horse used less and less. It is possible that light motor vans will be used to collect the baggage for the branch stations. Some very severe tests under varying conditions have been made, with results in favor of electric and gasoline machines.”

An editorial rebuking Parmelee for its exorbitant taxicab rates appeared in the October 6, 1911 issue of the Railway Age Gazette:

“RECENTLY several letters have appeared in the Chicago newspapers from persons who complained that they have been unable to get satisfactory taxicab service from the passenger stations in that city. It is regrettable that the complaints on this subject are justifiable. The Frank Parmelee Company long has been given a monopoly of the solicitation of baggage and carriage business on trains entering Chicago and in the passenger stations in that city. Formerly it provided only a horse cab and a horse coach service for the carriage of passengers. There sprang up a demand for an arrangement under which passengers could order taxicabs at some desk in each station. A competing carriage and baggage company a short time ago offered to furnish this service. It was then announced that the Parmelee company would provide a taxicab service, and the offer of the competing concern was rejected. When the Parmelee company's service was established it proved to be not a taxicab service, to be paid for at the mileage rates fixed by ordinance in Chicago, but a motor car service, the rates for which within a limited radius are reasonable, but which increase so fast with distance that for any considerable distance they are very much higher than the taxicab rates. For example, to one residence in the city where the taxicab rate from the union station is $3.30 the Parmelee company on one and the same day asked one passenger $4, and another $4.75. When complaints are made to the Parmelee company its answer is that it furnishes a horse cab and a motor car service, but does no taxicab business. Now, the Parmelee company has a perfect right to refrain from doing a taxicab business if it likes. The situation of the railways is very different. They have no moral right to deny to their patrons the opportunity to engage taxicabs in their stations when this can be done without interfering with railway service in any way or encroaching on the rights of anybody. The present condition is indefensible, and exists in disregard of the recommendations of passenger officers who have fully investigated the matter. One reason that has been given for not allowing a taxicab service to be provided from the stations has been that this line of business has been unprofitable in Chicago. Such solicitude on the part of the railways for the taxicab companies' financial welfare is more gratuitous than business-like. People can get taxicabs by telephoning to hotels and other outside places and having them sent to the railway stations; and since the companies can afford to furnish them when they are not secured from desks in the stations, they could afford to furnish them at the same rates if secured from desks within the stations. The railways are amply justified in giving a monopoly of the solicitation of carriage and baggage business on their trains and in their stations to a single company; but to give it to one that will not render a complete and satisfactory carriage and baggage service, when others stand willing to do so, is a good way to invite criticism which even the best friends of the roads must admit to be just, and which, while it may not harm the Parmelee company, does harm the railways."

A brief mention of the Transfer Co.’s inventory dating from 1910 states that Parmelee’s two hundred employees operate eighty omnibuses and seventy baggage wagons all pulled by teams furnished by the 250-horse Parmelee stables. The firm’s taxicabs are not mentioned as the article dealt only with the firm’s transfer operations which were no part of the Parmelee Taxicab Company.

The Parmelee Transfer Company was late to adopt the internal combustion engine, with its first known purchase of motorized conveyances dating to late 1913 as evidenced by the following White Motor Company press release that appeared in a number of the nation’s newspapers on November 9, 1913:


“Chicago Transfer Concern Motorizes Its Service.

“Nine three-ton White trucks and one White six-cylinder touring car have been purchased by the Frank Parmelee Company of Chicago, which handles nearly all of the baggage and has work from the Chicago railroad terminals to the hotels and residences. The truck chassis will be fitted with special bodies adaptable for the carrying of trunks and other baggage.

“The Parmelee Company has had an experience in the transportation field unequaled by any other company of its kind and has had abundant opportunity to study the work of White trucks in Chicago and other cities.”

By 1919 Charles A. McCulloch had bought out J.C. Schaeffer’s share in the Transfer Co. becoming its president and chief shareholder. He reorganized Parmelee Company was incorporated under Delaware laws on July 7, 1919. Even though a Parmelee affiliate operated a competing fleet of taxicabs, McCulloch began investing in Yellow Cab and John Hertz reciprocated by purchasing an interest in Parmelee. By the mid-twenties McCulloch owned approximately 30% of Yellow Cab, and Hertz owned a corresponding percentage of Parmelee.

The following Miller Carburetor display ad was printed in the April 1, 1917 Oakland Tribune:

“California Product Again Triumphant!

“Frank Parmelee, Chicago's Mileage Merchant, operates about 200 taxicabs. Each cab must make a profit for every mile operated. Efficient, economical carburetion is the one important necessity in this business.

“Easy starting, in all weathers with low grades of fuel — instantaneous get-away — greater economy — increased motor flexibility — simple, fool-proof construction — absence of trouble-making adjustments, were points demonstrated after rigid investigations and tests and awarded to Miller Carburetors (Made In Los Angeles).

“This is but one of hundreds of instances where Miller Carburetors have proven overwhelming superiority. What results they are accomplishing for others, Miller Carburetors can do for you. Made in all sizes, for all purposes, and all grades of fuel oils. Literature and Information on request.


2841 Broadway, Oakland Phone Lakeside 328.”

The success of Hertz’ Yellow Taxicabs drove most of their competition out of business. One casualty was the taxicab subsidiary of the Parmelee Transfer Co. which was taken over by Hertz in July, 1917. Parmelee’s taxicabs were subsequently offered for sale by the Walden W. Shaw Livery Co. in a series of classified ads that were placed in the nations newspapers in August of 1917:


“We have 80 new 5-passenger limousine Dodge cars, formerly in the service of the Frank Parmelee Transfer Co They have been driven less than 3000 miles. Suitable for either taxicab purposes or private use. Price $1250. Also 40 used 6-passenger limousine Garfords at $400 each. Also 8 1916 White taxicabs at $800 each. All f.ob. Chicago. In perfect running condition. For terms and particulars call or write "Walden W. Shaw Livery Co, 1008 S, Wabash ave., Chicago.”

Parmelee continued to operate their fleet of horse-drawn omnibuses into the late teens. According to the following December 10, 1920 news item, the firm’s last horse-drawn coaches weren’t replaced with motorbuses until the winter of 1920-1921:

“CHICAGO, Dec. 10, 1920 - The old Parmelee transfer busses that have been familiar sights on Chicago streets for the past half century are soon to go the way of the night owl hacks. Orders are in to replace them with motor vehicles. The change in the style of busses that meet Chicago trains has come slower than in New York and London, but at last the big company has realized that the march of progress demands modern transportation methods.”

Most of Yellow Cab’s competitors were out of business by mid-1920, with their only serious competition being the Checker Cab Company, a small firm founded in 1919 by an Oak Park, Illinois cabbie named Frank Dilger. Checker differed from Yellow in that it was an association of independent owner-operators operating under a single livery, easily identified by their distinctive green and cream paint scheme and logo.

By mid 1920 Checker’s operations were overseen by Michael M. Sokoll (aka Mike Sokol), a competent street-wise manager who proved successful in uniting the city’s remaining independents into the Checker fold.

Hertz saw Checker as a threat and took steps to insure that life was made difficult for the firm. He enjoyed close ties to the administration of Mayor William H. Thompson, and ordinances were passed by the Chicago city council which served to benefit Yellow Cab. The most helpful being an amendment to the 1895 Cab Stand Ordinance that required cabbies to obtain a city-issued permit before they were allowed to work out of a municipal cab stand.

Coincidentally, Parmelee’s Charles A. McCullough was also a good friend of Mayor Thompson.

While all of Yellow Cab’s drivers were issued permits, a corresponding percentage of Checker driver’s were denied. Although the permit situation was eventually resolved, the resulting bad blood between Yellow and Checker’s rank and file came to a head midway through 1920 as reported by the Associated Press on July 27, 1920:

“Taxicabs Used as Tanks In Fierce Street Battle Between Rival Concerns

“Hundreds of Shots Fired By Drivers of Vehicles During Early Morning Hours in Streets On West Side of Chicago—No Casualties.

“CHICAGO, July 27, 1920 - A battle between fleets of taxicabs, in which the vehicles were maneuvered according to the best strategy of tank warfare while their drivers fired hundreds of shots at each other, raged through the early morning hours on the streets of Chicago's west side today. The battle was the result of longstanding differences between drivers of the Yellow Cab company and the Checker Taxicab company, a rival concern.

“Real Mobile Warfare.

“For hours the battling drivers played every trick of mobile warfare against each other that they could think of. Strings of Yellow Cabs, in line, rushed past the headquarters of the Checker company at breakneck speed, emptying revolver broadsides into the latter's offices. Rallying, the black and white checkered cabs of the attacked concern dashed out en masse and ripped into the Yellow for counter attacks according to the best tactics of shock action.

“While these major engagements were being fought, numerous individual battles were fought by drivers, who, racing their taxicabs hub to hub, emptied their pistols at each other at close range.

“Started by Fist Fight - The battle started in a bit of fist skirmish in which two southside drivers of the rival concerns were engaged. The engagement then moved to the west side sector, and became general. The first, powder action began when a lone machine, acting as a scout, moved on a branch garage of one of the companies. Occupants of the machine fired into the garage. This fire was promptly returned, the machine was driven off amid a regular barrage. A few minutes later a dozen cabs in close formation roared by the branch garage of the other company, with pistols of the occupants cracking like machine guns. The garage defenders replied with several volleys, and sent a fleet of their cabs in pursuit. Another branch garage was attacked by a patrol of three cabs, and from then on numerous individual encounters were reported until daybreak.

“So far as the police could learn, there were no casualties. Three of the drivers were arrested.”

One week later the violence returned as reported by the August 5, 1920 Madison Capital Times:

“Chauffeur Shot In Taxicab War

“Chicago, Aug. 5, 1920 - Chicago’s Taxicab war broke out anew this morning when a chauffeur for one of the two taxi lines was shot and probably wounded while standing in a doorway of the company’s garage. A touring car sped by the building and a gunman seated in it emptied his revolver into the garage. Chauffeurs of the two rival companies fought battles in one evening recently. Armed squads would speed by the opposition garage and fired through doors and windows. The trouble is said to have started when 50 cabs of the two lines jockeyed for positions in line before a loop theater several days ago.”

The wire services reported further violence on August 7, 1920:

“Checker Chauffeurs Renew Street Fight

“CHICAGO, Aug. 7, 1920 - Fighting was resumed today between chauffeurs of the Yellow and Checker taxi companies resulting in the wounding of two men. The trouble, it is said, was caused by the difference in rates and the fact that the drivers of one company are non-union”

The confrontations subsided due to an increased police presence, but the violence returned during the second week of June, 1921 as reported by the United Press Syndicate:


“Chicago, June 10, 1921 (UP) - Chicago's taxicab war broke out again Saturday. Four clashes between the forces of the Yellow and Checker Taxi company drivers were reported. Two men, one a passenger, were injured. The passenger was hurt in a serious smashup when a Checker cab, alleged by its driver to have been surrounded and forced off the street, crashed over a curbstone. Philip Fox, Checker driver, who repudiated his confession that he was in the cab from which Thomas Skriven, a Yellow driver, was slain, was booked this morning at the detective bureau on charges of murder and assault to kill.

“Five other employees implicated in Fox's confession, are reported also to have had truebills voted against them by the state grand jury Friday.”

An article in the June 11, 1921 Eau Claire Leader detailed the City Council’s efforts to stem the violence:


“Search Every Machine for Weapons; Five Are Indicted for Slaying.

“CHICAGO, June 10, 1921 - A search of every taxi-cab in the business district for weapons was begun by the police tonight in an effort to halt the taxi-cab war which has resulted in one murder, scores of shootings and many wrecked cabs in the past few days.

“The city council also took action to end the bitter feud between drivers of the Checker and Yellow cab companies by adopting a resolution which declared that unless the condition of lawlessness, crime and disorder was ended immediately the police would revoke the licenses of the drivers for both companies.

“The shooting and killing of a Yellow cab driver several days ago resulted today in the voting of five true bills by the grand jury charging five Checker taxi-cab employees with murder, assault to kill and criminal conspiracy, according to the state's attorney's office.”

An investigation undertaken by the Chicago Tribune revealed that 20 year-old Philip Fox had been summoned to pick up a friend and fellow driver named Morris Stuben and three others at the Checker garage by Michael Sokoll, Checker’s business manager. Fox was told that Stuben had been hit with a brick during a fight with Yellow cabbies at the Hotel Sherman and that Sokoll wanted to get even. The three other men, all unknown to Fox at the time, were enforcers provided to Sokoll by an unknown member of the Chicago crime syndicate.

Stuben’s injury was the culmination of a day-long clash between Checker and Yellow cabbies that included a car accident, a minor shooting, and a vandalized cab. The Chicago Tribune reported that a Checker driver had intentionally rear-ended a Yellow cab at the Hotel Sherman cab stand which resulted in the fight that injured Stuben. A Yellow cabbie was reportedly shot in the foot while waiting for a fare in Logan Square while a Checker Cabbie claims to have been driven of the road by a group of Yellow cabs. A fourth incident earlier in the day involved a Checker cabbie that was attacked by a group of Yellow drivers who proceeded to break all of his windows.

Once he arrived at the Checker garage Fox and Stuben were told to take the back seat inhabitants of a Stutz touring car on a survey of neighboring Yellow cabstands. The fact that the occupants in the rear seat of the Stutz were concealed by curtains did not concern the two cabbies who proceeded to the Yellow cabstand located at the corner of Roosevelt Rd. and Kedzie Ave.

Once they arrived the concealed men, Charles Goldstein, James Mogley (aka Jimmie Mogley), and Max Podolsky, opened fire on the waiting Yellow cabs, fatally shooting Yellow driver Thomas Skirven. Witnesses to the 1:00 AM shooting identified Fox and Stuben as the front seat occupants of the Stutz and the pair were picked up by Chicago’s finest later that morning and within twenty-four hours both men had confessed to the shooting.

Although Fox repudiated his confession two days later, stating he was beaten into signing the document, both men were tried on the charges. A 1922 trial resulted in a mistrial, but the prosecution made sure they got a conviction in the second 1925 trial after which the pair were sentenced to life imprisonment. Although the actual shooters were implicated during the second trial the prosecution deemed the evidence against them to be insufficient and they were acquitted. Fox and

Although Checker’s attorney were less than helpful at the trial, once convicted, they worked behind the scenes to get the “fall guys” released and in late 1928 the pardon board recommended that the governor commute the life sentences and the pair were released in late December.

Michael Sokoll, the man directly responsible for Fox’s involvement in the affair, remained in charge of the Checker Cab Association’s operations until 1935 when he became president of the reorganized Checker Cab Company, a post which he retained into the 1950s.

By 1921 unrelated Checker and Yellow companies were operating competing operations in Racine, Madison, Milwaukee and Janesville Wisconsin and on September 17, 1922 Yellow and Checker taxicab drivers in Madison, Wisconsin launched a war of their own that resulted in a number of injuries. Similar Yellow-Checker wars sprung up all around the country during the next couple of years with injuries and fatalities reported in New York City and Detroit.

At that time the future head of Checker, Morris Markin, had no direct connection with the Checker Cab Company aside from the fact that he had recently purchased the assets of Commonwealth Motors, the manufacturers of the Mogul taxicab, the preferred conveyance of the association’s owner-drivers.

Markin was born into poverty in the western Russian city of Smolensk in 1893. After a minimal public education he found work in a local clothing factory and by the age of nineteen had become foreman of a trouser manufacturer’s sewing department. Faced with a bleak future in Czarist Russia, Markin accepted an invitation from an uncle in Chicago to emigrate to the United States. He used his savings and booked passage on a steamer bound for New York’s Ellis Island, arriving in 1913.

Upon his arrival in Chicago, he found work as an assistant tailor and soon became a skilled tailor. Following the death of his employer, he was put in charge and eventually purchased the business from the tailor’s widow. Within the year, he had accumulated enough spare earnings to finance the emigration of his immediate family to the United States, and found them positions in Chicago’s growing garment industry. He eventually entered the ready made suit and pants business with one of his brothers and by the time World War I rolled around, he received a lucrative contract to supply uniforms for the US Army.

When the war ended, Markin was flush with capital, and began to invest in a number of Russian-owned local businesses, one of which was Abe Lomberg’s Auto Body Company to which he loaned out $15,000. Unfortunately for Lomberg, the expected sales of Commonwealth’s Mogul taxis fell far short of expectations and by the end of 1920, Lomberg could no longer keep up with the monthly payments and surrendered ownership of the firm to Markin.

As the nation fell into the post-war recession of 1920-21, things looked bleak for both Lomberg Body and Commonwealth, and production fell to less than 10 completed vehicles per week. Luckily Commonwealth received a substantial order from the Checker Cab Association in late 1920 just as Commonwealth’s creditors were closing in. The order kept the receivers at bay for a number of months, but by late 1921, Commonwealth Motors Corp. was finally forced into bankruptcy.

The shrewd Markin completed a number of legal maneuvers in rapid succession in order to protect his body building investment. In late 1920, he had reorganized the Lomberg Body Company into the Markin Body Company, and following Commonwealth’s bankruptcy, had made an offer to exchange shares in the Markin Body Corporation for the assets of the now bankrupt auto manufacturer.

Markin had somehow managed to get the assets of the Markin Body Company assessed for $182,703 which was most likely many times greater than the firm’s actual value, which gave him an extraordinary share of the firm’s stock. However, it looked good to Commonwealth’s receivers, and as it was the best, and most likely the only, offer presented to for Commonwealth’s assets, it was accepted in October of 1921. After waiting a few months for the dust to settle, Markin merged the two firms, and reorganized them as the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company in May of 1922.

For a few more months, Checker produced Mogul taxicabs and Commonwealth passenger cars side by side, but Markin had confidence that Checker’s future lay in taxis, and focused all of his efforts on the introduction of the Checker Model C taxi, which was introduced to Chicago’s fleet operators on June 18, 1922.

The Commonwealth was an assembled car as were all subsequent Checkers and the firm’s first cab, the Mogul Checker Model H was little more than a standard Commonwealth passenger car with a heavy-duty clutch and suspension. When Markin took over the firm he added a checkerboard patterned beltline and logo, and even installed little checkered lenses on its parking lamps.

In 1923 Checker Cab Manufacturing Co. made its first public offering of stock and by 1924 had secured the financing to take on the competition which included Elcar, HCS, Moller, Premiere, Rauch & Lang, REO and Yellow.

Checker Cab Sales was the successor to Mogul-Checker Cab Sales, which was organized on September 22, 1922 to handle Checker’s taxicab sales in New York City. Organized in December of 1922 with a $500,000 capitalization, the related Mogul Finance Corporation provided installment financing for Checker’s taxicabs. By the spring of 1923 the two firms had helped put some 600 new Mogul and Checker cabs on the streets of New York, one third of which were operated by the Mogul Checker Taxi Company.

On September 23, 1924 Mogul-Checker’s chairman, William Larney, upset Manhattan’s cabbies while giving testimony in the trial of a former employee accused of larceny. The New York Times reported:

“Eighty per cent of the taxi chauffeurs in this city are either drunkards, drug addicts or sneak thieves," said William Larney, Chairman of the Mogul Checker Taxi Company, in the West Side Court yesterday where Richard Mahoney, 19, of 179 East Ninety-sixth Street, a former employe of the company, had been arraigned before Magistrate Charles A. Oberwager for withholding his badge and book from the Department of Licenses.”

Members of the Brotherhood of Taxi Chauffeurs employed by the Mogul Checker Cab Corporation drivers went out on strike during May 1924 in a dispute over wages. The strike launched a fare war amongst the city’s four largest operators that saw the rate fall from 20 cents to 10 cents per half mile.

Many of Checker-Mogul’s drivers, dissatisfied with the firm’s new rate schedule resigned, and in cooperation with Checker Cab Sales Corp., Checker Cab Mfg.'s NY sales office, formed their own association closely modeled on Chicago's Checker Cab association. The Checker Cab Service Co. was organized in late 1924 and by early 1926 was Manhattan’s second largest taxicab operator.

Dwarfed only by New York’s Yellow Cab Corp., Checker Cab Service was made up of 3,000 independent owner operators. Headed by Henry Weiss, Checker Cab Service was an association whose members paid a service fee to the association for dispatch services, insurance, and garage and maintenance fees.

The war between Checker and Yellow cabbies continued into 1923 as evidenced by the following two wire service reports:


“CHICAGO, Apr. 16, 1923 - Chicago's taxicab war was believed by police to have broke out afresh today when four men in a Checker taxi, fired, on J. S. Ringer, superintendent of the Yellow Taxi Company. Ringer was uninjured. The men in the Checker car fled, firing at pursuing policemen as they went.”

A new confrontation, seemingly unconnected with the Checker’s battle with Yellow cabbies, turned violent in early June. Chicago’s Teamsters, Chauffeurs and Helpers Union was vying for control of the Checker association, and on June 6, 1923 union organizer Frank Sexton was shot and killed by gunmen opposed to unionization. The United Press wire reported:


“Affair Apparently Outcome of Clash Among Taxi Drivers

Chicago. June 7, 1923 (UP) - Frank Sexton, declared by police to be connected with a labor union, was shot to death early today by two taxicab drivers in a pool room on West Division street. Authorities said the murder was apparently the outgrowth of a war between independent and union drivers on "Checker" taxis. About a dozen drivers were arrested for questioning.”

The following day Morris Markin’s home was bombed as reported by the Associated Press:



“Two Factions of "Checker" Drivers Fighting for Control—Attempt to Wreck Home of Head of Taxi Company.

“CHICAGO, June 8, 1923 (AP) - An alleged Checker taxi taxicab driver’s war blamed by police for the slaying Friday of Frank Sexton, ‘union slugger’ resumed today in bombing of the home of Morris Markin, president of the Checker Taxicab Manufacturing company. The residence was partially wrecked and Markin and his family thrown from their beds.

“Two factions of the "Checker" drivers are fighting for control of the manufacture of the taxis which involve a cooperative scheme, according to Markin. Two men arrested for the Sexton shooting also gave police this reason for the ‘war.’”

Agents representing the State’s Attorney General rounded up Jack Rose, Sexton’s alleged shooter, and thirty other suspects, all believed to be involved in the conflict. Markin believed he was targeted as he had refused to “play ball” with the Teamsters and their violent criminal elements.

The increasingly untenable situation had already prompted Markin to look for a new manufacturing facility located as far away as possible from Chicago. At the time of the bombing Markin was in the process of relocating his cab manufacturing operations to Kalamazoo, Michigan and the first cab rolled out of the former Handley-Knight automobile plant on July 15, 1923.

During one of Rose’s preliminary court hearings, Patrick Sexton, Frank Sexton’s father, shot and killed Rose as he was being led from the courtroom:

“Father Kills Man as Trial for Slaying of His Son is Postponed

“Chicago April 21, 1923 - Justice robbed of its chance to determine the fate of Jack Rose, scheduled to be tried for murder, when an elderly man stepped up to the accused as he was being led from the courtroom and fired two shots at close range. Rose died a few minutes later. The slayer was the father of Frank Sexton, slain in Chicago's taxicab war June 6. for whose killing Rose was to be tried. The trial had been continued by Judge Hosea W. Wells just before the shooting of Rose.”

While John Hertz’ influence peddling was largely done behind closed doors, the outgoing Markin didn’t shy away from personally bribing trial witnesses, a scheme that backfired in early November, 1923 as reported by the Associated Press:


“Two Checker Cab Action Defendants and Three Chauffeurs Ordered Held by Justice.


“Taxi Drivers Change Statements After Sworn, Then Switch Again, Asserting They Were Paid to Do So

“New York, Nov. 8, 1923 (AP) – Supreme Court Justice Cohalan today caused the arrest in his courtroom on charges of bribery and subordination of perjury Morris Markin, former president of the Checker Cab Manufacturing Corporation and Emil R. Carlson, both of Chicago and both appearing in the course of the trial in a suit brought by the Yellow Cab Manufacturing Company, a Maine Corporation, against the Checker concern which is a Delaware Corporation.

“Three Chicago chauffeurs, Frank Spurr, Charles Kaplan, and Bernard Goldstein, were also arrested on charges of perjury. Markin and Carlson were released in $10,000 bail each, and the chauffeurs in $5,000 bail each.

“The arrests were the result of affidavits made and testimony taken before Justice Cohalan during trial of the suit to restrain the Checker concern from using the "Checker" design around the borders of tonneaus and in the seals appearing on Checker cabs.

“The chauffeurs in December of last year swore they and others had procured cabs with the Checker design on them from the plaintiff before the defendant concern began using the design. Later they swore before Justice Cohalan that the affidavits signed in their names were forgeries. Several days ago they again swore before Justice Cohalan that they had renounced their original affidavits, which they declared to be genuine, and they had been promised $5,000 each for changing their testimony.

“Markin testifying before Justice Cohalan today, admitted having given each of the chauffeurs $1,080 but said, in doing so, he had in no sense bribed them or attempted to bribe them. The men, he said, had teen beaten and had suffered much in the progress of the "war" of taxicab companies in Chicago. He declared he gave them the money as "an act of lady justice." The money, he added, came from his personal bank account. The action came before the Supreme Court here through the plaintiffs effort to secure an Injunction in this State. The defendants including the Checker Cab Company, the Mogul Cab Corporation and Weiss, Polansky & Becker, countered with a cross demand for an injunction, claiming they had originated the checker design.”

Although Markin was now conducting Checker’s cab manufacturing operations at a safe distance, Checker cab drivers did not enjoy the same luxury and in early 1924 the Associated Press reported that violence had erupted amongst their ranks one again:


“Chicago, Ill., Feb. 9, 1924 (AP) – Search for four men believed to be involved in the outbreak of a revolver battle between warring factions of the Checker Taxi company, kept down during the last few weeks by the constant presence of a police detail, resulting in the death of one man, was being conducted tonight by the police.

“The shooting occurred today when a gang of men believed to include the four sought, appeared at the offices of the company and began firing. Hardly had this group opened fire when another gang appeared and opened fire, forcing the first gang to flee.

“At a recent election of the company, peace was maintained only by the presence of a squad of policemen. President Emmanuel Goldstein was in the office of Police Chief Morgan A. Collins at the time the alarm of the shooting came in.”

A subsequent news item appearing on February 15, 1925 hinted that an additional murder had occurred:

“A coroner's jury placed responsibility for the two latest killings in the Checker Taxi company's war in Chicago on six or more sluggers and gunmen.”

More violence was reported by a small Associated Press story dated August 13, 1924:


“Chicago, Aug. 13, 1924 (AP) - Edward Newberry, former superintendent of the Checker Taxi company, is held in connection with the shooting yesterday of William Beater and Harry Morely, the latter, general manager of the company.”

In addition to his work for Checker, Edward (‘Ted’) Newberry, was a longtime bootlegger and close associate of mobster Dean Charles O’Banion.

Whoever was causing the violence, the fact remained that working for Chicago's Checker or Yellow Cab Companies could be hazardous to your health. Between 1920 and 1932, countless Chicago cabbies were injured, some seriously, and at least a dozen persons associated with the taxi business lost their lives.

In a 1979 interview, Frank Sawyer, president of the Checker Taxi Co. of Boston (founded 1921), former vice-president of the National Association of Taxicab Owners and the chairman of Avis Rent-a-Car Co, recalled an early trip to Chicago where he observed a closet full of firearms inside a Checker association garage.

In the spring of 1922, Morris Markin, the current owner of the Markin Body Co., requested that a receiver be appointed for Commonwealth Motors after which the firm’s assets were reorganized as the Checker Cab Manufacturing Co. Markin subsequently offered 25,000 shares of stock to help raise operating capital. As a consequence of that stock offering, Markin and Michael Glassberg, Checker Cab Mfg. Co.’s treasurer, were jointly indicted in 1924 by the criminal court of Cook county for violating Illinois’ ‘Blue Sky’ law.

In an attempt to boost the value of his Checker Cab shares, Markin greatly overestimated the value of the firm’s assets and failed to list all of its debts. Although both men were initially convicted, fined $2,000, and sentenced to 30 days in prison, the ruling was reversed on appeal and they were acquitted.

In early 1922 the American Yellow Taxi Operators Inc., one of New York City's larger taxicab operators, placed the following advertisement in a number of New York newspapers:

"The American Yellow Taxi Operators, Inc., is advertising the news that the New York Supreme Court has granted it an injunction restraining a rival operator from using the same or similar design and color scheme on its taxicabs in New York newspapers.

"Steps are being taken to remove the other numerous imitators that are trading on good-will at your and our expense."

Manhattan's two largest Yellow Cab operators, American Yellow Taxi Operators Inc. and the Yellow Taxi Corporation were merged on July 21, 1922. American Yellow Taxi Operators had been founded by Ernest H. Miller, a  Yellow Cab operator from Newark, New Jersey.

Born in Marion, Ohio, Miller started his business career as an office boy at the Marion Daily Star, a newspaper owned by Warren Harding, the 29th president of the United States. He entered the taxicab business in 1919 by organizing the Yellow Cab Company of Newark, N. J. serving as it president for the next decade. In 1921 Miller helped organize the American Yellow Taxi Operators Inc. a Manhattan operator which was subsequently merged into the Yellow Taxi Corporation, another Manhattan operator, in 1922. Fifteen months later (November 9, 1923), the Yellow Taxi Corporation was merged into a new firm, the Yellow Taxi Corporation, New York and three years later Miller was elected president.

March 24, 1922, NY Times

“1,000 TAXIS FACE CHANGE OF PAINT; Yellow Taxicab Company Wins Injunction Against Imitator of Its Distinctive Color.

“William E. McGuirk, Treasurer of the American Yellow Taxi Operators, Inc., 145th St and Lenox Ave, said yesterday that approximately 1,000 taxicabs would be obliged to change color as the result of a ruling just made by Justice Joseph E. Newburger in Part 1 special term of the Supreme Court. Justice Newburger has granted a temporary injunction restraining Thomas Hanges, owner of two taxicabs, from using the design of the American Yellow Taxi Operators, Inc.

“‘I know of no clearer case of attempting to mislead the public as the defendant admits he has done,’ said Justice Newburger. ‘The motion for an injunction bust be granted.’

“The defendant is restrained ‘from using or employing or operating for hire taxicabs designed or painted or colored in imitation or colorable simulation of plaintiff’s taxicabs’, also from ‘adopting, using, or employing the taxicabs and names, devices, finish, color or get-up, style, or dress calculated to be confused with or mistaken for taxicabs of the plaintiff.’ Hanges, in his answer, said that he bought the two taxicabs from the New York Yellow Cab Company, a sales agency, of 123 West Sixty-fourth Street; that he was assured that the color design was that of the concern from which he bought the cars.

“Mr. McGuirk explained that his concern started in 1921 with 26 taxicabs, and that the number since had been increased to approximately 200. He added. ‘After building up our business with careful chauffeurs and a clean system, hundreds of imitators sprang up, copying our cars and our name, and even appropriating our telephone number. We let them go just so far, and now the ruling of the Court will put a stop to it.’”

During the early twenties Manhattan fleet operators established their own public relations firm, the Empire State Taxicab Chamber of Commerce, whose director, Frederick H. Elliott issued pamphlets such as 1925’s ‘Ten Commandments for Taxicab Operators.’ Another organization, The Taxicab Chamber of Commerce, headed by Henry Weiss, former head of Checker Cab Service, and H.A. Inness Brown, editor of ‘The Taxi Weekly’ served a similar purpose during the Depression.

The National Association of Taxicab Owners served a similar duty on a national scale. In the June 1925 issue of the Rotarian, Arthur Melville wrote about a NATO sponsored study in his Gasoline Alley column:

“It may be of interest to note how the Chicago Yellow Cab Company has succeeded in cutting down its accidents 34 per cent by applying three simple psychological test for the 6,000 drivers employed.

“These tests were devised by Dr. A.J. Snow, of the staff of Northwestern University, who is a consulting psychologist for several firms, and are an excellent example of specialized test for vocations. Beside their present use by this cab company, to which the plan was suggested by the safety committee of the National Association of Taxicab Owners, these tests have aroused considerable interest in various other transportation circles. They are now being studied by the Illinois legislators, possible with the idea of incorporating something of the sort in one of the sixty-seven assorted bills concerning automobiles which await the attention of the present legislature.

“The psychologist began by taking a job as a taxi-driver for several weeks. This personal experience was supplemented by an examination of the best drivers to determine their predominant qualities. Dr. Snow found that the good drivers had three essential characteristics; common sense, habitual carefulness, and emotional stability – which means simply the ability to respond to emergencies without hysterics. Then he prepared three tests to determine whether applicants had these desirable qualities.

“First comes a written intelligence test. There are no trick questions, in fact a 14-year-old boy made 128 points on this test, yet certain adult applicants could not make 50 points in twenty-five minutes, this lack of normal mentality being enough to eliminate them at the beginning.

“Next is the emotional-stability test, which is given with the aid of an electrical apparatus. The applicant is seated in a cabinet before a table with a switchboard, two big electric cells, and a spark gap. His feet are firmly planted on two pedals. While he is occupied with lighting little signal lamps at the switchboard, he is told that something may happen – and if it does he is to press down on a third pedal and move a switch with his right hand. Then the door closes behind the man giving the test, and the applicant continued to busy himself with his signal lamps. Suddenly without any warning, the man outside throws a switch. A streak of electricity shoots across the spark gap in front of the candidate, and he has to do something – fast. Most applicants react in about two seconds, remember their instructions, and shut off the spark, but some go to pieces completely. For instance in one group of a hundred applicants, twenty of them took fifteen seconds to rally round, and thereby lost their chance of a job. When you consider that a car going thirty miles an hour moves 660 feet in fifteen seconds, you can see why.

“The third test sorts out the habitually reckless, although it is deceptive in its simplicity. There is a large pile of miscellaneous articles. The applicant is told to places these all on a small table – and not to waste any time about it. Here the old proverb about ‘haste makes waste’ gets emphasis. The chap who is forever taking chances is quite apt to drop a book into a pan of water – to dump a heavy bag of salt on top of the eggs – or otherwise to ‘spill the beans’. And the man who does such things is also apt to be one of the 18 per cent of the drivers who have 46 per cent of the accidents. Or more accurately he would be - if he got the job!

“The Chicago Yellow Cab Company, I might add, is responsible for the innovation of the red, amber and green traffic lights on the famous Michigan Boulevard. They were installed with the understanding that if the signals worked well the city would adopt the scheme, buying the lighting system; if not, the cab company would pay the original cost plus that of having the synchronized lights removed. After due trial on this thoroughfare, where automobiles run three and four abreast in each direction, it was found that the stop-and-go lights reduced accidents 75 per cent. The city now has similar lights on practically all busy boulevard sections.”

In 1925 Markin founded the American Country Insurance Co. to sell insurance to taxi drivers. Authorized Checker Cab Mfg. sales agencies required that taxicabs sold through the factory’s installment plan be insured by the firm.

The Parmelee story is continued here.

© 2004 Mark Theobald -


Parmelee Is Continued




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John Gunnell - GMC: The First 100 Years

Jim Klein and Martha Olson - Taken For A Ride (PBS Movie)

Cliff Slater - General Motors and the Demise of Streetcars - Transportation Quarterly vol 51, 1997

Bradford C. Snell - American Ground Transport: A Proposal for Restructuring the Automobile, Truck, Bus and Rail Industries. Report presented to the Committee of the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly, United States Senate, February 26, 1974

Modern Marvels: Buses - History Channel program

David O. Lyon - The Kalamazoo Automobilist 1891-1991

Massie and Schmidt – Kalamazoo: The Place Behind the Products

Auburn and Cord In Connersville - Cars & Parts, May 1986 issue Vol 29 No 5

David O. Lyon - A Century of Automobiling in Kalamazoo - Museography Vol. 3 No. 3 Spring 2004 Issue (Kalamazoo Valley Museum)

Mighty Michigan – The Horseless Carriage - Vol. 52, No.1, Jan-Feb 1990 issue

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists ISBN 8096897403

Patrick J. Martin - Professional Cars from Kalamazoo – The Professional Car, Issue #103, First Quarter 2002

Karl Ludvigsen - Chubby Checkers - Special Interest Autos, August-October 1973

Rod J. Walton - Checker: The Rolls-Royce of Taxis - 1991 Cars & Parts Annual

John A. Heilig - The Checkered History of the Cab from Kalamazoo - Automobile Quarterly, Winter 1992 

Michael Lamm - The Checker King - Collectible Automobile, August 1998

Michael Lamm - 1947-82 Checker: Rugged to the End - Collectible Automobile, June 2000

Checkerboard News - Checker Car Club of America 

David O. Lyon - The Kalamazoo Automobilist 1891-1991 - ISBN 0-932826-83-0, published by New Issues Press, Western Michigan University.

Massie and Schmidt – Kalamazoo: The Place Behind the Products

James Hinckley - Checker Cab Photo History

Auburn and Cord In Connersville - Cars & Parts, May 1986 issue Vol 29 No 5

1922 Checker Cab: Featured Vehicle - Collectible Automobile, December, 1993

Jim Hinckley – Checker: Urban Legend - Hemmings Classic Car, August 2005 issue

Automotive Industries - August 8, 1931 issue

Kalamazoo Gazette - April 8, 1982 issue

Cord In Control – Time Magazine, March 27, 1933 issue

Time Magazine - August 16, 1933 issue

Farley’s Deal - Time, Magazine, April 23, 1934 issue

Cord out of Cord - Time Magazine, Aug. 16, 1937 issue

SEC’s Next Round – Time Magazine, Jan. 10, 1938 issue

Jeff Huebner – Kalamazoo Cab – Michigan History, November/December 1985 issue

Checkerboard News - Checker Car Club of America

Jon Tuska - The Vanishing Legion: A History of Mascot Pictures, 1927-1935

Extended Auto Warranties
Are you paying too much? Make sure your auto warranty covers your entire vehicle.

Car Shows
State by State directory of car shows; includes new car shows and classic auto events.

Auto Buying Guide
Paying too much? Use this step by step guide to help get the best deal on your next car.

Car Books, Models & Diecasts
Your one stop shop for automotive books, models, die-casts & collectibles.


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