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
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
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
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
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
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:
“ELECTRIC BUSES FOR CHICAGO.
“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
The October 2, 1904 issue of the New York Times announced the passing of
the firm’s founder:
“FRANK PARMELEE DEAD.
“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
Total miles traveled:
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:
Average number of daily stops:
Total elapsed time:
342 ½ hours
Time occupied in stops:
Net running time:
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:
“PARMELEE TAXICAB CO.’S PLANS
“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:
“BAGGAGE TRANSFER IN CHICAGO
“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
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:
“BUYS FLEET OF WHITES
“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
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.
“P. B. ANSPACHER, NORTHERN CALIFORNIA DISTRIBUTOR
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:
“ATTENTION, TAXICAB OPERATORS
“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:
“TWO MEN WOUNDED IN RENEWAL OF TAXI WAR
“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:
“CHICAGO ACTS TO CHECK BITTER TAXICAB FEUD
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
The war between Checker and Yellow cabbies continued into 1923 as
evidenced by the following two wire service reports:
“CHICAGO'S TAXICAB WAR BREAKS ANEW
“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:
“MAN SHOT TO DEATH IN CHICAGO QUARREL
“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
“FURIOUS WAR FOR CONTROL
“SLAYING AND BOMBINGS OCCUR IN CITY OF CHICAGO.
“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
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
“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:
“FIVE NABBED IN COURT ON BRIBE, PERJURY CHARGE
“Two Checker Cab Action Defendants and Three Chauffeurs Ordered Held by
“$5,000 OFFERED TO SWITCH TESTIMONY
“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:
“HUNT FOR MEN IN TAXI BATTLE
“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
More violence was reported by a small Associated Press story dated August
“HOLD MAN FOR PART IN CAB WAR
“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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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