Chicago Tribune, March 22, 1965
“Imagine what Michigan avenue traffic was like before we installed traffic lights,” Robert E. Samuels, president of the Yellow Cab company, said yesterday, reminiscing on the history of the company which this month is celebrating its 50th year.
The lights, he said, are just one of the many firsts in the automotive and taxicab industries which can be credited to the company.
The firm traces its origins to 1905 when Walden W. Shaw and John Hertz became partners in an auto agency, Samuels said. A year later, the Walden W. Shaw company was incorporated, and in 1907 it purchased a number of Thomas taxicabs equipped with meters.
Seven years later, on New Year’s eve, the design of the first taxi of the Yellow Cab Manufacturing company, aimed at meeting the special requirements of a taxi, was completed.
The first Yellow, the Model J, took to Chicago streets in August, 1915, the 12 different auto makes used by Shaw and Yellow previously.
With the Model J, the com- pany went after volume busi- ness. It reduced fares at one point in 1915 and 1916 to 25 cents for the first half-mile and 10 cents for each succeeding mile. Rates since have fluctuated thru the years according to fluctuations in the nation’s economies.
In the 20’s the average one-mile ride cost ranged between 30 cents and 45 cents. At the height of the depression, in 1933, it dipped to 20 cents. The average mile now costs 60 to 70 cents.
The company, which set out to be “the pioneer of the taxi industry,” Samuels said, made its first major contribution with the adoption of a distinctive color for cabs. Yellow was selected as the result of a curvey by a research institute.
He said that Yellow also pioneered in the use of balloon tires, automatic windshield wipers, ultra-high-frequency two-way radios and, in recent years, fleet-wide use of – ultra-high-frequency radio and passenger seat belts.
Walden W. Shaw Company
Shaw Livery Company
June 16, 1914
Announcements of the Yellow Cab Company
Left: April 1, 1915
Right: August 2, 1915
Yellow Cab Company vs Checker Cab Company
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.
Competition between the Yellow Cab Company and Checker Taxi in Chicago was fierce and frequently violent with a number of shootings and deaths which peaked in 1920 and revitalized in mid-1921.
Associated Press, 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—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.
Chicago Tribune, June 9, 1921
Chicago became a battlefield last night for a taxicab warfare when shortly after midnight P. A. Skirven, a Yellow cab driver, was shot and killed, the police believe by men connected with the Checker company. During the night there were at least four other shooting affrays in which taxi interests clashed. In two of the shootings reported passengers are said to havo been menaced by the bullets.
The Yellow Cab company at 2 o’clock Lhis morning offered a reward of $5,000 for the arrest and conviction of the slayers of Skirven.
Skirven Shot by Three.
Skirven was standing in front of the Yellow Cab stand at Roosevelt road and Kedzie avenue talking to several chauffeurs. A large automobile, said by several witnesses to have been a Stutz, sped east on Roosevelt road.
Three of the occupants of the auto opened fire with revolvers. Over twenty-five shots were fired at the men standing on the sidewalk, one striking Skirven in the left side above the heart. He was rushed to St. Anthony’s hospital, where it was found he was dead.
Starts in the Loop.
Until this morning the trouble had been restricted to minor assaults. It is charged that the attempt of the Checker company to take patronage from the Yellow Cab station at the Hotel Sherman precipitated the strife. A number of Yellow drivers, according to Yellow officials, who had been instructed to maintain peace, were slugged. A Checker chauffeur was arrested. Among the clashes reported to the police were these:
- William Kosocoft. & Checker taxlcab chauffeur, living at 1639 South Ridgeway avenue, was arrested by Capt. Patrick Lavin during an attack at the Hotel Sherman taxi stand.
A Yellow driver named Lawrence is reported to have been shot alter 2 o’clock this morning at Logan square and Milwaukee avenue. He was hit in! the foot.
Hertz Declares War.
John Hertz, president of the Yellow Cab company, early today, stated:
- We have gone just as far with the murderous methods of tho Checker Taxi company as we intend to.
It has only been comic opera, warfare until tonight, but from now on it is going to be a fight to a finish. We feel that we might just as well end the whole business right now.
In addition to offering a reward of $5,000 for the murderer of Driver Sklrven. I am going to the state’s attorney this morning and insist on a full investigation by the grand jury of the Checker Cab’s entire crooked business.
We warned the chief of police on Saturday that the warfare would be started on Monday at the Sherman. We knew it had been planned for weeks and took what steps wo could to prevent serious trouble.
The whole thing is a climax to a fight which was started six months ago. Many of the Checker drivers are former employes of the Yellow Cab company, dismissed for inefficiency, dishonesty, or worse. Naturally they hate the company.
The Yellow Cab company for seven years has been conducting a dignified and difficult business, giving a service to Chicago that is not equaled by any other transportation company in the world. It isn’t a game with us. We are working hard for the best interests of the city and we do not propose to be interfered with one minute longer.
Chicago Tribune June 10, 1921
Philip Fox, 2342 Washburn avenue, Checker Cab company chauffeur, confided last night that he was implicated in the murder of Thomas A. Skirven, driver of a Yellow Ca\b.
He named five companions who were with him in the big car from which the shots were fired, They had been touring the city all night, he said, doing all the damage they could to Yellow cabs.
New Action in Bitter War.
This was the latest development in the bitter war between the rival cab companies for some time. Others are:
- Two men in a Yellow cab fired four shots at Joseph Zomowski, 5109 Melvina avenue, a Check chauffeur, at California and Grand avenues last night. None of the shots took effect.
Harry Rosenthal, a Checker driver, reported that he was sitting in his cab at 22d and Halsted streets late last night and was fired upon by the occupants of a large touring car that sped past south on Halsted street. The driver was uninjured, but the car was riddled with bullets.
The same car is said to have fired upon two police officers standing at 16th street and Kenzie avenue a short time later. The police returned the fire but reported no one was injured.
Aldermen to Take Action.
Alderman George M. Mapole and Joseph O. Kostner will introduce in the city council meeting today a resolution calling on Chief of Police Fitzmorris to keep both the Yellow and Checker cabs off the streets until such time as they can guarantee to quit fighting. This is designed to protect the lives of taxicab passengers, which, in the present state of affairs, the aldermen say, are unsafe. This can be done, they point out, be revoking their licenses.
Fifty Checker chauffeurs were arrested in the loop. Practically every Checker chauffeur who ventured into the First precinct was taken into custody on the charge that he had no cab stand license.
Officials of the Checker company also declare that politics and unionism are back of the war, that they are
fighting the entire Thompson-Landin political organization.”
Fox was arrested early yesterday morning in the restaurant and pool room of David J. Brown, 2002 West Division street. He admitted he and the other Checker employes went there to hide their revolvers after the shooting of Skirven.
His confession came after the Yellow Cab company had offered a reward of $5,000 for the arrest of Skirven’s slayers and after Michael Sokol, president of the Checker company, had offered a reward of $25,000 for proof that the slayers were Checker cab drivers.
The arrest was made by Detective Sergeant Thomas Mangan. The confession made to him, Assistant State’s Attorney William Scott Stewart, Chief of Detectives Michael Hughes, and Attorney William Baird, representing the Yellow Cab people.
He said he did not fire any shots, but sat in the rear seat, a witness.
Brown Also Confesses.
Brown, who was also under arrest, confessed that the six men had come into his place and hidden their weapons. He said he would testify against them, and refused to be released on a writ of habeas corpus.
Detectives immediately sought the five men named by Fox, and a 1 o’clock this morning it was said that three of them had been taken. Their names were withheld.
Chief of Police Fitzmorris went to the battle ground last night—the Rialto district. At first he ordered that all cabs intending to pick up passengers at the Hotel Sherman must stand in line, and must come from the north.
Later he sent out the order to arrest all Checker drivers on the grounds they had no cab license.
Attorney Points to Politics.
Attorney Leonard J. Grossman of the Checker concern, stated that under an ordinance passed in 1920 a number of chauffeurs who had not taken out cab stand licenses were arrested. But none were convicted.
Some time ago, he says, they held a conference with Chief Fitzmorris. The chief stated the matter would rest until after the judicial election.
Mr. Grossman said:
- If this was a hint for the Checker chauffeurs to line up with the Thompson-Landin outfit in the judicial campaign, we ignored it. As a company, and as individuals, we upheld the coalition candidates and gave them a dinner at which Judge Hugo Friend was the principal speaker.
This arresting our men now is a malicious abuse of legal process., done to embarrass us temporarily. But we were told we would be punished.
The mayor and the chief are treating us unfairly. State’s Attorney Crowe, through his assistant, Mr. Stewart, has been most unfair.
Mr. Grossman stated the Yellow Cab company had a number of gunmen and sluggers in its employ, one of whom had “boasted of murders committed for his company.” He also said a city policeman took pay from the city while working for the Yellow concern.
He cited the case of William Kosocoss, 1539 Ridgeway avenue, Checker chauffeur, arrested Wednesday night after a Yellow cab had bumped his car in the rear and he had smashed into a Yellow in front of him. He was booked on a charge of assault. He was indicted yesterday morning on a charge of “assault with intent to kill.”
“It is so easy for the Yellow company to obtain indictments,” Mr. Grossman said, “but not for us. Last February Billy Barton, a superintendent of the Yellow Cab company, was arrested as one of the men who riddled our garage on Broadway with bullets, damaging many cars. The case against him is still pending.”
Kosocoss was released last night on the police charge. It is expected he will be arrested on the indictment this morning.
One Held Without Booking.
Chief Fitzmorris last night ordered John Newberry, 711 Waveland avenue, Checker man, held without being booked. His car had collided with a Yellow cab. He says it was an accident. Others of the fifty Checker employees were released on bonds.
Ald. Maypole and Kostner were attending a meeting of the finance committee when they were attracted to the taxi battle in the street below. They rushed out to see the fracas. Maypole believes the police are doing all they can, but he believes the council should do more.
“The police can only arrest after an accident or a murder,” he said. “The council can prevent murder if it will.”
Ald. Costner believes the police could handle the situation better by preventing such swarms of cabs from going around the hotel, and by limiting the cabs to the traffic demands.
Yellow Company Issues Statement.
C, W. Gray, vice president and general manager of the Yellow Cab company, issued a statement last night, saying:
- Our drivers realize they are on duty for business, not to carry on a dirty street warfare with Checker gunmen. We have forbidden our employees to be thugs.
Associated Press, April 15, 1923
CHICAGO’S TAXICAB WAR BREAKS ANEW
CHICAGO—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.
Chicago Tribune July 19, 1925
Mayor Dever stepped into the warfare between two rival taxicab companies yesterday and issued a warning that unless a truce is agreed upon drastic measures would be taken to quell the outbreaks.
The mayor, after he had been informed that one had been destroyed by fire and two others partly wrecked by a bombardment of bricks at Robey and Armitage avenue, said:
- The taxi drivers’ war must stop, and stop immediately.
We will see whether the taximen control and own the streets or the people. I intend to confer with Chief Collins on the situation. The latest incident, the burning of a cab on the northwest side, is about the limit. This lawlessness spells defiance of constituted authority.
Later Chief Collins directed Chief of Detectives Schoemaker to station two squads In the loop district, with instructions to arrest all cab drivers engaging in disputes. The orders from the chief’s office stated that all belligerent taxicab drivers are to be held all night. Captains in the out-lying districts were instructed to take steps to prevent outbreaks between the chauffeurs of the two rival companies.
Wild West Display of Guns.
The burning of the taxicab on the northwest side early yesterday was attended by a wild west display of revolvers, the police were informed by witnesses.
Three Premier cabs, carrying four and five men each, and a supply of bricks and gasoline, the police were informed. drove up alongside three Yellow cabs at Robey street and Armitage .
At pistol point the Yellow cab drivers were held to one side their cabs became a target for a bombardment of bricks. In parting the wrecking crew poured gasoline over one of the partially demolished cabs and set it afire.
The police and fire departments were called, but before the arrival of the former the attacking party had fled. The cabs used by the sluggers bore no plates, the police were informed by the Yellow drivers.
Linked With Hotel Battle.
Revival of the taxicab warfare is believed to be a second chapter to the battle which out in front of Hotel La Salle and Hotel Sherman on Thursday night. The trouble on that occasion arose from a dispute over rights for those stands, the De Luxe cab organization, which held rights to the stands, having gone temporarily out of business.
For several years a dispute has existed among various taxicab companies over the exclusive right to the La Salle stand. A few years ago the Hotel La Salle company operated its own fleet of taxicabs. Outbreaks between the hotel company’s drivers and those employed by the Yellow Cab company were frequent and at times tied up the traffic in La SaIle street between Washington and Madison streets.
Hotel Sells Cabs; Rows Go On.
To keep peace between the warring factions of taxicab drivers it was decided to detail two policemen in plain clothes from the Central station and a mounted policeman at the hotel’s taxi stand. The Hotel La Salle company sold its cars to the Diamond Cab company and with the cabs went the privilege of handling the hotel’s passenger traffic. Outbreaks occurred between the Diamond drivers and Yellow chauffeurs. The Diamond company disbanded and the newly organized De Luxe Cab company began to handle passengers at the Hotel La Salle stand. When the latter went out of business the hotel stand became a battleground between Premier Cab company and Yellow Cab drivers.
The Premier was organized shortly after of the chauffeurs’ union were ousted from control of the Checker Cab company. The Checker Company was then placed on the unfair list of the Chicago Federation of Labor through the efforts, it is said, of Tim Neary, the head of the chauffeurs’ union.
It has been said that leaders of organized labor in Chicago are financially interested In the Premier Cab company, of which Peter A. Mortenson, former superintendent of city schools, is president.
Yellow Cab Model O-4
From the film “Chicago”
Chicago Yellow Cab
A press release that was sent to the automotive trade on January 1, 1921
- CHICAGO, Ill.—The new year brings Chicago its first great automotive industry. John Hertz, president of the Yellow Cab Manufacturing Co., today announced that his organization will begin immediately the manufacture and distribution, on a tremendous scale, of passenger cars and light trucks.
Manufacture will be in the great new factory of the Yellow Cab Company at Menard and Dickens st., northwest. The new industry will mean an investment of several million dollars and employment of several hundred more workers, within a few months.
The Yellow Cab Co. has been for several years turning out about 2,000 of its famous cabs a year, for use in this and other cities. Now the Yellow Cab Manufacturing Co., developed from the cab organization, is going into the passenger and truck field on a mammoth scale.
The star of the company’s line will be a 12-cylinder car, called the Ambassador, which Mr. Hertz this morning characterized as ‘the most beautiful car ever made.’ Greatest production, however, will be on a 4-cylinder car, of moderate price, worked out on the Yellow Cab chassis. To complete the line, the Yellow Cab Manufacturing Company will get out a one-ton speed-wagon truck and a ton and one-quarter speed truck. Types of all these various cars have been turned out behind closed doors at the Yellow factory and are ready for exhibition at the Chicago automobile show, Jan. 29 to Feb. 5.
By 1925 the Yellow Cab Company was owned by the ‘Chicago Yellow Cab Company’ which in turn was owned by Hertz, Parmelee and some other investors. In the same year he established The Omnibus Corporation to control both the Chicago Motor Coach Company and the Fifth Avenue Coach Company in New York.
In 1925 Hertz held the following positions:
- President of the Yellow Cab Company
Chairman Benzoline Motor Fuel Company
Chairman Chicago Motor Coach Company
Chairman Fifth Avenue Coach Company
Chairman New York Transportation Company
Chairman Omnibus Corporation of America
Chairman Yellow Coach Manufacturing Company
Chairman Yellow Sleeve-Valve Engine Works
Chairman Yellow Truck and Coach Manufacturing Company
During that time, the company, still controlled by Hertz, helped launch several important innovations: automatic windshield wipers, smooth-riding Firestone balloon tires, and telephone dispatching of taxis.
He then sold his remaining interest in the Yellow Cab Company in 1929 following the firebombing of his stables where 11 horses were killed.
In September of 1918, the pioneer of auto renting, Walter L. Jacobs, at the age of 22, opened a car-rental operation in Chicago. Starting with a dozen Model T Fords, which he repaired and repainted himself. Jacobs expanded his operation to the point where, within five years, the business generated annual revenues of about $1 million.
In 1923, Jacobs sold his car-rental concern to John Hertz, President of Yellow Cab and Yellow Truck and Coach Manufacturing Company. This rental business, called Hertz Drive-Ur-Self System, was acquired in 1926 by General Motors Corporation when it bought Yellow Truck from John Hertz.
Hertz Corporation today still uses yellow in their logo.
Yellow Cabs’ 10 Year Celebration Advertisements in 1925
Hertz’ 100 Years Celebration Advertisements in 2018
James Garrison says
Absolutely fascinating. The taxi wars were so violent a century ago. The next “taxi war” will likely be between human and driverless vehicles.
S Ketelsen says
As I write this, I am looking at the “Yellow Cab Chicago Street Guide”, 1923 Edition. It belonged to my Grandfather, Andy Ketelsen, who was a driver. A few things he told me that I recall: at the start of their shift, taxis were pushed to the ramp and roll-started, as they had no starters. They were left running all day. The garage was on the 2nd story. He had to wear a uniform. He lied about his age to get the job, which was how he put himself through auto mechanics school.
William Crook says
My father went to work for Yellow Truck and Coach in 1926 and even after the company was bought by General Moters, it was still called Yello CaI was born on Dec 5, -1926’ After GM bought the company they moved it to Pontiac Mich.
I have found a 1922 Yellowcab Truck along side the road