So many of us regularly make a taxi booking in Sydney or elsewhere, yet we rarely if ever think about the history of the taxi. Have you ever wondered how (and when) taxi cabs came to be? Like so much we take for granted, most of us just assume they have always been there…
The history of public vehicles for hire date back hundreds of years, even before motor cars. The first documented public Hackney Coach Service for hire was in 1605 in London. By 1625, London innkeepers hired out carriages. In 1635 in England, the Hackney Carriage Act was passed as the first legislation to cover hireable horse-drawn carriages in the country. In 1636, the first London taxi rank appeared at the Strand outside the Maypole Inn.
As far back as 1637, Parisian Nicolas Sauvage provided horse-drawn carriages with drivers for hire in the French city. They were known as Fiacres.
Hackney Carriage licenses were issued in London from 1662.
Hansom cabs were patented in 1834 by York architect Joseph Hansom. They were two-wheeled carriages drawn by horses and were much lighter and faster than the Hackney carriages. They were also cheaper to ride in. The Hansom cab soon spread to Berlin, Paris, St Petersburg, and New York City.
Taxis as we know them started in 1891…
The taxi we know today is based on the taximeter, which was originally invented in 1891 by German Friedrich Wilhelm Gustav Bruhn. A taximeter is an instrument which measures the time or distance a vehicle travels. This allowed a fare to be determined accurately.
In 1897, Gottlieb Daimler built the world’s first dedicated gasoline-powered taxi vehicle. Equipped with a taximeter, it was called the Daimler Victoria and was delivered to German entrepreneur Friedrich Greiner. He founded the world’s first motorised taxi company in Stuttgart.
In London, cabs known as “Hummingbirds” (due to the sound they made) were designed and introduced in 1897 by Walter Bersey.
There were soon taxis in a number of countries, with gasoline-powered taxis arriving in Paris in 1899, London in 1903, and New York City by 1907. Harry Allen was the first person in the USA to have yellow taxis, which he imported from France and painted yellow so they would stand out in traffic.
Parisian taxis played an important role in World War I, covertly carrying soldiers to the Front in 1914. They also carried refugees and wounded thereafter.
Around the world taxi cabs proliferated and two-way radios were implemented in taxis from the late 1940s.
Horse-drawn taxis were adopted in Australia after the establishment of city centres, first in Brisbane. Hansom cabs were also popular, and these were only phased out in Brisbane in 1935.
Sydney was the first Australian city to adopt motorised taxis, in 1906, soon followed by other major centres. Most of the early motorised taxis in Australia were French-build Renaults, catering to men of social prominence. By the 1920s, sedan taxis vehicles were introduced, with American-made cars being favoured.
Today taxis in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and other cities are the most convenient way to get around. With apps to hire, fixed fares, and luxury vehicles, we have come a long way as the above short history shows…