Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

1981 Checker Marathon Taxicab

June 22, 2021 Archive Insight
Yellow taxi with signage on top and sides of car and black-and-white checked strip along full side of car

THF90395

A familiar vehicle few Americans use.

Most Americans rarely take taxis—perhaps only when going to an airport or visiting a city with unfamiliar transit systems. But taxis are a viable alternative to owning a car in cities where traffic is dense, and parking is inconvenient and expensive. They provide point-to-point transportation, alone or in combination with subways, elevated trains, and buses—and in increasing competition with Internet-based ridesharing services.

The term “cab” predates the automobile. It comes from “cabriolet,” a type of carriage used for paid fares.

Image of horse and carriage, driver sitting in carriage, on a rainy street
"Omnibuses & Cabs, Their Origin & History," 1902 / THF105848

“Taxi” comes from taximètre, a French word for a meter that measures distance and calculates a fare. By 1900, meters were widely used in Europe and came to the U.S. in 1907.

Two black-and-white images of a meter, one with "VACANT" flag raised and the other with it lowered; also contains text
The Automobile Magazine for March 19, 1908 / THF105850

In 1961, Checker had been creating purpose-built cabs for 39 years.

Page with text and yellow-and-black checkered pattern with images of cars in each square
"Use the Only Real Taxicab, Checker," 1961 / THF105852

Checker cabs were spacious and easy to get into and out of, with big trunks for lots of luggage.

People under an elevated overpass or roadway entering yellow taxicab
"Checker, The Only Real Taxicab!," 1967 / THF105854


This post was adapted from an exhibit label in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

Henry Ford Museum, Driving America, cars

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