Our Checkered Past

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Hail a cab in the 1930s and you might find yourself with a plush Packard, a roomy Checker, a De Soto with a sunroof, or a Hudson Terraplane with the classiest chassis this side of the Atlantic. All had leather upholstery and jump seats.

You can see some of these metered chariots in my drawing of Times Square, circa 1938. Note the logos painted on the rear doors. Each company had its own emblem and its own color combination. Color schemes took on significance after the First World War, when one New York taxi fleet lowered its rates to thirty cents a mile and painted its cabs brown and white so the public could seek them out. But then other taxi owners with higher rates painted their taxis brown and white. The lawsuit that followed went all the way to the Supreme Court, which decreed that colors could not be trademarked.

After World War II multicolored taxis departed the scene and the multicultural drivers entered it. Then cabs got smaller, rates got bigger, cities became unmanageable, and suddenly everyone over forty was a nostalgia buff. These pictures explain why.