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History of The Checker Cab Company.

August 7, 1998

 

Morris Markin, a clothier from Chicago, Illionis became the owner of a Joliet, Illionis auto-body manufacturer when its owner defaulted on a $15,000 personal loan from Markin. The facility made bodies forCommon Wealth Motors who marketed the vehicles to cab companies under the trade name Mogul.

 

Concurrently, Checker Taxi — a privately-owned cab company in Chicago that had no affiliation with Markin — placed a large order for Mogul cabs with Commonwealth. Commonwealth itself was on the verge of bankruptcy, so Markin merged the two companies in order to honor the contractual commitment with the Chicago Checker Taxi. Markin named his concern the Checker Cab Company. However, there was no overlap in ownership.

 

John Hertz, founder of today's Hertz Car Rentals, began in the taxi business in 1910, both building Yellow Cabs and operating the livery service. Because of plant overproduction, Hertz used the excess cars by renting them to patrons through his "Yellow Drive-Ur-Self" division (the forerunner of Hertz Rental Cars). Seeing Hertz's success, Markin began buying up Checker's rolling stock in 1924, gaining full control of Checker Taxi Cab in 1937.

 

Markin also followed Hertz's business plan in having drivers open doors for the fares, and outfitted each driver with a uniform. Competition for fares was fierce in the 1920s, and the easily spotted drivers began ganging up on one another between fares. The fighting between the two cab companies escalated to the point where Markin's home was firebombed This prompted Markin to buy the Dort Automobile factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan and relocate Checker.

 

Under Markin, Checker became the first cab company to hire African - American drivers and the first to require that drivers pick up all fares, not just white ones. Some speculate this is why & where the B&W checker stripe originated.  

 

Hertz had sold his Yellow Cab to the Parmalee Transportation Company, but in 1929, after a suspicious fire at his stables killed his prized race horses, Hertz left the cab business, with Markin buying Hertz's shares and then acquiring another one-third in the company from Parmalee, thus taking control of both Parmalee and Yellow Cab.

 

While Hertz had sold off the cab business, the manufacturing arm went to GM, which wanted to sell it and made Markin an affordable offer. Markin refused. Rather than eliminate the capacity of Yellow Manufacturing, General Motors entered the taxicab business as Terminal Taxi Cab, and a second fare war broke out, with Checker and Terminal fighting it out in. To end this dispute, New York Mayor Jimmy Walker created the New York Taxi Cab Commission, which ruled that all cabs in New York had to be purpose-built cabs, not consumer car conversions.

 

Markin sold Checker Cab toE.L. Cord, but bought it back again in 1936. In 1940, Parmalee (including Yellow and Checker Cab) became the largest cab company in the United States. Eventually, the cab company revenues exceeded those of Checker's automotive building division, and the company decided to enter the consumer passenger car business in 1961.

 

In 1964 the State of New York pursued Markin and Checker on antitrust charges, alleging that it controlled both the taxi service and manufacture of taxis, and thus favored itself in fulfilling orders. Rather than allow Checker drivers to begin buying different brands of cars, Markin began selling licenses in New York City.


In 1977, seven years after the death of Morris Markin, retired GM President Ed Cole bought into Checker with the intent of re-energizing the company and developing a new, more modern Checker. Cole's plan was to purchase partially completed Volkswagens from VW's new factory in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania. Cole was going to ship the VWs to the Checker Motors factory in Kalamazoo, cut them in half, insert a section to lengthen the VW, raise the roof and then sell the reconfigured vehicle as a taxi. Shortly thereafter, however, Cole was killed when his plane crashed near Kalamazoo.

 

With the Marathon thoroughly outmoded and no longer selling in viable quantities, and lacking the resources to develop a new model, Checker decided to leave the auto manufacturing business. The Marathon design dated back to the mid 1950s which caused Checker a number of problems. There had been several minor changes to the design. First, impact absorbing bumpers were added when required by federal law and then the steering column/wheel were changed when a collapsible column was also required for safety reasons. The rear fold-down jump seats were also removed as they failed all safety tests. The car had very poor gas mileage as the tall front end and engine compartment had been designed for a Continental engine, which required the large engine compartment. When production of that engine ceased, in 1960, Checker began offering either the Chevy 230 cu in (3.8 l) 16 Small block V-8. Checker added a 327 cu in (5.36 l) Chev in 1966. These were used until the late 1970s. When GM ceased making the straight six, Checker purchased a small V-6 also used in Chevrolet. The large, tall grill and hood made for poor aerodynamics which was part of the reason for the low gas mileage. So a number of the V-6s were converted to use propane as fuel. Many of the body stamping dies were worn out after over 20 years of continuous use and that required manual body adjustments by body and fender mechanics to make the parts fit. The fenders and doors were the parts with the most problem fit as taxis are involved in numerous minor accidents due to their extensive, often 24 hour a day use. The last models were produced for the 1982 model year, and the final Checker automobile rolled off the assembly line on July 12th , 1999.

 

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