Sunday, May 15, 2016

Taximeter, Taximeter, Uber Alles - a History of the Taxicab




Über den Taxanom” . . .

. . . (“About the Taximeter”) was the title of a lecture given by Ferdinand Dencker before the Mathematical Society of Hamburg (Germany) the evening of May 9, 1885.  More than a century later, the title of the lecture may seem ironic; given Über’s assault on the now-traditional taxicab business model.  But in 1885, the taxicab business was in its infancy and Ferdinand Dencker was on the lecture circuit, mounting his own assault on the establishment. 

The Taxanom (now known as a “Taximeter” – the origin of the words “taxicab” and “taxi”) was a revolutionary new technology.  It was basically an analogue computing machine that automatically calculated and displayed running cab fares using pre-determined rates for time and distance; protecting passengers from random or extortionate fees.  At about the same time, across the pond in New York City, Willie Vanderbilt and his fleet of new “Yellow Cabs” mounted a different type of assault on the cab-fare status quo.  His cabs posted pre-determined rates (albeit without a device to measure them), to discourage gouging by unscrupulous hacks (see my earlier post, The Checkered History of Yellow Cabs).

Although fair, predictable pricing seems like a good idea, it took decades to completely change the culture of drivers and passengers.  New York City’s cheap, yellow cabs of the 1880s lasted only a few years; and it took decades for “taxi”-cabs to become common on the streets of New York City.  Taxi service started slowly; first establishing itself in Hamburg Germany, before spreading throughout Germany, France, England and finally the United States.  It remains to be seen how thoroughly, and in what way, Über and other on-demand ride-share apps will change public transportation.  But while Über’s unfolding history is well known and well documented, the details of the history, origin and etymology of “taxis” and “taximeters” are largely forgotten. 

It all started with a music Professor in Berlin.


Wilhelm Friedrich Nedler

In 1875, mild-mannered music teacher Herr Professor Wilhelm Friedrich Nedler [(not to be confused with Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche)] had a dream; to escape the drone of the metronome counting the beat as his students butchered their exercises.  To break free, and inspired perhaps by the metronome, he invented what he later called the “Taxanom” (rhymes with metronome), a device for counting accrued cab-fare in real time; a radical departure from previous systems which left the passenger at the mercy of unscrupulous hacks. 

“Metronome” was coined in 1815, from the Greek, metron (measure) and nomos (regulating).  “Taxanom,” similarly, was based on the Latin taxa (charge or fee) and Greek nomos – a fee regulator (although the taxa portion of the word was likely derived more directly from the common German word, Taxe (pronounced tax-eh), meaning charge, and which was then commonly used to denote cab fares).   By 1890, it was more widely known as a “taxameter” (later “taximeter) – a fee measurer.  Today, we generally call a vehicle with a taximeter a “taxi” or “taxicab” (both words from about 1907).  It’s the taximeter that distinguishes a “taxi” from a simple cab.  Although when we think of a “taxi” today, we generally think of an automobile; when the taximeter was new, all “cabs,” including the first taxicabs (although not by that name), were horse-drawn cabs.

Not much is known about Nedler, other than that he was a music teacher or professor.  An alumni guide prepared for the 25th anniversary of the Leipzig Conservatory of Music in 1868, listed Wilhelm Joachim Friederich Nedler, from Rostock, as a member of the class of 1849; making him nearly fifty years old when he filed for his first taxanom patents in 1875.[i]

Nedler’s faith in the future success of his invention was apparent from the outset.  He filed for patent protection in Germany, England, the United States, France, Denmark, and Sweden (that I know of; perhaps many more).  The earliest accounts of his as-yet unnamed invention appear in British patent records and technical magazines:

THE LONDON GAZETTE, SEPTEMBER 14, 1875.
Office of the Commissioners of Patents for Inventions.

Notice is hereby given, that – . . . Friedrich Wilhelm Nedler, Teacher of Music, of Berlin, Prussia, has given the like notice in respect of the invention of “improvements in apparatus for counting and registering the time occupied, the distance travelled, and the fares in cabs and other vehicles.

The United States Patent Office was either more efficient or less thorough; they issued Nedler’s US Patent 183960 on October 31, 1876, based on a filing date of September 15, 1876:

Be it known that I, Wilhelm Friedrich Nedler, of the city of Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire, have invented a new and Improved Self-Acting Cab-Fare Indicator, of which the following is a specification:

The object of the present invention is to construct an apparatus by the use of which it is possible to indicate and register the length of time a cab or other vehicle is occupied by a passenger, and also to indicate the amount of fare without the intervention of the driver or the passenger.



His German and French patents were issued in 1877. 

But getting patents is a lot easier than making them a success.  Perhaps because of problems with the initial design, or inexperience in business, or both; Professor Nedler does not seem to have had much success monetizing his invention on his own.  The name of the invention appeared in a French/German/English technical dictionary in 1883 . . .

Taxanome, m.; der Taxanom – apparat; Counter (carriage)[ii]

. . . but I could not find any account of Nedler’s fare registers in use until 1884.  He found commercial success only after teaming up with experienced technicians, engineers and businessmen in the field of clock-making. 

He found them all in Hamburg; and not by accident.


Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg, Germany was a port city; an independent city-state of the old Hanseatic League.  As a major seaport with an economy based on maritime trade, it was Hamburg was a natural place for technologies related to safe and efficient navigation.  The modern marine chronometer (invented in France in 1766) was a keystone of maintaining maritime might; and the relatively young German Empire (the Second Reich) made the production of German-made chronometers a top priority:

Soon after the formation of the German Empire in 1871 ambitious efforts started to build up a Navy, and the Imperial Admiralty called for a self-sustaining manufacture of nautical instruments and chronometers.  In 1877 annual competition trials for testing chronometers commenced at the German Hydrographical Institute (Deutsche Seewarte) [in Hamburg, Germany].[iii]

The investment and activity surrounding the development of chronometers, in and around Hamburg, made it a natural center of time-keeping technology.  It is therefore not surprising that Professor Nedler, wound up in Hamburg with his taxanom in the mid-1880s:

Industrial Notes

Stock Corporation. . . . With capital of 60,000 M, the Taxanom-Aktien-Gesellschaft was organized, with the intention of establishing a public transportation operation in Hamburg and vicinity.[iv]



With his company in place, Herr Professor Nedler started getting the word out.  His talk before the Hamburg Society of Architects and Engineers on January 30, 1884 was reported in a German trade magazine for builders and architects:

Hr. Prof. Nedler spoke about the “Taxanom”.  The speaker then waxed about its advantages, of which the device has many, then described in more precise detail the construction and various functions of his invention, and finally spoke about his conviction that introducing this system in the cab-for-hire business would be very fruitful. [v]

At first blush, the Society of Architects and Engineers may seem like a surprising place to start a marketing campaign for taximeters; but an article in an architectural magazine may explain the connection.  In the midst of a series of reports on bridge-building, the Union of Austrian Engineers’ and Architects’ Weekly provided a full “sketch” of Hamburg’s “highly-developed” local transportation system; horse-trolleys, street railways and cabs.  Trolleys and railways concern engineers because they are involved in the laying of the streets, construction and maintenance of the rails, and manufacture of vehicles.  Cabs compete in the same space, and engineers, if not architects, may be interested in the design and operation of cabs, and the new-fangled timepiece that calculates its fares. 

With their new “taxanoms,” Hamburg’s cabs became the first fleet of “taxi-cabs” anywhere (although people in Hamburg referred to them, at the time, as “Taxanom-Droschkes”).  These were horse-drawn cabs.  The first motorized “taxi-cab” took to the streets of Stuttgart, Germany ten years later; it was a Mercedes.[vi]

The city of Hamburg embraced the “Taxanom” from the beginning.  Just three months after the formation of the Taxanom-Aktien-Gesellschaft, the Hamburg Police Department issued a special set of regulations governing the operation of Taxonom-Cabs.  Drivers were required to carry a copy of the regulations onboard at all times, and to show them to passengers on request.  The Taxanom-Cab Code also provided for numbered vehicle tags, vehicle markings, set fares, required those fares to be posted, set the dress code for drivers (they had to wear police-like uniforms), established carry-on luggage policies, and governed just about every aspect of taxicab operation you can imagine.[vii]

Somehow, news of the new devices found its way into the American humor magazine, Puck, almost immediately:

Puck, Volume 15, Number 377, May 28, 1884, page 195.


Hamburg’s “Taxanom Cabs” were unique enough to earn a special mention in Baedeker’s 1886 Northern Germany travel guide:

Hamburg. Cabs. 

In cases of extortion recourse should be had to the police. – In the so-called ‘Taxanom Cabs’, which are provided with odometers, the fare for 1-4 persons is 30 pf. for 800 metres or less, and 10 pf. for every additional 400 metres or fraction of 400 metres.  From 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. double fares; 10 pf. Extra is charged for driving to railway-stations, theatres, concerts, etc.[viii]

“Taxanoms” were also put into service in Leipzig in 1886.[ix]

With his company off the ground, Wilhelm Friedrich Nedler did not just sit back and rest on his laurels.  He continued tinkering with his invention.  He received a German patent for improvements to the taxanom in February 1887.  US Patent 383,758, covering the same improvements, was issued in May 1888:

 

And, Professor Nedler was not the only person working to improve the taxanom and reach a bigger market.  Ferdinand Dencker had a hand in it too.

Ferdinand Dencker

Ferdinand Dencker, who gave the lecture, “Über den Taxanom,” to the Mathematical Society of Hamburg in 1895, was one of the first, independent German chronometer makers to set up shop in Hamburg as part of the German Empire’s push to establish a German chronometer industry.  As early as 1887, the head of the German Imperial Admiralty referred to Dencker and Adolph Kittel as a makers “who are standing on their own feet.”[x]   He also criticized Dencker (who refused to take part in government-sponsored chronometer trials[xi]) as having a “restless mind.”[xii] 

Dencker, a real thinker, was doing more than making chronometers; he was also busy working on making, repairing and improving the “Taxanom”.  The Hamburg Police Department’s supplemental taxameter-cab regulations of 1887 designated Ferdinand Dencker as the official provider of “Taxanoms,” and gave him a monopoly on repair and regular maintenance of the “Taxanoms” in service:

Gesetzsammlung der Freien und Hansestadt Hamburg, Volume 23, 1887, Order of 15 September 1887.




In 1888, Ferdinand Dencker received two patents for further improvements in the “Taxanom” (DE Patent 47389, 27 June 1888; DE Patent 47390, 17 June 1888).  His particular contribution to the marketability of the device was a the ability to easily change the rate of the fare, for example, to reflect the number of people in the cab or different fares at different times of day, or any other reason.

Dencker’s letterhead, found in Germany’s Federal Archive/Military Archive (Courtesy of Günther Oestmann), reflects his wide range of interests and accomplishments.  His role in the development of the taxameter is placed prominently at the bottom of the list; the only accomplishment spelled out in all caps:
Inventor of the Cab-Fare-Indicator “TAXAMETER”:

 

As taximeters improved, the business may have become bigger, and competition stiffer.  When the City of Paris evaluated taximeters in 1889, for example, there were said to have been 112 different systems available; although only the Dencker/Nedler system was found to be practicable.[xiii]  But even though Nedler and Dencker may have had a leg up on the competition, the game may have become too big for a music professor and clockmaker to handle.  


Westendarp & Pieper

In 1890, Nedler and Dencker assigned their patent rights to a new corporate entity.  It is unclear whether this was a hostile takeover, a natural progression of the company, or a group of better businessmen rescuing a small company that was getting too big for their breeches.  I have not been able to determine whether Westendarp and/or Pieper were shareholders in the original Taxanom-Aktien-Gesellschaft or new partners.  I have also been unable to determine whether Nedler or Dencker retained an interest in the new company, cashed out, or were forced out.  I could not find either Nedler’s or Dencker’s name used in connection with the Taximeters after they assigned their patent rights to Taxameter Fabrik [(Factory)] Westendarp & Pieper in July 1890.  Dencker continued making chronometers well into the 1900s; and even pioneered (unsuccessfully) the mass-production precision timepieces. [xiv] Nedler served as the chairman of the board of a Northern German insurance company, in 1889; [xv] the last reference to him that I could find.

  20th Century Marine Chronometer by F. Dencker; auctioned at Bonhams - Auction 22622.

I have been unable to find a detailed list of the principals of the Westendarp & Pieper company, but it seems likely that it was run by two engineers; George Westendarp and Carl Pieper.  George Westendarp had been in business in Hamburg, in various capacities, since at least the late-1860s.  In 1869, he was the Hamburg agent for receiving designs in an architectural design competition, judged by Martin Gropius (great-uncle of Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus movement).  In the 1870s, he designed a planned community around what was then called Eichenpark (now Eimbuetteler Park am Weiher), in the Eimbuettel section of Hamburg (the community was never built, and most of the land is still an urban oasis in the middle of Hamburg’s urban sprawl).  In the 1880s, he proposed designs for a dedicated freight train line through a tunnel under the Elbe, to connect Hamburg with a new “free” port, or special customs zone.  In the 1890s, George Westendarp and Carl Pieper were named co-inventors on at least two patents; one for a control system for a “water engine,” and one for gunpowder that was supposedly insensitive to friction and physical shock.  There was a patent attorney named Carl Pieper in Berlin during the 1880s, but I cannot tell whether he is the same man as the one who later made taximeters with Westendarp in Hamburg.

George’s brother, Wilhelm (who may have had an interest in the new venture), was also a successful businessman in Hamburg.  He was a champion rower, African explorer, and one of the biggest elephant-ivory dealers in the world.  Later in his career, impressed by elephants’ deep intelligence, he promoted the use of elephants as beasts of burden, as an alternative to killing them for ivory.  That’s Wilhelm there – fourth from the left – rowing for the champion “Nordstern” (North Star) team of the Germania Rowing Club in Hamburg in 1864):



Westendarp & Pieper ushered the “Taxameter” (later Taximeter) into the modern era; as horse-drawn cabs slowly gave way to automotive cabs.  But as successful as they were through the 1890s, their children were unable, or uninterested, in running the business in the early 1900s after the old guard passed away.  One of their chief designers took control of the company in 1906.

Friedrich Wilhelm Gustav Bruhn

Friedrich Bruhn, the man whom most English-language sources credit with “inventing” the “Taximeter,” was a lead designer at Westendarp & Pieper as early as 1889.  He claims to have had a hand in designing Westendarp & Pieper’s first taximeter that achieved widespread commercial success.  Although his name does not appear on the patents (German patent law did not require naming the inventor), he may have been the designer responsible for a string of patents awarded to Taxameter Farbrik Westendarp & Pieper  in 1890.  His name does appear on two taximeter patents issued in the United States during the 1890s; US Patent 485,529 (November 1, 1892) and US Patent 605,442 (June 7, 1898). 

Bruhn’s big contribution was the visible “For Hire” sign or “flag”; which, when folded down, starts the taximeter, while also giving a visual indication the taxi is occupied or available for hire; as displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893:





The only fare-indicators which have proved perfectly reliable in practice are those manufactured by the taxameter factory [(Westendarp Pieper)] in Hamburgh.  These apparatus have been successively introduced in Hamburgh and Bremen, and since January last in Berlin also, and have met with very good success.  The leading cab companies and many other large firms of this trade have provided their carriages with this system of indicators, the introduction of which is very much appreciated by the authorities and the public.  In Hamburgh the police authorities have made the use of it compulsory for all cabs submitted for new licenses.

Transactions of ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), Volume 14, New York, ASME, 1893, Page 620.



Bruhn went out on his own in 1897, forming the Internationaler Taxameter, G. m. b. H., Hamburg, with an initial capitalization of 1,100,000 Marks.  

Handbuch der Gesellschafter mit beschraenkter Haftung im deutschen Reichs, Leipzig, A. Schumann, 1898, page 101.

By 1906, he was successful enough to buy the Taxameter Fabrik Westendarp & Pieper from the original owners’ heirs.[xvi]  Although he kept the name of the company, and expanded their product line, he seems to have enjoyed tacking his own name onto all of their products; which may explain how the rumor got started that he “invented” the taximeter:

Deutsche Luftfahrer Zeitschrift (Berlin), Number 13/14, July 22, 1918, page 3.
 


The Growth of the Taximeter Industry

The taxi industry started small and grew slowly.  After finding an early home with the chronometer specialists in Hamburg, and establishing a beachhead in Hamburg before branching out into Leipzig, Bremen and Berlin, it still took more than a decade for the concept to succeed on a wide scale.  One thing that helped the taximeter achieve widespread use was the concurrent introduction of another new technology – automobiles.

But before they were put on automobiles, you could ride a pedal-powered, three-wheeled Taxameter in Berlin:



Die Dreirad-Droschke [(Tricycle-Cab)]

The endless parade of vehicles that move through the streets of Berlin has been increased by the original tricycle cab.[xvii]

The cab was fitted with a “comfortable” leather seat, retractable foot-board for easy boarding, and a retractable awning for protection from the elements or enjoyment of the fresh air.

 
Motorized cabs, still without taximeters, were still so uncommon in 1896, that it was newsworthy when French inventor and automobile manufacturer, M. Roger, petitioned the police authorities of Paris for permits to operate motorized cabs in Paris – but apparently without taximeters:

M. Roger, the inventor and manufacturer of automobile carriages, has made application to the police authorities of Paris for permits to run a number of horseless carriages on the streets, for hire at the regular rate of 30 cents a drive or 40 cents an hour when hired on the street . . . .  That horseless carriages can be run cheaply enough to compete with the regular fiacres is thus shown.[xviii]

Roger died about one year later; apparently without seeing his vision realized.

Later that year, a Stuttgart businessman with a cab company, Friedrich Greiner, ordered ten new automobile cabs and had them outfitted with taximeters. They were the first motorized
“taxameter cabs” - even though they still looked a lot like the old horse-drawn cabs - just without the horse:

Der Motorwagen, Volume 1, Number 2, 1898, page 14.


They were an immediate hit with riders and owners when they finally hit the mean streets of Stuttgart in May of 1897:[xix]  

The recently introduced motor-taxameter (Daimler) are giving the horse-drawn cabs a run for their money, and enjoy increasing popularity with the public.  The price is not set higher than the horse-taxameters, but the service is significantly faster.[xx] 

The first taxameter of this style went into public service in May 1897, and can cover, on the average, 70 in a day.  The experience with these motorcars, with respect to income and expenses, is a very favorable . . . .[xxi]

But despite the auspicious start, the changeover to motorized taximeter cabs was a long, slow process.  Even places like Berlin (an early adopter of taximeters) had vastly more horse-drawn cabs than motorized cabs as late as 1906.  Testifying before London’s Select Committee on Cabs and Omnibuses in 1906, F. W. G. Bruhn noted that only 300 of Berlin’s 7,500 cabs were motor cabs.

By fits and starts, more cities introduced taximeters, motorized cabs and motorized taximeter cabs; but the transition was not always smooth:

The “taxameters” recently attached to hacks and other public vehicles in Stockholm for the purpose of registering the distance traveled, have proven highly unsatisfactory, and the police authorities have decided to condemn them.

 Willmar Tribune (Minnesota), April 13, 1897, page 3.


Herr Hermann Spannier, of Berlin, accompanied by some capitalists, starts next week for the United States to introduce in the large cities of America the cab taxamter system of automatically regulating fares.

The Saint Paul Globe, December 19, 1897, page 9.

Electric Cab London – 1898.

Electric Cab New York – 1898.





Taxameters.

An effort is being made in England to introduce the “taxameters,” which have proved useful in Paris in regulating the pay of drivers.  A “taxameter” is a sort of cyclometer and cash register applied to cabs, which keeps records of fares and distances . . . .  But the cabdrivers’ trade union has protested, and threatens a boycott if the new device is used.

The Worthington Advance (Minnesota), May 5, 1899, page 8.



The new and ingenious little machine called the taxameter, which is designed to prevent extortionate charges on the part of cabmen and to do away with all possibility of disputes between them and their fares, had recently aroused great interest in London.

New York Tribune, April 30, 1899, Illustrated Supplement Page 2.

Topeka State Journal (Kansas), April 24, 1899, page 3.

The old style of London cabman is doomed – there is no doubt about that.  Not only has he to contend with the taximeter, but the yellow electrical cabs after a brief interval of retirement are to burst upon the streets once more today to the number of eighty.

New York Tribune, June 12, 1899, page 8.

Although the Russians are not noted for their gallantry toward women they have scored one on other people.  St. Petersburg has recently been provided with new taxameter cabs.  They work on a dual system, one for ladies and the other for gentlemen, the authorities having been thoughtful enough to introduce a new tariff, according to which ladies are only required to pay half the fare demanded of mere men.

Valentine Democrat (Valentine, Nebraska), July 4, 1901, page 7.

The weak success of the taxameter-cabs recently introduced in Vienna was under discussion recently in the Lower-Austrian Parliament.  People have complained that most of the Taxameters in Vienna are out of order.  Mayor Graf Kielmannsegg, who recommended using Taxameters based on their proven success in other large cities, gleaned from police files that 90 percent of smashed Taxameters were rendered unusable by acts of violence at the hands of coachmen of other types of vehicles.  Only a small percentage of coachmen want to let their passengers see the fare.  The mayor closed his presentation with a warning that if the “fiat” and one-horse wagon drivers do not restore order, that they would all simply be put out of business, and replaced with an entirely new system of transportation.

Indiana Tribüne (Indianapolis, Indiana), December 11, 1903, page 5.

They did not take permanent hold in any of these cities until about 1906; and even then, it wasn’t all smooth sailing:

Paris, July 28. – The registering apparatus for public cabs which is known as the taximeter came into use in Paris a little more than a year ago.  Since that time, it is said, cabmem have devised a dozen different schemes of beating the cab companies in the count.

The Minneapolis Journal, July 29, 1906, page 3.

Taximeter Tricks Played on Foreign Passengers
Paris, July 6. – Americans now in Paris are experiencing the shortcomings as well as the delights of the taximeter cab system, for the “taxi” is not all that it seems when viewed from the sidewalk. 

Los Angeles Herald, July 7, 1907, page 2.




The latest and best thing in London is a lot of handsome new motor cabs, which are furnished with a “taximeter,” to measure the distance, and charge only eight pense – 16 cents – a mile.  The Londoners call them “taxi-cabs,” and they are fast driving out the old horse cabs.

The National Tribune (Washington DC), May 23, 1907, page 2.

The new motorized taximeter-cabs in London also posed a new dilemma - what to call them:
 
There is already a keen controversy to whether the new sort of motor cab with a taximeter attached shall be known as taxi-cab or taxy (plural taxies).

Western Daily Press (Bristol England), March 27, 1907, page 3.


THE TAXICAB

The Taxicab, alias "taximo," has come to stay.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate, (NSW, Australia) April 1, 1907, page 2.

Although the "taxicab" was here to stay; the word, "taximo" - presumaby from "taximeter" and "motor" - was not long for this world.  It faced immediate disapproval:
 
The new vehicle is so far known by the practical but unpoetical title of taximo.

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, April 1, 1907.


What has London done that its new cabs should be described as "taximos"?  It sounds lke a breakfast food, or the president of a South American Republic.

The Colac Herald (Vic. Australia), June 14, 1907, page 6.


In the United States, riders in New York, Boston and Philadelphia were to get their own taste of modern taxicab travel; but were spared the word "Taximo":

Evening Star (Washington DC), March 7, 1907, page 7.


Some of New York City’s taxicabs were of French design:

A French society has made arrangements to furnish New York with three hundred Darracq taxi-metre cabs, says a despatch.

The Columbian (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania), May 23, 1907.



This image from 1907 shows an original, 1898 New York Electric Cab; now retrofitted with a taximeter.

Within the next few years, motorized taxicabs were everywhere; and were being built everywhere:


Made in Columbus, Ohio - 1908
Made in St. Louis - 1907
Made in France - 1907
Made in Stuttgart, Germany - 1909

Made in Connecticut - 1910

Made in Chicago - 1915

In Pop-Culture

 During the early 1900s, songwriters celebrated the taximeter.  Once again, the Germans were first (all of these songs were written before 1907):


“Taxameter” (Erfunden wurde einst der Taxameter / back when the taximeter was invented)

“Taxa, Taxa” (Ich fahr gern Taxameter / I like to ride in a taximeter)

“Der Weibliche Taxameter” (“The Female Taximeter”) (Ich habe nicht Pneumatik und keine Hupe – I got no tires and I got no horn)

“Das Lied vom Taxameter”


. . . and, my personal favorite:

“Taxameter-Peter” (Ich bin der Taxameter-Peter / I am your Taximeter Peter)

In 1908, a young Jerome Kern, who later wrote the classics, “Old Man River” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” penned the not-so-classic “Meet Her with a Taximeter” for Charles Frohmann’s musical revue, “Fluffy Ruffles.” The song praises the merits of “spooning” with your girl in a “Taximeter” or “Taxy” – much better than a Canadian canoe (it cramps your style) or a big balloon (you might fall out - really, she might push you out if you get too fresh): 


Take her in a Taxy that’s the thing to do,
You can talk in tenderest tone, she’s there all alone with you,
If you want a charming, stolen interview,
meet her with a Taximeter which takes only two. . . .

Still it is so snug and the Lady you can hug in seclusion profound,
Till the chauffeur chap has some silly-ass mishap and a crowd gathers round!


Jerome Kern was not the only person to write about getting a cab instead of a room.  In 1913, Sophie Irene Loeb, in Epigrams of Eve, wrote that New York City was:

Where a taxicab is a private room on wheels.

Probably not what Wilhelm Friedrich Nedler had in mind when he invented his taximeter; or when Ferdinand Dencker gave his lecture, “Über den Taxanom.”


One hundred years later – there’s a new kid on the block . . .

. . . what will the next century bring?





[i] Dr. Emil Kneschke, Das Conservatorium der Musik in Leipzig. Seine Geschichte, seine Lehrer und Zoeglinge. Festgage zum 25jaehrigen Jubiaeum am 2. April 1868, Leipzig, Breitkopf und Haertel, 1868.
[ii] Alexandre Tolhausen, Grande Supplement du Dictionaire Technologique dans les Langues Francaise, Volume 1, Leipzig, Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1883.
[iii] Guenther Oestmann, “Towards the ‘German Chronometer’.  The introduction of precision timekeeping in the German mercantile marine and Imperial Navy in the nineteenth century,” Antiquarian Horology and the Proceedings of the Antiquarian Horological Society, 35, September 2014, page 949.
[iv] Deutsche Industrie-Zeitung (Chemnitz), Volume 25, Number 2, January 9, 1884, page 19.
[v] Deutsche Bauzeitung; Fachzeitschrift fuer Architektur (Stuttgart), Volume 18, Number 16, February 23, 1884, page 95 (a follow-up lecture to the same group, by Herr Roeper on February 13, 1884, was reported in the March 5 issue of the same magazine).  
[vi] www.mercedes-benz.com (“Die Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft lieferte das erste Motortaxi der Welt”). 
[vii] “Polizeiliche Vorschriften fuer den Betrieb der Taxanom-Droschken (Anhang zum Droschken-Reglement,” den 23 April 1884,” Gesetzsammlung der Freien und Hansestadt Hamburg, Band 20, 1884.
[viii] Karl Baedeker, Northern Germany. Handbook for Travellers, Leipzig, K. Baedeker, 9th edition, revised and augumented, 1886, page 164.
[ix] Franz M. Feldhaus, Ruhmesblätter der Technik von den Urerfindungen bis zur Gegenwart, Leipzig, F. Brandstetter, 1910, pages 458-459.
[x] Oestmann, “Towards the ‘German Chronometer’”, page 957.
[xi] Oestmann, “Towards the ‘German Chronometer’”, page 958.
[xii] Oestmann, “Towards the ‘German Chronometer’”, page 957.
[xiii] Franz M. Feldhaus, Ruhmesblätter der Technik.
[xiv] Guenther Oestmann, Auf dem Weg zum “Deutschen Chronometer,” Bremerhaven, 2012,pages 79 et seq.
[xv] Jahrbuch fuer das Deutsche Versicherungswesen 1889, Berlin, Ernst Siegfried Mittler & Sohn (Norddeutsche Versicherungs- und Renten-Bank. Aufsichtsrath: W. F. Nedler, Professor, Vorsitzender).
[xvi] Der Motorwagen (Berlin), Volume 9, Number 3, January 31, 1906, page 87.
[xvii] Scranton Wochenblatt (Scranton, Pennsylvania), December 3, 1896, page 6.
[xviii] The Evening Star (Washington DC), January 31, 1896, page 6.
[xix] Der Motorwagen, Volume 1, Number 2, 1888, page 14.
[xx] Zeitung des Vereins Deutscher Eisenbahn-Verwaltungen, Volume 37, Number 88, November 10, 1897, page 880.
[xxi] Der Motorwagen, Volume 1, Number 2, 1888, page 14.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great article, and it is exciting to see someone working on the almost completely neglected history of taximeters. I've been researching early cab telegraph dispatching in the 1870s, and had come across what I suspect is a reference to Nedler (though corrupted to "Friedrich Netzsch") as one of the various proto-taximeter inventors filing patents in that decade. It is fascinating to learn that Nedler's device eventually became, and gave the name to, the "taximeter," falsely attributed to the later Bruhn.

    You also brought up support for another nagging suspicion of mine, that the word "taxicab" was coined first in London, not New York as commonly claimed.

    I have some stuff about contemporary and historic cab tech, etc. at thirdcarriageage.com. Is there a way to subscribe to this blog? I would like to read more of your taxi and pop culture histories if you post them.

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