For about a year, the city’s 12,000 or so yellow taxis have been joined by a small new lime-green fleet. The new cabs are only allowed to pick up fares in Manhattan’s northern neighborhoods and the outer boroughs.
Seeing them raises the question: why are New York taxis generally supposed to be yellow, anyway?
The first automobile taxis weren’t painted any color at all. Powered by 800-pound electric batteries, about 100 of them trolled the streets in 1899. The two below are operating beside the Metropolitan Opera House on 39th Street and Broadway.
In 1908, 600 gasoline-fueled, red and green paneled taxis were imported to New York from France. The name “taxi” comes from their innovative new “taximeters” that recorded mileage.
The color change apparently began in 1915, when John Hertz, of Hertz rental car fame, opened a taxi company in Chicago.
Hertz reportedly read a study showing that yellow was the most visible color from a distance.
“It became an industry trend, which of course was continued when he and his partner, Walden Shaw, branched out to other cities, including New York City,’ explained New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission spokesperson, in a New York Times column from 1996.
In 1967, the city finally made it illegal for a taxi to be any color but yellow. That changed with the introduction of the official wasabi-colored taxis in 2013, increasingly more common among their bumblebee-yellow counterparts.
[Top: 1970s yellow cab awesomeness, Everett Collection; third: the last Checker Cab in New York City, from the New York Daily News; bottom: Berenice Abbott captures yellow taxis in traffic in 1936]