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December 7, 2020

December 6, 1897: London Became the First City in the World to Host Licensed Taxicabs

On December 6, 1897, London became the first city to host licensed taxicabs. But vehicles for hire were around long before that.

Fleet Street, London, 1897.

The term ‘taxicab’ was first used in the late 1800s when the single horse-drawn Hansom cab invented in 1834 by architect Joseph Hansom was refined and redesigned by John Chapman to include a mechanized taximeter to measure journey fares. Although first used in London and other UK cities, it’s patent was quickly adopted by other European capitals and later the United States.

By 1897 Walter C. Bersey’s London Electrical Cab Company had manufactured electric-powered taxis, which were, again, first used on the streets of London and the first motorized vehicles for hire. Although initially nicknamed Berseys after the designer, the strange sound coming from their electric motors gained them the new nickname ‘Hummingbirds’. He started off with a fleet of 25 but by 1898 he had introduced another 50. And fast-forward to this millennium when in 2002 50 gold-colored taxicabs were introduced to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.

Bersey electric cab, 1897.

The popularity of the motorcar hastened the demise of hackney coaches and cabs with the last licensed ones withdrawn just after the Second World War. This is a considerably long innings when you consider the first horse-drawn black cabs for hire emerged in the 1600s. The Berseys also faded out of popularity with the London Electrical Company shutting its doors forever in 1899.


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