A New York City doorman flags down a taxi for one of the residents of his building, 1944.
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A New York City doorman flags down a taxi for one of the residents of his building, 1944.William C. Shrout—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
A New York City doorman flags down a taxi for one of the residents of his building, 1944.
Scene in New York City, 1944.
Scene in New York City, 1944.
Taxicabs line up for arriving train passengers at (the original) Pennsylvania Station, New York City, 1944.
New York cabbies sporting their numbered Public Hack Driver badges, 1944.
Scene in New York City, 1944.
Taxi "hack stand," New York City, 1944.
Train passengers wait to take taxi cabs outside (the original) Pennsylvania Station, New York City, 1944.
Close-up of typical cab driver's report including locations and fares collected during his day's work; taxicab drivers lined up at company's garage to turn in money collected in fares during the day (right), New York City, 1944.
Mechanics use a hoist to drop in the motor of a taxicab under repair at cab company's maintenance garage, NYC, 1944.
Taxicabs on Park Avenue, NYC, 1944.
Scene in New York City, 1944.
A New York City doorman flags down a taxi for one of the residents of his building, 1944.
William C. Shrout—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
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All Hail New York Taxis: Gotham Cabs and Cabbies of the 1940s

Jun 17, 2013

The New York City of most peoples' imaginations usually looks and sounds like the New York of a few very distinct decades. There's today's post-Bloomberg New York City, of course -- the bright, weirdly clean (well, it's clean in parts of Manhattan, at least) largely smoke-free metropolis of complicated bike lanes, pedestrian malls and other "improvements" that, to most people, feel about as New Yark as a wine spritzer at a football game.

Then there's the Big Apple of the 1970s: the New York of Mean Streets and Taxi Driver; of "Ford to City: Drop Dead" and Blondie, Television, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, the New York Dolls and the Ramones at Max's Kansas City; of "the Bronx Is Burning" and Son of Sam. The New York, in other words, of the old, scary, late, semi-lamented Times Square of sordid lore.

[MORE: See the gallery, "Love Letter to New York: Classic LIFE Photos of the Big Apple"]

Finally, there's New York in what many consider its Golden Age: the New York City of the 1940s and 1950s, when men wore hats, women wore gloves, a dime got you a cup of coffee and -- in the popular imagination, anyway -- there were doormen standing on every curb, flagging down taxi cabs for dames who looked like Veronica Lake.

Here, in honor of that last vision of Gotham as a noir film set where absolutely everything is seen in deep-shadowed black-and-white, LIFE.com recalls those big, burly taxi cabs of the 1940s, and the rough-looking, distinctive characters who drove them.

[MORE: See the gallery, "Lower Manhattan: Where New York Was Born"]

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

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