From horse-drawn carriages to today's hybrid sedans, New Yorkers have long relied on cabs to get around town. But no cab is more ingrained in city lore than the boxy Checker. And it was on this day, June 18, 1923, that the first one was manufactured at the Checker Cab factory in Kalamazoo, Mich. By 1930, TIME was reporting that Checker would soon control a full 10% of all of the taxis in the nation.
An even higher percentage were Checkers by 1963, when TIME took a look at where they came from:
The roomy Checker cab , one of the few taxis left that passengers can climb into without awkward gymnastics, is a familiar sight on many U.S. streets; of the nation's 135,000 taxicabs, some 35,000 are Checkers. Less familiar to the public and the financial world is the firm that makes them: closemouthed Checker Motors Corp. of Kalamazoo, Mich.
Separated from the Detroit automotive world by choice and philosophy, Checker is the nation's smallest full-scale automaker. Last year it turned out 8,000 cars and, for the first time in a decade, showed an operating profit—$559,000 on sales of $23 million. Partly responsible for the profit is the fact that Checker has been doing a tidy business in selling souped-up dressed-up versions of its spartan, boxy cabs as family cars, stationwagons and limousines. The reason for their success (they now account for 40% of production), says Checker President Morris Markin with understandable prejudice, is that riding in many low-slung conventional cars nowadays is "like sitting in a bathtub."
The good times couldn't last. In 1982, the company stopped making taxis. It was the end of an era—but, as these photos show, it was just one of many.