Cars We Remember: The Battle Between Hertz and Checker

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Q: Hi Greg, and I’m wondering if you could by chance run the column you did about Hertz Rentals and Checker Cab company? I remember reading that column but I misplaced it. It was very interesting and many years ago. Thanks much, Ellie K., Kalamazoo, Michigan.

A: Ellie, I’d be glad to. The column you speak about had to do with a letter from John F. Weinberger, from Chicago. He told us that he used to go to your town of Kalamazoo, Michigan, where Checkers were built. He knew an employee of the Checker company, who was retired and told him the Checker plant burned to the ground in the early 1940s. He also sent along a photo of Chicago City Officials checking out a new Yellow Cab.

New Yellow Cab

Notable, as you mentioned, is John Hertz, who started his career as a newspaper carrier for the Chicago Morning Times and then became a reporter. Today, Hertz is almost completely recognized for its rental business, but in the 1920s, John Hertz simultaneously founded Yellow Cab, one of the largest taxi companies in the country.

Hertz later got into the car sales business and created Yellow Cab back in 1915, using customer trade-ins as taxis. Hertz’s cabs were in direct competition with Morris Markin’s Checker Cab, and the competition was deadly, literally. Take a look at these two headlines from Chicago in 1923:


Affair Apparently Outcome of Clash Among Taxi Drivers

Chicago. June 7, 1923 (UP) – Frank Sexton, declared by police to be connected with a labor union, was shot to death early today by two taxicab drivers in a pool room on West Division street. Authorities said the murder was apparently the outgrowth of a war between independent and union drivers on “Checker” taxis. About a dozen drivers were arrested for questioning.



Two Factions of “Checker” Drivers Fighting for Control—Attempt to Wreck Home of Head of Taxi Company.

CHICAGO, June 8, 1923 (AP) – An alleged Checker taxi taxicab driver’s war blamed by police for the slaying Friday of Frank Sexton, ‘union slugger’ resumed today in bombing of the home of Morris Markin, president of the Checker Taxicab Manufacturing company. The residence was partially wrecked and Markin and his family thrown from their beds.

Two factions of the “Checker” drivers are fighting for control of the manufacture of the taxis which involve a cooperative scheme, according to Markin. Two men arrested for the Sexton shooting also gave police this reason for the “war.

The situation became so desperate that Morris Markin ended up moving his Checker Cab company to Kalamazoo. In 1926, Hertz sold his majority interest in Hertz Cab and Hertz “Drive-Ur-Self” car rentals to General Motors for a seat on the GM board.

Hertz also receives credit for putting the color Yellow at the top of the heap. Today, Chicago boasts about 1,500 Yellow Cabs and numerous Hertz Car Rental locations. I would say he put to better use his customer “trade-ins” than did his competitors.

Hertz, a noted Philanthropist, died in 1961. He was big into thoroughbred horse racing and won the Kentucky Derby twice. He also receives credit for installing the first stoplights in Chicago at Michigan Ave. in 1924.

Fannie Hertz Mugshot

In 1957, he and his wife, Fannie, founded the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation with a goal of supporting applied sciences education. This was originally accomplished by granting undergraduate scholarships on a national scale to qualified and financially-limited mechanical and electrical engineering students undertaking a curriculum fully accredited by the Engineering Council for Professional Development. The foundation is still a respected concern, with more information on fellows and fellowships available at

Thanks for your letter.

(Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse Media, and More Content Now. He welcomes reader questions or comments at 116 Main St., Towanda, Pa. 18848 or email at

Greg Zyla

Greg Zyla