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Iconic Yellow Cab Color Got Its Start in Chicago, Lore Says

By Kyla Gardner | October 29, 2013 6:31am
 Rental-car-tycoon John Hertz is said to be at least partially responsible for the ubiquity of the color yellow for taxi cabs.
Chicago Cab Colors
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THE LOOP — As Will Ferrell's Buddy the Elf character cautioned after being hit by a cab in "Elf," the holiday hit movie, "The yellow ones don't stop."

While the movie took place in New York City, the now iconic yellow taxi color was first used in Chicago, writes Jude Stewart, author of the new book "ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color," for Slate.

Entrepreneur John Hertz, who later went on to start Hertz Rent-A-Car, founded the Yellow Cab Co. in Chicago in 1915. He unified the color of his cars after commissioning a study to determine which hue could best be seen from a distance, according to Stewart and Yellow Cab's official history.

Buddy the Elf Gets Hit By a Taxi
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That study was performed by the University of Chicago, according to a biography of Hertz.

But Stewart says the story is part lore, and she points out that yellow taxi cab fleets were already popping up before Hertz's commissioned study. And though New York City's first taxis were red and green, a 1967 mandate in the city requiring all official taxis to be yellow also contributed to the color's pervasiveness across the nation.

Nearly 100 years after Hertz founded his taxi company, it is still the largest in Chicago, with 1,581 cabs. It's headquartered in the South Loop.

Yellow, however, isn't the most prevalent cab color in Chicago. Almost half of the city's 6,890 cabs are white, according to city license data released earlier this year.

Stewart said researchers still agree yellow is the most visible color, though some argue for chartreuse, a bright yellow-green hybrid.

So far, there are no chartreuse cabs in Chicago. Here's a full breakdown of the Chicago's taxi colors:

• White: 3,251
• Yellow: 1,581
• Maroon: 788
• Cream: 607
• Orange: 362
• Unknown: 172
• Blue: 53
• Gold: 49
• Silver: 27