Looking back at the Morris Markin’s Checker Cab Manufacturing Company and “Checker” cabs.
I recently wrote about an early Jewish automobile leader that you may not have known, F. L. Klingensmith, first president and founder of the Gray Motor Corporation. I also mentioned Max Grabowski, creator of what is now GMC Trucks, and Meyer Prentis, longtime treasurer of General Motors. In response we received a letter from David Flaisher, who mentioned another Jewish auto pioneer: Morris Markin.
Flaisher is spot-on. While Markin is not as famous as Henry Ford or Walter Chrysler, he did make his mark on the early automobile industry. He founded and ran the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company. Based in Kalamazoo, Checker was the premier maker of taxi cabs in America for 60 years.
The Checker company should not be confused with “Checker,” the cab company still operating in Detroit today. More on that later…
Like many early automakers, the Checker Cab Manufacturing Co. was derived from a combination of manufacturing enterprises. One of was Markin’s own Markin Auto Body Corporation in Joliet, Illinois, which made bodies for vehicles produced by the Commonwealth Motor Company.
Markin, however, had a better idea. He would concentrate on making one product — taxi cabs. Markin took over the Commonwealth Motor Co. in 1922 and renamed it as the Checker Cab Manufacturing Co. He moved the company to Kalamazoo a year later. By 1925, it was producing 1,000 Checker taxis a year.
Checkers, known for their roominess and durability, were the taxi cabs of choice for decades in New York City, Chicago and many other American cities. The last Checker rolled off the assembly line in 1982. The big two-ton taxis could not compete with more modern, cheaper and more fuel-efficient competitors.
I searched for “Checker Cab” in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History. This resulted in 640 hits in the Archive, but only an obituary for Markin in the July 10, 1970, issue of JN that cites the Checker Cab Manufacturing Co. Almost all of the entries were ads for “Checker,” the Detroit cab company established in 1921.
Although the Archive only yields a bit of information, it appears that the Checker cab company may have been another early Jewish-owned automotive enterprise. A story about Edward Fleischman in the Feb. 2, 1964, issue of the JN cites him as a founder of Checker cabs. More research is needed on this topic.
Two other Checker-related articles were interesting. An article on actor Doug Gorenstein, in the Sept. 1, 1989, issue of the JN pictured him sitting on the hood of his favorite car, a Checker. In a March 3, 1995, JN article, local Detroit artist Morris Rosin is also cited as a proud Checker owner.
I wish to thank Mr. Flaisher for his letter. It was the catalyst for another Michigan Jewish history adventure in the William Davidson Digital Archive.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.