Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hansom and His Cab


After diligent search it might appropriately be possible to find in New York, U. S. A., its last American stronghold, a specimen of the high-wheeled vehicle which will have its centenary celebrated this summer in York, England. For in the English city a century ago Joseph Aloysius Hansom designed the "Patent Safety Cab" which immortalized his name.

Hansom had a talent for construction and design. Born in York in 1803, he left his father's joinery shop to become an architect's apprentice. When he was 28 years old, his designs for the Birmingham Town Hall were accepted, with unfortunate financial results for Hansom. Next he patented the "Safety" cab and sold the rights for $50,000 which he never got. Apparently disgusted with his profession, Hansom founded a newspaper in 1834. Lack of capital put an end to the venture, so he returned to architecture, with success. He obtained commissions for public and private buildings not only in the United Kingdom, but in Australia and South America. Hansom died in London in 1882.

His name lived after this, particularly through the '80s, the era with which the Hansom cab will forever be associated. In the original design the driver's seat was at the side, but eventually only the high wheels and the axle prevailed through various changes of construction.

Consequently it was noted less for its safety than for its elegance. Although the seat tilted at a restful angle and the motion was soothing, there were hazards involved in getting into the cab. The driver had his perch at the top and back, with a little trap-door in the cab's roof which threatened the privacy and seculsion offered by the hooded body and hinged apron shutting the occupants snugly within. The cabbies of those hansoms could tell tall tales to make the modern taxi- driver's life seem spiceless in comparison, if one may believe rumors.

Off-hand Hansom is scarcely remembered as the name of a man. But the word "hansom" will stand in the English language for the graces and formal elegances of a "nice" age that died with the Nineteenth Century, in which the cab was invented. — Detroit Free Press.

—San Antonio Express, May 20, 1933, p. 10.