I was at the point that I needed a character to support my protagonist, to transport him from point A to point B. Besides some unique and interesting qualities – (a) dwarf – and (b) an Italian (of which there were a large number living in sections of 1928 San Francisco, of note the North Beach section of the city, its Little Italy), I wanted him to be a cab driver.
But for what company?
Or for that matter, a more basic consideration, did cabs exist in San Francisco at that time? As it turns out, there was no problem on that score. The answer was yes. In fact, I found mention of taxis as early as 1909. (As elsewhere in the U.S., stables and horse rentals and hackney cabs gave way to garages and car rentals and taxis).
Searches within the Internet Archive turned up ads for many different cab companies:
These first six I show operating in 1928, (I’m not sure how long they’d been in business):
United Cab Company
Union Cab Company
Green Top Cab Company
Cadillac Taxi Cab Company
California Cab Company
Club Limousine Service Company
Then those whose beginnings I can document:
DeSoto Cab Company (founded 1923)
Luxor Cab Company (founded in 1928) [fielded a total of ten cabs, all ordered up from call boxes located on street corners in the city].
And of course the Yellow Cab Company which had been doing business in San Francisco since 1922. When they merged with Checker mid decade, they were the most powerful cab company in town, controlling all the best cabstands, i.e. situated where travelers came into the city – the wharf, rail stations, and the airport; and at the hotels in the city where they stayed.
[Aside – John Hertz (of Hertz-Rent-a-Car fame) was the Chicagoan behind the Yellow Cab company and its subsidiary the Yellow Cab Manufacturing company. He sold the companies in the mid twenties and put his gains to work in other firms, notably Lehman Brothers. Hertz was also a major stockholder in the Paramount-Famous Lasky Corp, and thus was the logical choice for the Lehmans to be their rep at the film company to carry out the reorganization they prescribed in 1931. Hertz was the chair to the finance committee at Paramount and did bring down costs at the studio. But evidently Hertz was better in the car business than the film business, for he was forced to resign when Paramount went into receivership in 1933].
Back to my character.
So I had all these taxi companies in San Francisco from which to choose, but couldn’t settle on one. Then I read that San Francisco had gypsy cab drivers, independents that didn’t work for a company. They were allowed to answer calls for service via the telephone, but were unlicensed to cruise the streets for hailing customers.
Perfect for my character – Donatello.