USA, 1922-1982. Established by Morris Markin.
Checker Motors Corporation is a Kalamazoo, Michigan based automotive subcontractor that was once the manufacturer of the famed Checker automobile, the iconic American taxi cab. Checker was established by Morris Markin in 1922 through a merger of Commonwealth Motors and Markin Automobile Body.
Morris Markin, a clothier from Chicago, Illinois, became the owner of a Joliet, Illinois, auto-body manufacturer when its owner defaulted on a $15,000 personal loan from Markin. The facility made bodies for Commonwealth Motors who marketed the vehicles to cab companies under the trade name Mogul.
Concurrently, Checker Taxi — a privately-owned cab company in Chicago that had no affiliation with Markin — placed a large order for Mogul cabs with Commonwealth. Commonwealth itself was on the verge of bankruptcy, so Markin merged the two companies in order to honor the contractual commitment with the Chicago Checker Taxi. Markin named his concern the Checker Cab Company. However, there was no overlap in ownership.
John Hertz began in the taxi business in 1910, both building Yellow Cabs and operating the livery service. Because of plant overproduction, Hertz used the excess cars by renting them to patrons through his “Yellow Drive-Ur-Self” division (the forerunner of Hertz Rental Car). Seeing Hertz’s success, Markin began buying up Checker’s stock in 1924, gaining full control of Checker Taxi Cab in 1937.
Markin also followed Hertz’s business plan in having drivers open doors for the fares, and outfitted each driver with a uniform. Competition for fares was fierce in the 1920s, and the easily spotted drivers began ganging up on one another between fares. The fighting between the two cab companies escalated to the point where Markin’s home was firebombed. This prompted Markin to buy the Dort Automobile factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and relocate Checker.
Under Markin, Checker became the first cab company to hire African-American drivers and the first to require that drivers pick up all fares, not just white ones.
Hertz had sold his Yellow Cab to the Parmalee Transportation Company, but in 1929, after a suspicious fire at his stables killed his prized race horses, Hertz left the cab business, with Markin buying Hertz’s shares and then acquiring another one-third in the company from Parmalee, thus taking control of both Parmalee and Yellow Cab.
While Hertz had sold off the cab business, the manufacturing arm went to General Motors, which wanted to sell it and made Markin an affordable offer. Markin refused. Rather than eliminate the capacity of Yellow Manufacturing, General Motors entered the taxicab business as Terminal Taxi Cab, and a second fare war broke out, with Checker and Terminal fighting it out in New York City. To end this dispute, New York Mayor Jimmy Walker created the New York Taxi Cab Commission, which ruled that all cabs in New York had to be purpose-built cabs, not consumer car conversions.
Markin sold Checker Cab to E.L. Cord, but bought it back again in 1936. In 1940, Parmalee (including Yellow and Checker Cab) became the largest cab company in the United States. Eventually, the cab company revenues exceeded those of Checker’s automotive building division, and the company decided to enter the consumer passenger car business in 1958. Consumer autos were phased in regionally across the US in 1959 starting in New York and New England. Nationally, introduction of the Checker Superba took place at the Chicago Auto Show on February 8, 1960. The dealer network continued to grow throughout the early 1960s.
In addition to automobile production, Checker played a significant role as a third party automotive supplier of OEM body stampings. In the late 1930s Checker produced truck bodies for Hudson in addition to manufacturing complete Ford truck cabs. Checker also produced truck bodies for REO.
In 1964 the state of New York pursued Markin and Checker on antitrust charges, alleging that it controlled both the taxi service and manufacture of taxis, and thus favored itself in fulfilling orders. Rather than allow Checker drivers to begin buying different brands of cars, Markin began selling licenses in New York City.
In 1977, seven years after the death of Morris Markin, retired GM President Ed Cole bought into Checker with the intent of re-energizing the company and developing a new, more modern Checker. Cole’s plan was to purchased partially completed Volkswagens from VW’s new factory in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania. Cole was going to ship the VWs to the Checker Motors factory in Kalamazoo, cut them in half, insert a section to lengthen the VW, raise the roof and then sell the reconfigured vehicle as a taxi. Shortly thereafter, however, Cole was killed when his plane crashed near Kalamazoo.
In 1989, Checker Motors and Checker Holding Company were involved in a reverse acquisition with International Controls (Great Dane Trailers), and the company later changed its name to CRA Holdings. The company was reorganized in 1995 into three wholly-owned subsidiaries: Yellow Cab (owns and leases taxi cabs in Chicago), Chicago Autowerks (taxi-cab repair and other services) and CMC Kalamazoo. Other subsidiaries include American Country Insurance Company, a provider of property and casualty insurance, Great Dane, (the largest manufacturer of truck trailers, containers and chassis), and South Charleston Stamping & Manufacturing Company. The company was renamed as Great Dane Limited Partnership, and was acquired by Chicago based CC Industries.
Checker Motors today operates as a subsidiary of CC Industries as an automotive subcontractor, primarily for General Motors. Checker currently makes body stamping for various GMC/Cheverolet truck lines and chassis components for the Cadillac. David Markin, son of founder Morris Markin currently acts as CMC Chief Executive Officier.
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