Wednesday, September 2, 2020

52 Ancestors - LABOR: The Chauffeur

I do not know if my Irish granny’s family suffered the discrimination in New York City reflected in employment ads stating “No Irish Need Apply.” Like so many Irish immigrants, Mary Theresa Sheehan and her sisters arrived in the late 1880s claiming “domestic servant” as an occupation. The occupation column for Irish men typically read “laborer.” Being largely unskilled, the Irish took the most menial of jobs and crammed multiple families into apartments barely large enough for a single family. The Irish took those dangerous jobs nobody wanted to do; no wonder the police and fire departments were manned by large numbers of Irish.
New York 1918
Trip to New York 1918
The Irish were also the first to join the ranks as taxi drivers when Harry Allen started the New York Taxicab company in 1907 putting the horse-drawn hansom cab out of business. Several more cab companies opened business soon after.

The first drivers wore uniforms designed to look like those worn by West Point Cadets. Do you think these drivers look like West Point Cadets?
New York 1918
New York 1918
In the back seat are Lillie Killeen and SOMEBODY's baby "John Jr"
I don’t know. However, I do believe they are related to my great-grandmother, Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh. These photos are from a visit to New York in 1918.

New York 1918
New York 1918
In the back seat are Lillie Killeen, possibly Mary Theresa Walsh,
the poodle known as Cutey, and "John Jr"
Possibly these men are her brother-in-law and nephew. Mary Theresa’s sister Elizabeth was married to Patrick Byrnes. He was consistently listed as a driver in both the federal and New York state censuses: 1900 truck driver; 1905 driver; 1910 driver for a brewery; 1915 driver; 1920 chauffeur; 1925 truck driver. In 1920 son Robert was a chauffeur and son Richard was an express driver.

In the early years of the taxi business, anyone could get a license and start driving that day. There was no background check.

In researching the job of a chauffeur, I found some interesting images of the early chauffeur’s license and badge.
from "The Evolution of the New York Driver's License" New York Times Archive

from "The Evolution of the New York Driver's License" New York Times Archive

The style of the badge evolved over time, but they were required until 1928.
1918 New York Chauffeur's badge
New York 1918
New York 1918
same baby "John Jr"

Some people have suggested that the uniform in this photo looks like one worn by a policeman or fireman. The man looks very much like the front seat passenger in the first two photos. 

New York 1921 Unknown man with "John Jr"
New York 1921
Unknown man with "John Jr"
Here he is again in 1921. Fireman? Policeman? Sea captain? Chauffeur? 

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Interesting how they wore uniforms. Kinda classy I think! Forgot how discriminated the Irish were. Bet they don't teach that in school anymore.


  2. Ahhh, the days when people wore uniforms - what a great era that must have been.

  3. Great to see all those photos of early well as your research about the licenses and badges.