Monday, December 21, 2009

Amanuensis Monday: Of Jitney Upsets - and mysteriously absent pretty girls

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them.

Below is a transcription from news articles I found in the St. Louis Post Dispatch 1874-1922 archives. The articles informed me of a side-occupation for my great grandfather, Herman Feinstein.

St. Louis Post Dispatch, May 10, 1915, page 4.


Car in Collision with Auto of Granite City Water Superintendant

Two women and four men were thrown from a jitney auto at Ninth street and Franklin avenue about 1 a.m. today when it was struck by the automobile of Arthur Lynn, Superintendant of the Granite City Water Department. Miss Mamie Thornburgh, 4550 Easton avenue, was cut on the left shoulder. The others were uninjured.

The jitney was being driven west on Franklin avenue by Herman Feinstein, of 1935 Burd avenue. In addition to Miss Thornburgh his passengers were Miss Grace Hawkins of 4550 Easton avenue, Claude and Louis Waldron of 4775 Ladue street and James Gallagher of 4828 Cottage avenue.

Lynn was accompanied by his brother, Arthur Lynn of New York, and Charles M. Horn of East St. Louis. He was driving south on Ninth street. The jitney was knocked 30 feet and overturned. Lynn and Feinstein were charged with carelessness. They furnished bond at the Carr street station.
Since fortunately no one was seriously injured in the accident the first question that comes to my mind is: My great grandfather, Herman Feinstein, drove a Jitney? What’s that?

Elizabeth Powell Crowe had a blog entry a little over a week ago about the etymology of the word, and mentioned its uses to mean a nickel, something shoddy, or another term for ‘Ford buses.’ The usage here is closest to a bus, but not quite the same. Wikipedia provides another definition which I think fits the usage here, a type of Share Taxi:
A jitney is a North American English term, which originally referred to a livery vehicle intermediate between a taxi and a bus. It is generally a small-capacity vehicle that follows a rough service route, but can go slightly out of its way to pick up and drop off passengers. In many U.S. cities (e.g. Pittsburgh and Detroit), the term jitney refers to an unlicensed taxi cab.

While jitneys are fairly common in many other countries, such as the Philippines, they first appeared in the U.S. and Canada. The first U.S. jitneys ran in Los Angeles, California in 1914. By 1915, there were 62,000 nationwide. Local regulations, demanded by streetcar companies, killed the jitney in most places. By the end of 1916, only 6,000 jitneys remained. Similarly, in Vancouver, Canada, in the 1920s, jitneys competed directly with the streetcar monopoly, operating along the same routes as the streetcars but charging lower fares. Operators were referred to as "Jitney Men." They were so successful that the city government banned them at the request of the streetcar operators.
With another search in the Historical Post Dispatch archive I found some background information on the start of the Jitney service in St. Louis. I think the reporter had a lot of fun writing the story as the antics of Richard McCulloch, general manager of United Railways (a streetcar company) provided some good fodder.
St. Louis Post Dispatch, Feb 7, 1915, page A2

United Railways Head Finds His Car in the Lineup – Comments on Absence of Girls.

One Passenger Leaves Street Car and is Taken to Grand Avenue in Machine.

The first “jitney” auto parade in St. Louis took place yesterday afternoon over the first regular “jitney” route in St. Louis, preliminary to the inauguration tomorrow morning of the first organized jitney service in St. Louis.

A dozen cars lined up at the courthouse for the start. Each carried a banner proclaiming it a “jitney,” associated with the Motors Service Co., the name under which co-operating auto-owners have organized to establish “jitney” transportation.

It had been announced that the “jitneys” would be loaded with pretty girls in the parade. The pretty girls were not on hand. That was the thing that struck General Manager McCulloch of the United Railways Co, as the most interesting, or it was at least the only phase of the “jitney” operation on which he chose to bestow a comment.

His Car in Lineup

The “jitneys” were drawn up on Chestnut street and Broadway at the courthouse when McCulloch came out at the Chestnut street entrance and walked rapidly toward Broadway, casting a glowing glance at the trolley rivals. “Where are all the pretty girls?” he asked. Nobody within earshot could tell him and he quickened his steps toward his own machine, which he had left at the Broadway curb and which he now discovered, to his considerable consternation, was temporarily a part of the “jitney” lineup.

He lost no time in cranking up and climbing into his machine, but before he could start the “jitney” in front of him sent a cloud of black smoke against the McCulloch machine. McCulloch swung his machine out into Broadway and into Chestnut street coughing defiance at the “jitneys.”

Manager William A Fears jockeyed his forces around into Fourth street and was lining them up for the start when a street car came along. A man loaded with bundles was just climbing on when he noticed the “jitneys.” He came tumbling off and wanted to know if he could be “jitneyed” out to Grand avenue. It was not the intention to carry any passengers on the parade trip, but the man was so disappointed that Fears told him to climb in.


Sixty automobile owners have signed the cooperative agreement and within a few days other routes will be established. The owners bind themselves to turn over 5 percent of each day’s earnings for the maintenance of the headquarters office in the Times Building.

“Jitney first and safety” is the slogan that has been adopted.

I don't know how long the Jitneys lasted in St. Louis, and I don't know how long my great grandfather drove one. His primary occupation was the laundry business. His address isn't new information, but it does confirm this is the correct individual, even though I haven't run across any other Herman Feinsteins in St. Louis at this time in my research.

Apparently (according to the Wikipedia article) the idea of share taxis are making a comeback in some parts of the US. I think they would be a great idea in St. Louis.

If you choose to join me in Amanuensis Monday and post your transcriptions, feel free to add a link to your post below, or in the comments.

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