Taxi Horns

Well known for its use in Gershwin’s ‘An American in Paris’, I realized today I had no idea what in fact a  ‘taxi horn’ was! If you Google it you’ll just get references to Gershwin, especially since the discovery that ‘we were doing it wrong’. (See my post here.) Consider that the horns Gershwin used were NOT what you’d typically find installed on an automobile by the manufacturer. (See vintage auto ‘bulb horns’, including many from French manufacturers here.) So what were they?

I turned to Google Books, sorted by date,  and looked for references to ‘taxi horns’ from the early 1900s. Gershwin wrote ‘An American in Paris’ in 1928, and the thinking behind using taxi horns in the composition was to evoke the ambience of Paris.

Here’s what I think… In the 1920s, taxi drivers, especially in France, would sound a ‘taxi horn’ when arriving to pick up their fare.

The ‘rattle of wheels’ sounds to me like it could be a carriage.
The Man Thou Gavest
By Harriet Theresa Comstock · 1917

Theatre Magazine Volume 36
Published: 1922
Publisher: Theatre Magazine Company

About now (1940) the term is becoming ambiguous. This could certainly be a taxi’s horn, rather than a ‘taxi horn’.

But maybe you know better, or have something to add. Feel free to leave us a comment. Thanks!

Vintage Squeezehorns

Back in the day they were called bulb horns and were the standard horn on pre-war cars. Somewhere along the line they began to be called squeeze horns. This begs the question… Who was the first clown to use a squeeze horn (was it Harpo?) because nowadays they’re also referred to as clown horns.
From Bonham’s auction house! Beautiful ‘bulb horns’ from the early 1900s.


A brass bodied double-twist bulb horn.
A brass three-trumpet “Le Testophone” bulb horn
A veteran eight-trumpet bulb horn, French, circa 1910
A ‘Le Testaphone’ six trumpet bulb horn by Cicca, French, patented 1908
A four trumpet bulb horn
A coiled body horn by Rubres, French


A fine eight-trumpet “Le Testophone” bulb horn by Cicca, French, circa 1909
A fine brass four-trumpet “Le Testophone” bulb horn, French, circa 1909
A wide trumpet running board mounted horn
A replica Boa Constrictor snake’s head horn
A coiled body horn by Nonpariel, French
A rare combination horn and siren by Stenor Sirene, Paris
Hand-crank Klaxon, want one! An Edwardian hand-cranked klaxon trumpet horn
A rare ‘Central Python’ brass bulb horn, French
A Lucas No 38 King of the Road bulb horn with mirror
Cicca Horn
A rare Lucas ‘King of the Road’ No.40 single-twist bulb horn, circa 1903
An ‘Etienne Le Testaphone’ four-trumpet bulb horn
A Desmo double twist bulb horn
A Boa Constrictor bulb horn
Hand operated Klaxon
A Le Testaphone seven trumpet bulb horn, French, circa 1910
A fine double turn brass bulb horn
A Boa Constrictor bulb horn
A Lucas double-twist bulb-horn Japanned Black
A Rotax ‘Clarion’ double-twist bulb horn
An Autovox horn
A Le Serpentin bulb horn
An Escargot type bulb horn
A Perfecta double twist bulb horn
A fine and rare miniature snake’s head bulb horn by C & C Paris, circa 1902
A rare British Lion horn ‘trumpet’, British, circa 1905
Rare trompe automobile à seize tons, Française, circa 1910
A veteran Autovox brass double-twist horn
An ‘Schnecke’ type horn by Haeckel
A L’Autovox horn, French, patented 1908
A four-tone bulb horn by Sigval
A fine ‘Le Testaphone’ four trumpet bulb horn by Cicca, French, patented 1908-09
A L’Autovox horn
A large double twist bulb horn
A Goliath bulb horn
An early four-note ‘Tenor’ 6 Volt electric brass trumpet horn, by Cicca, French
A dual, air and electric, brass, Klaxon horn
A double twist bulb horn
A Goliath bulb horn
A brass three-trumpet “Le Testophone” bulb horn, French
A ‘Le Testaphone’ six trumpet bulb horn by Cicca, French, patented 1908
A large Boa Constrictor trumpet horn, British

The One and Only Desmo Horn!

Update 11/20 Not Desmo, but we have a very nice replica of the Lucas King of the Road horn available for sale now! Check the homepage for photos and details.

Reader Iguana, shared a video that opened up a whole new window on the world of Squeezehorns, Taxi Horns, Bulb Horns and… the one and only Desmo horn! Amazing!

They spell it many different ways.
Desmo, Deshmo, Deshmuk, Deshmukh.. Sometimes bhopu.. Maybe that will help you ask for the right things.

At Last! Tuned Horns

University of Michigan has a 2016 video describing the original taxi horn tones of the Gershwin score. [Updated 11/19 See also new Taxi Horns post.]

Reader Jan (see comment below) shares an insight into the notes used in the original recording. That lead to this article (lots of interesting details): 1929 Gershwin Taxi Horn Photo Clarifies Mystery. It would seem the mystery of the actual tones used in the original recording is solved!

A comment from Bill Schuetter today provided the missing clue to discovering a source for tuned squeeze horns. Bill provided a link to a YouTube video of the LA Philharmonic performing Gershwin’s ‘American In Paris’. There they are! and certainly orchestras around the world would need these to perform Gershwin. I found a  few sources. See links below.

Taxi Horns for Gershwin's American In Paris Attribution Some rights reserved by vxla
Taxi Horns for Gershwin’s ‘American In Paris’ – Attribution Some rights reserved by vxla

[Update 5/11/15] There you go! Owner Russ Knutson, of Chicago Percussion Rental comments below to point out that the horns in this shot came from his shop.

From (renting at $100 a week + shipping).

George Gershwin wrote for Tuned Taxi Horns in his composition An American in Paris. These horns come in a set of 4 pitches: A, B, C, & D. We have 3 sets of tuned taxi horns in our rental department and they all sound FANTASTIC! You will have no issues with our taxi horns; no muffled or dog barkish sounds, just pure taxi horn tone! As a percussionist for 10 years in the San Francisco Symphony, Trey Wyatt has used these horns for over 50 performances without failure.

The taxi horn part is normally played by one player. Gershwin actually writes for 2 players to each play 2 horns. However, it works brilliantly for this part to by played by 1 player, the cymbal player, as the cues for all the horn parts are written in the cymbal part.

Certainly not cheap to purchase. That’s about $750. U.S. From Kolberg in Germany.
A little cheaper at around $650 (but without the stand) from Jam in the U.K.
Most orchestras rent the set of  horns. In the U.S. often from Steve Weiss Music outside of Philadelphia.
Also from LA Percussion Rentals. FSTJ Percussion in Quebec, Canada, and above-mentioned California Percussion.
I’ll be looking for a U.S. source to purchase. I’ve also emailed an Indian manufacturer to see what the thinks about custom building tuned horns.

A Horn For Tim’s BMW

Not that there was ever any doubt, but here’s picture proof that our horns are a class act. This is the 12″ medium loop horn mounted on Tim’s 1955 BMW. Beautiful! We were a little concerned about mounting the horn to his 7/8″ handle bars. He did use the attaching bracket I include, but supplemented it…

I used a zip tie to the clutch cable to increase the contact points. After taking the photo I inserted sail tape (used to stop sharp objects from ripping sailboat sails) between the handle bars and the clamp. This tightened the fit and prevents scratches to the chrome bars. The horn is loud (good) and is an excellent add on.

bmwPhoto2 brass horn bmw

Thanks for sending the photos Tim!

Johnny From Seattle

Johnny sent along a shot of his 16″ covered bell horn, now safely secured to his bike. I asked him how he attached it.

I couldn’t use the included handlebar clamp due to dashboard and foredeck, so I used two 3/4″ insulated conduit hangers and secured the upper segment with a zip tie.

Johnny from Seattle sent along a shot of his bike.


And here’s a close-up of how he attached his horn.