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!

Squeeze, or Bulb Car Horns!

Earliest car horns were all bulb horns.

Bulb Car Horn
Bulb Car Horn

From the same book came this picture of a reed. It’s very similar to those in the squeeze horns I sell, but with a screw to adjust tension of the reed.
I just did some experimenting with a reed I have and discovered that by pulling the top ‘tongue’ of the reed away from the main portion, ie. increasing the gap, I could lower the tone. This was done by bending the reed, which is a bit dangerous considering it’s impossible to bend it back.  At some point I’ll do some serious experiments with adjusting the pitch and volume, and I think adding an adjusting screw could work!

Bulb Car Horn Reed
Bulb Car Horn Reed

 

 

Squeeze, or ‘Bulb’ Horns Used To Be Everywhere!

Happy to report that a new shipment of horns has landed in the US and is making it’s way to my door as we speak.
Very shortly I’ll have new pics and sounds up on the site.
In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy these reminiscences from the past.
From a 1945 Popular Mechanics! Frequently used as a musical instrument! Look at those horns!

Texas Jim Lewis
Texas Jim Lewis - Popular Mechanics 1945