Gilmore Museum scouts for Checker memories

The Gilmore Car Museum has received a grant to help preserve Checker history
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1936 Checker - Checker Motors Corporation produced taxi cabs
in Kalamazoo, MI from 1923 until 1982 when the firm began
producing parts for the auto industry. This 1936 model currently
displayed at the Gilmore Car Museum was noted for both its
elegant art deco styling and rugged reliability.

Hickory Corners, MI— If you are a former employee of the Checker Motor Corporation, or have artifacts and memorabilia of the company to share, the Gilmore Car Museum in Michigan is interested in hearing from you.

The Michigan Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities have jointly awarded the non-profit museum a grant to help the museum preserve the rich legacy of Checker Motors Corporation, which recently closed its doors after nearly 90 years of operation.

The project will include obtaining oral histories from former Checker employees; creating a permanent archive of company photos, documents, and sales brochures; as well as related memorabilia. All of this will be used by the museum, which already exhibits three Checkers within its collection of Kalamazoo-built autos display, to tell the story of Checker Motors and its impact on society.

While Detroit is most often associated with the auto industry, Kalamazoo, Michigan could be known as the “Other Motorcity” since it has been the home to 17 auto manufacturers. In 1923, Checker Motors, producer of the iconic Checker Cab, joined the ranks of other Kalamazoo-built autos such as Barley, Roamer, and Handley-Knight and outlived each of them by over 60 years.

The distinctive Checker Cab—recognized around the world—was produced in Kalamazoo from 1923 to 1982, when the firm ceased car production and began supplying parts to the auto industry. Today the Checker name and its trademark checkerboard pattern seen on its cabs are universally identified with taxis.

Records indicate that Checker Motors produced over a quarter-million vehicles in Kalamazoo and employed more than 10,000 workers locally during its 87 years in business.

The Checker Cab became an American icon and was hailed in every large city in the nation and beyond. “Billions and Billions Served,” the famed McDonald’s slogan, could have easily been applied to Checker Motors and the cabs it built. Checker Cabs moved millions of people each day in cities such as New York, Chicago, Pittsburg, and Baltimore. In fact, the Tri-State Transportation Agency tracked an average of 223 million taxi fares annually—in New York City alone—between 1963 and 1977.

“As an institution dedicated to telling America’s story through the history of the automobile, we’re pleased to receive this honor to preserve Checker’s history,” said Michael Spezia, Executive Director of the Gilmore Car Museum.

“The funding provided by both the Michigan Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities grant offers us a considerable opportunity to serve not only the automotive community, but to also add to the heritage of our wonderful state.”

Checker Motors had a long, proud history and outlasted many other notable automotive makes. The company survived the Great Depression, WWII, and a change from auto production to parts manufacturing. It was the poor state of the auto industry and recent bankruptcy of General Motors, Checker’s largest customer that forced the firm to close its doors for good in early July of this year.

On September 20, 2009 the Gilmore Car Museum will hold a Checker Motorcar Day in which all former employees will be honored with free museum admission. The Checker Automobile Club of America, a worldwide organization of over 600 Checker car owners and enthusiasts, has also been invited to showcase several eras of these iconic vehicles at this special one day event. The public is encouraged to take part in the celebration as well as become involved with the overall project.

For more information on how you can become involved in preserving the rich legacy of Checker Motors Corporation please contact the museum’s education director, Tim Morris at or call 269-671-5089 ext. 15.

The Gilmore Car Museum is located just 20 minutes north east of Kalamazoo on M-43 and Hickory Road.

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