Beginning in the early 20th century, qualified drivers for taxi cabs or other paid car services were issued a small metal license called a chauffeur badge. The word “chauffeur” comes from the French word for “stoker,” since the earliest automobiles utilized steam-powered engines, requiring the driver to stoke the coal fire during the engine's operation. Though associated with luxury vehicles today, chauffeur licenses were required for all paid passenger-vehicle drivers, whether they were behind the wheel of a sleek limousine or a bulky city bus.
In 1903, New York became the first state to issue a motor vehicle license for chauffeurs, also known as “public hacks.” Pinned to a coat or hat, these metal badges provided an easy way for drivers to display their certification while operating their vehicle. While some badges were designed in the form of a state or a decorative crest, many were simply oval or shield-shaped affairs. Most chauffeur licenses indicated the date of issue, the state certified, and the driver’s specific identification number.
By the early 1950s, paper licenses had replaced badges, which were more expensive to produce. The rarest, most collectible chauffeur badges come from smaller states with fewer taxi operators, rather than those with metropolitan hubs like New York or California.