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All Roads Really Do Lead to the University of Chicago

To fans and patrons of the University of Chicago, few other American universities have had a greater recent impact on the fields of economics, philosophy, law, and urban sociology (which was essentially invented at the U. of C.).

That said, I wasn’t prepared for the squib I read in this morning’s New York Times, from a Q&A column in the City section (one of my favorite sections — which isn’t distributed in the national print edition but is available online). Here’s the question that was asked: “Why are taxis yellow?”

Surely there would be some old New York tale involved here, right? Something about some crotchety inventor or tireless do-gooder or crusading citizen who was responsible for making all of New York’s taxis yellow.

But no. According to a spokesman for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, taxis are yellow thanks to John Hertz, who founded both Hertz Rent-a-Car and the Yellow Cab Company — which was based in Chicago.

“Hertz read a University of Chicago study that suggested the color yellow with a bit of red mixed in was the color most visible from a distance, and so he proceeded to paint all his taxis the color that would eventually come to be known as ‘taxi yellow,'” the TLC spokesman explained. “It became an industry trend, which of course was continued when he and his partner, Walden Shaw, branched out to other cities, including New York City.”

What’ll we find the U. of C. responsible for next: the bagel?