The limousine, for many of us, has been around forever. We associate it with the wealthy, famous or those who just want to travel in class. But how many of us have asked when it was the first limousine was used or how the term limousine even came to be? Well, here is the story.
Many hundreds of years ago, shepherds in Limousin, France, developed a hooded over garment to protect themselves from the rain and cold which they called a ‘limousine’. True story – and although the stretch from the concept of a hooded garment to a carriage seems long, this is exactly what happened. By the1900s when carriages were first emerging, the idea to provide and develop a covered traveling compartment were hand-in -hand. Throw in a Parisian coach builder and suddenly you have the French term applied to the covered carriage driven by a chauffeur.
Now mind you, the chauffeured vehicle was long in existence before the 1900s. Chauffeured horse drawn carriages designed for the wealthy dates back to the 1700s. But that is another story.
Now step forward in time when the automobile was coming to the forefront of society. In 1902 there was a vehicle designed whereupon the driver sat outside of the covered compartment and thus was called by some a limousine due to its separation of spaces for travelers vs. driver.
The first actual stretch limousine wasn’t created until 1928 and is credited to being built in Arkansas. These vehicles were often referred to as “big band buses” because they were mainly used to transport famous big band leaders, their orchestras, as well as their instruments to various parts if the United States.
This concept grew. By the 1930s, limousines were used to transport guests from hotels to airports and hotels, on sightseeing tours and more. People from the movie industry loved the idea of traveling by limo. They used limousines to carry film crews and stage personnel around movie sets. A limousine was a sign of its time toward your success as an actor or actress. Anybody who was somebody traveled by limo.
Then came the 1950s, the war was over and rock stars were starting to take stage. Elvis Presley is one name and person associated with the love of limousines. Some say he even gave limousines away to people he favored.
Heads of state loved to travel by limousines at this time as well, typically the Mercedes-Benz limousine, which seated up to four passengers.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that the limo became more main stream. This was due to a taxi strike and the following ingenuity of a man named David Klein of New York. Mr. Klein wanted limousines to become a regular mode of transport for people and began offering rides to executives who could not catch a taxi and needed to get down to Wall Street.
The limousine soon became a common site around New York. With its popularity came a variety of new styles. Limousines started getting bigger and more extravagant and the limousine was stretched like never before. These stretch limousines were initially made by Lincoln and called Lincoln Town Cars. Limousines of this time came with extras like TVs, drinks bars, sound systems, mirrored ceilings, all of which were updated as soon as technology was on the move again. Of course it was only a matter of time before hot tubs were also added and this meant that the limousines were extended by 17 feet and had several axle additions.
The late 1990s saw the arrival of the sports utility vehicle, or SUVs and with that followed the SUV stretch limo. The most popular stretched SUV limousines were created from the Lincoln Navigators and the Cadillac excursions. The stretch Hummer didn’t come to being until the 2000s. The current H2 and H3 Hummer limousines are now fully equipped for a night out with a fully stocked bar, full lounge seating and even a usable dance floor. The Hummer limousines even come with bulletproof glass, making them popular with the stars, some even being custom built to include an on-board casino.
Of course the SUV didn’t push the traditional limo makers like Lincoln, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz and Rolls Royce out of the picture. These limousines are still being built for smaller parties as well as the newly wed.
But the idea of long limos and opulence were still tied together. The longest limousine in history is credited to Jay Ohrberg of Burbank California. His limo is 100 foot long. Jay designed his monster limo and hired it out through his car hire company. The limo has 26 wheels and can be driven rigidly or adjusted to bend in the middle around corners. Of course the car is currently in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest car in the world and even has two driver’s compartments – one at each end – to help with reversing.
Length is not the only thing a limo is judged by. Luxury is also important. Today’s limos can come equipped with large Jacuzzi tubs, a sun deck, a helipad, a swimming pool (with a diving board of course), a king sized bed and a satellite dish, just to name a few.
Limousine popularity has not only grown in the United States. In many countries where one isn’t allowed to drink and drive, the idea of a chauffeured ride is growing in popularity.
Yes the limousine is here to stay, which direction it will take as the future unfolds, it is hard to tell, but if you haven’t had the opportunity to experience travel in one, it is well worth the ride.